34-year-old professional skier Bryce Phillips had a vision to create a retail experience for the active sport enthusiast that would embrace their lifestyle and their values.
In 2005, he launched Evo, an online and brick-and-mortar retail business that caters to skiers and boarders. Retail is just one part of the business. He also engages the community through events such as art openings, film premieres, and skate competitions at the Seattle headquarters.
Evo, short for “evolution”, is how Phillips thinks about his business: always changing to stay relevant. And indeed, his company evolved from a one-man business selling merchandise from liquidators at the age of 12, to a full-fledged business with 120 employees.
Phillips talks about how Evo got its start,why it has thrived, and where he plans on taking the company from here.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
I originally started buying and selling gear to pay for my skiing. When I was in junior high and high school, I was selling equipment just to finance ski trips and equipment. In college I would go to places that were going out of business and I would buy a bunch of boots and resell them. I made a good margin and it allowed me to reinvest and put money into skiing, I wasn’t really building a brand or company, or anything beyond what I was selling to pay for the sport.
Where did the funding first come from?
[When I decided to turn the sideline into a full-time business], it was all credit cards and loans from family. I used school loans to help buy a house, then re-mortgaged my house. I was finding cash wherever I could; you know, the typical founder stuff. It took quite a while. I was
fixing up and selling houses, then brought on individual investors. Our first round was in 2008 when I was introduced to people in Seattle who were in the business. At that time, I got a little more than $1 million; and two years ago it was a bigger round, around $9 million through word of mouth.
Who was your first customer?
I was selling to kids I went to school with in Roseburg, Ore. I bought a bunch of ski boots from a retailer going out of business and sold 10 pairs of boots. I hung flyers around town, but most of it was word of mouth: People knew I had gear and was selling it at a good price.
When did you know the company would be a success?
I’ve always had the confidence it would be. It was naive, for sure, but I guess I always had an understanding what did exist and didn’t exist in the market. And then, tying it into all the elements that surrounded it into the culture. One thing led to another. I sold skis out of my dorm room, and it just grew and grew and grew. Later on in life, you realize there are big challenges and you’re not sure for a moment, but you get through those.
We have a huge opportunity to open stores nationwide. We have an opportunity to grow Evo-branded product. Right now we do small bits of Evo-branded products, such as clothing and accessories. We want to make that a bigger category for our business, with outwear and street wear.
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