During the time commonly called the apocalypse of retail, Yellow Wood has opened in Milwaukee’s northern suburb of Whitefish Bay and is defying the fate of many similar retail stores. The shop was opened by business partners Martin Stilling and Moshe Katz in September of 2015 and has become a neighborhood hot spot in under two years.
“This community is a bubble,” said Stilling. “There’s lots of kids, dogs, and young families that can appreciate this type of an operation.”
‘This type of an operation’ as Stilling calls it, is an outdoor gear shop that specializes in hiking and camping gear; another tough market to try and break into right now. Similar activity and sporting based stores are scaling back in this apocalypse of retail. Gander Mountain has plans to close 32 of its 162 stores, Golfsmith and Payless have filed for bankruptcy, Moosejaw was purchased by Wal-Mart, and Sports Authority has liquidated every one of its stores.
So far, however, Yellow Wood’s prospects look optimistic, according to the owners. Stilling said that one reason they are able to survive in such a harsh retail environment is because of the brands they carry. Many of their vendors are smaller or specialty brands that people may not have heard of.
“We look for smaller companies, hopefully with production still closer to home, that focus on quality and customer service,” said Stilling.
By working with newer, smaller brands, Yellow Wood is able to produce more sales based on interest and accessibility. For example, people are often first introduced to such names as Parker Dusseau or Nau at Yellow Wood, which gives the shop an element of exclusivity. These aren’t the classic Kohls or Target names. Additionally, these new companies don’t yet have much of an online presence, so Yellow Wood is not competing with its own vendor’s online sales for its in-house sales.
It is for these reasons that Yellow Wood doesn’t even carry some of the classic adventure brands. The North Face, Columbia, Patagonia, Osprey, and countless other recognizable brands cannot be found at the shop. According to Stilling, they are marketing companies that put less focus on quality or customer service than they do expanding their bank accounts.
While that may seem like a harsh review of some of the most successful outdoor companies, Stilling is certainly experienced in the outdoor market. He has been in the camping and clothing business since 1971 when he opened Erehwon in Chicago, a company that had 7 stores at its peak. He sold the company to a friend of his in the nineties, but stayed in touch with many of the brands he dealt with and watched many come and go. His experience and connections helped get Yellow Wood off the ground.
This is not Moshe Katz’s first venture into business either. He is the owner of Atid Properties, a local apartment rental company. His said that his vision for the business was to become a staple in the community.
“We wanted to do something that no one else is doing,” said Katz. “We have created just that, a unique small business experience.”
The experience aspect of Yellow Wood certainly has not gone unnoticed. The store has expanded its horizon past selling camping and hiking merchandise and became known last summer for the ‘Adventure Zone’ it hosted on Berkeley Boulevard after the Whitefish Bay Farmers Market. The Adventure Zone invited local shops and outdoor establishments to come and share their activities with the community. It consisted of a Spelunking Cave, Adventure Rock’s portable rock climbing wall, the Audubon Center’s bird exhibit, a green energy showcase, and other local displays.
One of the demonstrations Yellow Wood has become known for is it’s display of Tentsile’s tree tents, which are exactly what they sound like: tents suspended in trees. The shop has brought these tents to various events around Milwaukee such as the Wheel and Sprocket Bike Expo and The Adventure Rock climbing gym to showcase their individuality.
“The Tensiles are something you’ve likely never seen before – flying tents,” said Katz. “It’s a spectacle to watch kids leap into them while the parents are the hesitant ones.”
Beyond their Tentsile show, Yellow Wood routinely erects an Eno hammock tripod stand and a slack line outside of its shop on a daily basis. According to Katz, the local kids come by and hang out in the Eno hammocks, which are coincidentally the store’s best selling item, after school each day.
Whether it’s the uniqueness of the product in the store or the distinctiveness of their flying tent exhibit, Yellow Wood has certainly become an essential shop on the Silver Spring strip. They have served hundreds of local patrons, and according to Stilling even get Chicagoans who come up to visit, saying they heard Yellow Wood was one of the best outdoor gear shops in the Midwest.