Marc Sherman got the idea for a gear exchange while camping with a friend in the mossy Adirondack Mountains in 1995. He found an 800 square foot room to launch his visionary business model. What began as a simple consignment for spendthrift customers is now a Burlington outdoor gear institution with a huge staff, multisport capabilities and loyal following.
His first employee, Mike Donahue, started at the shop seventeen years ago, and has matured with the business since its beginnings to become co-owner. Over the years OGE has slowly grown to sell more and more brands, but it also maintains its consignment roots. Many people who supported them as customers in the early days have grown up as the store has grown. “Many of our customers started as dirtbag climbers,” says Donahue, “and they now have jobs and bring their families into the store.”
By blending a large consignment shop with a vast selection of hard and soft goods, and accessories, OGE has the ability to satisfy the needs of all kinds of customers who come from just about every financial background. There’s also the little known fact that OGE does a lot of online business, and is older than ebay. “We work to make product accessible to people of all financial abilities,” he says, “But more importantly we try to cater to all outdoor lover’s needs.” Customers can splurge on a new jacket and save on used boots, or vice versa. The potential is obvious. “We have a huge selection for a single store,” says Donahue. “What makes it work is the focus on customer service.”
By 1998 they expanded from their single room to 5,000 square feet of space, then again to 10,000 square feet. And two years ago, they moved to their current location on Burlington’s Church Street pedestrian mall. With two levels of retail space, OGE is a whopping 24,000 square foot shop.
OGE sees the importance of maintaining a strong connection to the outdoors. It has paired with the Conservation Alliance, as well as the Vermont Land Trust, to help protect open space for recreation. They hold fundraisers with movie premiers, like last week with Powderwhore’s latest celluloid opus “Elevation”. “We do 15 or so events a year, says Donahue. “[This] film, which was the first ski movie of the season for Burlington drew 180 people, not including the 40 or so staff. We also do weekly fun runs and SUP demos in the summer.”
In addition to working with larger groups like the Conservation Alliance, Donahue likes to help smaller organizations as well. “We like to sponsor local non-profits because it can make a meaningful change in our community,” he says, “and, yes, the smaller ‘nickel bag’ donations do go far.”
Without losing sight of their humble start Donahue makes a point to get outdoors, often with his employees. “I try to recreate with all my employees sometime throughout the year,” he says. A lot of his employees have at least one sport they’re very passionate about—skiing, climbing, and running are just a few options available to the greater Burlington area. And it’s good for business. “That passion translates well to the customer,” he says. And with 80 full time employees at the store, that makes for a lot of stoked people.