Iconic outdoor retailers join forces as Aspen’s Ute acquires Boulder’s Neptune
Bob Wade: ‘We are such a good match’
One iconic mountaineering shop ingrained in Aspen is purchasing an equally iconic shop in Boulder.
The owners of Aspen’s Ute Mountaineer are purchasing Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder. They are scheduled to close on the deal Thursday.
“We are such a good match,” said Bob Wade, co-owner of the Ute with his daughter, Maile Spung. Wade co-founded the Ute on April 1, 1977. Spung now oversees the day-to-day operations of the nearly 45-year-old independent outdoor specialty shop.
Neptune Mountaineering is one of the most highly respected independent outdoor retail stores in the county. Gary Neptune founded it April 1, 1973. Andrew and Shelley Dunbar purchased it in 2017. They bought it out of bankruptcy from Texas-based retailer Backwoods, which had acquired the store in 2013 and ran into financial difficulties, according to an article in Outside Business Journal. The Dunbars are credited with reviving Neptune and nurturing the relationship with Boulder-area residents again.
The Dunbars started looking for buyers about one year ago by word of mouth rather than a formal business or real estate listing. Wade and Spung heard about the opportunity through industry friends.
“It immediately felt like it was worth a look,” Wade said, adding that once they did their due diligence, their confidence grew. “The more we saw, the more we felt we made the right decision.”
In a news release about the acquisition, the buyers and sellers noted the similarities between Neptune and the Ute — the product mix; the customer base of climbers, backcountry skiers and backpackers; the commitment to the local community; and the reputations of two of the longest lasting independent specialty outdoor stores in the U.S.
Wade and Spung said, “We also felt, because of the Ute’s similar DNA, that we could be the perfect people to take Neptune into the future.”
At first glance, it appears to be a challenging time for the Aspen business operators to buy another store roughly 200 miles away. In general, bricks-and-mortar retailing has taken a hit from online sales. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has spooked some people from shopping in-person. But Spung said there has been a transformation in the outdoor retailing industry.
“People are coming back to wanting to touch and feel” the merchandise, she said. “I think the days of us feeling like Amazon is going to put us out of business are over.”
Spung and Wade also felt confident to pursue the deal because of the similarities of the two stores. Erin Johnson, a former contract buyer of goods for the Ute, has been a longtime employee at Neptune and is now general manager, a post she will continue to hold. Spung said she is excited to work with Johnson again and she complimented the core staff they have hired at Neptune.
Wade said both stores would retain their autonomy, including their names. The vendors of the stores overlap to a large degree. The Ute will benefit from Neptune’s immense selection. The Boulder store is about four times the size of the Aspen store, so they carry a bigger inventory of climbing and technical gear as well as hard goods, Spung said. Wade said he has been impressed with some of the business systems in place at Neptune and hopes to incorporate some ideas at the Ute.
Spung said she would be spending considerable time in coming months getting to know the Neptune staff better and learning more about the operation. She will still oversee the Ute. Wade said he will stay on course to inch toward retirement.
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