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Outdoor Enthusiast Finds His Niche with Adirondack Business

SBA Helps Mountainman Outdoor Supply Expand

John Nemjo originally fell in love with paddling as a way to enjoy the great outdoors while attending college in Florida. Paddling the back woods rivers, streams and springs he found the solitude and balance of nature unavoidably appealing. Even though he initially pursued a career in biology and then teaching math at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Nemjo always dreamt of a future in the outdoors and on his own terms. Twenty-five years ago, he dared to take that chance when he started Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company (MOSC) on a shoestring budget of $6,000 in an abandoned pizza shop in the Adirondack Park.

The first years were tough, but Nemjo relied on his intuitive skill with numbers to keep the business afloat. Nemjo found the right balance of hiking, camping and backpacking products that would work for his customers and his cash flow, offering clothing, shoes and gear suited for the conditions in the Adirondacks. In the second year of business, Nemjo began selling and renting canoes and kayaks that were perfectly suited for paddling the surrounding 3,000 freshwater lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Nemjo’s retail focus on water sports was perfectly timed to ride the wave of popularity kayaking enjoyed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when kayak sales grew over 20 percent annually nationwide. Kayaks were being made with lighter, more innovative materials than before and being marketed to the typical outdoor enthusiast, not only to traditional whitewater paddlers. Nemjo also recognized the opportunity to attract customers to paddlesports with a large on-water sales event and started the now annual Adirondack Paddlefest show in 1999.

Event-based marketing has also helped Nemjo’s retail operation weather the peaks and valleys. Nemjo’s company has since created SUPtoberfest, an exclusive stand-up paddleboard weekend festival in October, Demo-days with manufacturer representatives throughout the summer and fall, and a new Outdoor Adventure Series of workshops, demos and clinics to attract customers for more than just purchasing clothing and equipment. To meet the challenge of a seasonal sales cycles in the Adirondacks, over the years Nemjo added winter sports equipment and apparel lines, including snowshoes, cross-country skis, and fat tire bikes that can be used in snow.

Under Nemjo’s leadership, MOSC’s combined retail space has grown from 700-square-feet as a startup in 1993 to over 15,000-square-feet in six storefronts on over six-acres of property. Employment has grown from two seasonal employees in 1993 to over 50 full and part-time employees today. As Nemjo added more retail stores, first in Old Forge and then in Saratoga Springs, he found the right financing to acquire properties and inventory with several SBA-backed loans from Adirondack Bank.

The retail environment continues to present challenges and opportunities for small retailers like Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company: “For today’s brick and mortar retailers to survive, they must offer more than product. They must offer an experience and that is what MOSC provides,” explains Nemjo. Along with their eBay store and offering price matching to compete with big-box stores, the company stays ahead of the competition by focusing on their customers’ needs. Nemjo’s success in the marketplace has drawn the attention of many outdoor brands, such as his selection by The North Face’s as one of 41 retailers in the U.S. to help contribute to the company’s new branding campaign. 

After 25 years in business, Nemjo feels he is just hitting his stride and continues to find ways to innovate. Even today, Nemjo has stayed connected to the reason he started the business: “For me, paddling is a way of life. It’s a way of reconnecting with the natural world, your own inner self, and rediscovering the things that are really important in life. The best river to paddle on is the one I’m on.”

Company Name: 
Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company
Old Forge, NY