The Story of Summits Outdoor - outdoor equipment shop!

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Outdoor equipment clothing shop based in Paisley.
Justin & Alex - Owners of Summits Outdoor

Alex

The man, the myth, the legend. Summits is only here today because of Alex. He decided to take the plunge in 1985 and open his very own outdoor equipment shop. Most of our regular customers will have a story involving him. He is the most active member out the lot of us - yet double most of our ages - with humour that would make anyone laugh. We decided to find out the story of how Summits begin over 35 years ago!

What made you open an outdoor equipment shop?

My interest in selling outdoor gear was sparked when I began to notice a subtle change in the clothing walkers and climbers were beginning to use on the hill.

I've been addicted to the mountains for over half a century. Even now, when I climb a hill I first did as a teenager, for me, nothing in that timeless vista has changed. Except for the outdoor clothes I wear. 

When I used to finish a day in the hills I always had to have a complete change of clothing in the car including a towel. Every stitch was wet and damp - even if the day was dry. Condensation drenched everything; you had to move fast because even a short stop at the summit meant a quick road to hypothermia. A waterproof jacket in those days kept the rain out but every drop of sweat in. There were no wicking, breathable layers. Just a mixture of cotton next to the skin and wool for warmth.

I was fascinated when Goretex made an appearance. At last, a jacket that was meant to breathe although it seemed to take an age before the connection between wicking, breathable layers was essential before Goretex could work at its optimum level.

When did you open your first outdoor equipment shop?

I started experimenting with different layering systems and before long wanted to open a shop to promote the new technologies. I was determined to bring the latest gear to the Scottish mountains. And so I opened Summits in 1985.

What were the challenges of opening up an outdoor shop when first starting?

Summits was born during a time of few outdoor equipment shops and relatively few outdoor enthusiasts. Fortunately this was about to change. The outdoor game began to become popularised through shows like 'The Munro Show' and more and more people were taking to the hills. However it's never easy to start a business without adequate capital and in the early days any profits had to be re-invested in the company.

What is the best thing about having your own business?

There are benefits of being your own boss especially when your business gives you the chance to go outdoors to use the gear you are trying to sell. I've tested skis and snowboards all over Europe and Scotland. Sometimes I really enjoy a day at the office!

What's the downside if any? 

Oh there are downsides! The financial crash of 2008 meant a huge contraction of our business. However we had already seen the benefits and potential of selling online. The crash gave us the impetus to re-orientate the business from the high street to online selling channels. This has paid off - especially now with the crisis brought about by the coronavirus.

The biggest achievement in the business that you are most proud of?

I'm not sure how much an achievement this is! In fact some people might not see this as an achievement at all but the day my son decided to join the business full time after completing a civil engineering degree was a day I'll remember. My son Justin had worked part-time in the business during his student days and had decided that the outdoors held more of an attraction for him than being an engineer. The fact that he wanted to work with his old man meant more to me than all the benefits of running my own business. A partnership that has worked fantastically well for 10 years!

Justin at age 18 helping his dad Alex in the family run outdoor clothing shop.
Alex & Justin

The secret of a successful business?

I'm not sure if there is a secret. Once you have an idea or a vision then it's so important to focus on making it work. The ingredients required are loads of hard work, a passion for what you're trying to achieve and surround yourself with good people. That combination should make anything work! 

Have you had any famous customers in your shop?

Indeed we have. Rory McCann (Alexander, Game of Thrones), used to do a bit of climbing and snowboarding. It was a bit of a challenge getting boots for his size 14 feet! And of course Alan Hinkes opened our new bigger shop in Paisley all those years ago. Graham Forbes formerly of The Incredible String Band and well-known author is still a regular customer.

Alan hinkes a British mountaineer, opening the paisley shop on the 11th November 1997.
Alan Hinkes opening the Summits store 1997!

Favourite thing to do in your free time?

Everything outdoors. Nowadays I'm still active in the hills although the days of the adrenaline fuelled rush are well-diminished. Sore knees, hips and wrists make climbing and snowboarding difficult at a higher level but I'm still keen to be involved at whatever level my body allows. 

How many Munro's have you climbed?

I finished the Munros at some point during the Eighties but have probably climbed most of them twice. I'm taking my time over the Corbetts which can be more difficult than most Munros. As usual snowboarding, mountaineering, camping/bivvying and biking all get in the way!

Somewhere you want to explore that you haven't done yet?

The Islands off the West Coast of Scotland. I've been remiss at not exploring some of our beautiful islands. Perhaps I was saving them for my retirement.......

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