By Brenlee Coates
Rick Shone looks exactly like the kind of guy you’d want to sell you your outdoor adventuring gear. He looks tan and a little windblown in the middle of March.
“I’ve always been an outdoorsy person, growing up out in the country,” says Shone, owner of Wilderness Supply. “I’ve done tons of paddling, tons of canoeing.
“I’m not sure you can really do this store if it’s not a passion.”
A few sort of serendipitous things fell into place when Shone started as a part-time worker at Wilderness Supply in 2001. Friends of his he worked with at Sport Chek while going through university told him about the job, and mentioned the owners were looking to pass the business on.
“Entrepreneurship is kind of in my blood,” says Shone, whose interest was piqued. “I come from a pretty hardworking family too. Everything’s sort of been made from scratch.”
Wilderness Supply was a family business owned by Frank and Jan Sjoberg, who started the business on a passion for the wilderness, camping, hiking and paddling. They have a daughter, Elysia, who Shone took a shine to. “I ended up meeting my wife, Elysia, and getting married,” says Shone. The couple has two little ones they take paddling and travelling with them, instilling the same passion in them for the great outdoors. In 2009, Shone formally took over the business from his in-laws.
Biggest selection of boats
When it comes down to brass tacks, Wilderness Supply has the largest supply of canoes, kayaks and SUP (stand up paddleboards) in Manitoba – and all the apparel, accessories, and camping gear to go with them.
They have two local stores on Ferry and Speers Roads, as well as a store in Jan’s hometown of Thunder Bay, adding the largest paddlesports selection in central Canada to its acclamations.
The company started as a small specialty shop on Ferry, and the original store has since doubled in size, taking on the space of a neighbouring tenant. It is currently enjoying its 20th year in business.
The family feel of the place has been maintained at all of the locations, aided by the fact that each is run fairly independently. Shone says keeping employee numbers low helps people get to know their customers, and have recognizable, trustworthy faces at each store.
It helps that each employee also lives and breathes the lifestyle they are trying to promote. “People don’t need any encouragement really to get out there,” says Shone, of his employees. “I like to promote that our staff are experts. Most people that start working here want to get better at paddling and survival skills.” A perk for the employees is a paid outdoor adventure trip twice a year, where they are encouraged to test products and take photos of their experience for promotion.
Aside from encouraging active lifestyles among its staff, Wilderness Supply also runs the Swamp Donkey races in the province (the mud run, ice donkey and paddle races, for example), as well as WAV Paddling School, which offers instruction in kayaking and canoeing (ranging from beginners to advanced athletes), wilderness first aid, and navigation.
This kind of customer interaction is Shone’s favourite. “We’ve seen people get off the couch and just become really active,” he says.
Customer photos from as far as Everest base camp and the Arctic Circle speckle the shop’s walls, right next to heaps of photos from the Whiteshell, the Trans Canada Trail and Riding Mountain National Park, where most locals put their gear to use.
“One thing we’ve always been about is promoting Manitoba and what there is to do, and how much there is to do. I love the fact that our trails are quite a bit more remote,” says Shone.
“It’s pretty refreshing, learning how to fend for yourself and live more simply.”
Check out http://www.wildernesssupply.ca for more information on the store’s offerings or visit one of its Winnipeg retail locations.