You have to jump off the cliff and do it
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Sean Creary, owner, operator and founder of River & Trail Outdoor Company in Rothesay, has some sage advice. Photo: Joe Fecteau
Thinking of getting into retail entrepreneurship? Sean Creary, owner, operator and founder of River & Trail Outdoor Company in Rothesay, took the leap from the corporate world to entrepreneurship almost three years ago and has some sage advice about the venture.
After spending close to 12 years as a sales representative for a blue chip company in the pharmaceutical industry, Sean launched River & Trail which is described on their website as“a little different from your typical equipment outfitter.” During our interview I learned what makes this venture a “little different” from his corporate experience which includes Sean becoming skilled at things he never imagined he would – such as the art of snow removal after our recent snowbound winter.
He has also narrowed his daily commute to work down to 6 minutes. I began our conversation by asking Sean what it was that motivated him to move from a career in the corporate world into a life as a small business owner.
A: I had a career in a different industry for a bunch of years. It really came down to not feeling I had a sense of purpose. I didn’t feel like there was some of the initial passion I might have had starting out in that line of work. I think the industry as a whole was – and still is – going through a period of contraction.
Q: How did you work through this feeling of not having a sense of purpose?
A: I had a choice. I could hang tight – wait until my time was up – or be more proactive and decide,“Okay, how do I want to better myself? How do I want to find that sense of purpose and at the same time try to make a living and fill those gaps that I identify within my own life?”
Q: What was it that attracted you to being an entrepreneur?
A: Well, I grew up in the KV area. There was, and still is, a very big sense of community here. My very first job was at a local mom and pop shop just down the road renting movies. I often thought,“wouldn’t it be nice if I could just leave my house and drive down the street to my place of employment.”
Q: How did you find this business opportunity and marry it with some of your personal passions?
A: I thought about when I am happiest, what types of hobbies do I have? For me being outside, whether it’s hiking or skiing or any activity – being outside has always been a very rewarding experience. Then you think about what the business opportunities are – is it an activity-based business where you’re conducting exercises or organizing activities for kids and adults? Or is it retail? I started looking at retail.
Q: When you landed on retail and an outdoor shop as a possibility, how did you move beyond the ‘great idea’phase?
A: That’s when the work really began. I did a whole bunch of research to determine if it was viable. That took a fair amount of time. I looked at most centers within North America and there’s always a specialty outdoor shop. They all seem to be doing quite well. There are a couple of franchises around like Mountain Equipment Co-Op, for instance, in Canada and REI in the United States. But outside of those big outdoor box stores, most of the shops that exist are independent shops and they’ve been around for a significant number of years.
Q: How tough was the decision to leave your job and start a business?
A: It is a scary proposition to leave a job that’s semi-secure and well-compensated but I had to make a decision. Either I had to go away from it and not do it at all, focus my energy somewhere else or I literally had to jump off the cliff. Once I made the decision, things just kind of fell into place.
Q: What was it like once you made the decision to jump off the cliff?
A: It’s almost like you’re going uphill and then all of sudden you’re going downhill. There’s a lot of momentum behind you and you’re focused. You’re doing it because you know there’s no turning back at that point.
Q: You’re not in this alone.
A: My wife, Sarah, is the co-owner. She plays a big role in the buying and helps out with the merchandising. Because she’s not here on a daily basis, she’s a fantastic barometer to help rationalize things because she’s coming at it with fresh eyes. She gives a great perspective and balance to the whole process and this whole experience.
Q: What has surprised you the most about working for yourself?
A: We’re only in our third year but probably what surprised me the most is trying to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. There’s uncertainty with everything you do, but maybe it’s because this is it. This store is on your shoulders. There are tons of great days. But every now and again, there’s a slow day.
Q: I know that the customer experience is a key part of your brand at River & Trail. What goes into creating a great experience for the customer?
A: We spent a lot of time thinking about what the experience should be like when you walk through the doors. What do you see? What do you smell? What’s your interaction like with the staff? It’s the in-store experience. When you walk into a big box store, you’re almost on your own. Every now and again you might come across a sales associate that knows their stuff. The expectation in a smaller specialty place like this is that we really know our stuff.
Q: What do you find most challenging about being a small, independent retail outlet?
A: Getting your name out there. Advertising isn’t cheap. It can be effective if you’re using the right avenue. Also, starting from the ground up because you don’t have a bottomless bank account, you need to spend wisely. You learn from your mistakes. I’m new to retail. I knew what I was getting into, but I think the learning curve is quite steep.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you have for someone thinking about venturing into retail?
A: If you’ve done your homework and you’re committed to the endeavour, there will be no regrets. You’ll also have much more say over your own fate. It gives you such a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Q: Has your dream come to fruition?
A: It’s not every morning,but there are certainly mornings where I’m driving along and realizing I don’t have to drive another two hours to get to my first appointment of the day. That is what I envisioned five years ago. That’s happening now. That memory keeps that little fire burning and reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.
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As published in the July 25, 2015 Telegraph-Journal
Sean Creary, owner, operator and founder of River & Trail Outdoor Company in Rothesay, took the leap from the corporate world to entrepreneurship almost three years ago and has some sage advice about the venture.