Gaining a foothold: Bedrock Sandals to bolster state’s booming recreation economy

Bedrock Sandals customers can look forward to “an exciting project launch” that will happen in March, a company official said Thursday. (Bedrock Sandals photo)

Missoula and state outdoor industry leaders on Thursday welcomed news that adventure footwear manufacturer Bedrock Sandals will relocate its flagship retail store and repair/resole workshop from Richmond, Calif., to Missoula, as well as its corporate headquarters.

Todd Frank, The Trail Head’s owner since 2000, said his stores started selling the popular sandals last summer. Frank has storefronts in downtown Missoula and Southgate Mall and a boat store in Midtown.

“We’re super excited to have them in town,” he said. “We think a lot of the brand. They are core outdoor users. Their business model lines up with ours very well right now.”

Bedrock Sandals co-founders Nick Pence and Dan Opalacz announced their move from the high-priced San Francisco Bay Area late Wednesday, citing Missoula’s lower cost of living, rigorous affinity for the outdoors and a surging economic stewardship model. They’ll arrive in early 2020.

“We wanted a place with better backyard access to rivers and mountains, a more affordable cost of living, and more seasons for testing and developing new footwear,” said Pence. “We looked for new landscapes to explore, a more sustainable atmosphere to continue building our homegrown business, and a better environment that suits our ethos and lifestyles. Missoula’s down to earth feel, outdoor recreation, and sense of community hit all the marks.”

Pence and Opalacz previously worked AmericCorps field jobs in Northern California.

Envisioning a friendly collaboration, Frank said a small shop like Trail Head undergoes a “natural evolution” when selling popular all-purpose footwear, first Teva, then Chaco brands. Now Bedrock Sandals steps into the spotlight.

“We hope to have a stronger partnership with them and to have factory sales with them if they have extra inventory at a community event,” he said.

Speaking of which, Opalacz said customers can look forward to “an exciting project launch” that will happen locally in March.

“We’ve been hard at work on further iterations to our current line and future designs to allow for more year-round Bedrocking,” Opalacz said.

Frank said a “pathway for growth” exists for shops like his as new brands and styles become better known. 

“If you think about business trajectories, there’s Trail Head, Hide and Sole, Bob Wards, Sports Authority, etc. We had a really great, long run with Chaco sandals when they were first on the market; everybody wanted them. They were great, cool and authentic, but now you can buy them everywhere. So brands kind of leave us in the dust.” 

From a business standpoint, Frank sees several other advantages to the Bedrock Sandals move.

“It’s a fairly new brand,” he said. “The real core outdoor user is attracted to them because they’re really durable. They’re not a very big brand at this point, but we like to be involved with brands that are up and coming.”

Gaining a foothold in Missoula and Montana seems beneficial to business overall.

“Sandals for us are a very important key part of our summer business … from water, casual wear and flip flops,” said Frank. “We’re kind of a sandals and hiking boots store, for all intents and purposes.” 

“We all have a pair,” said Lindsey Wallace, business and communications manager for Missoula Economic Partnership, which made the announcement with the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development. 

Bedrock Sandals’ ethos aligns with the Trail Head from an outdoors recreational stewardship standpoint, as Pence and Opalacz have already contributed to Missoula-based organizations like the Clark Fork Coalition and Adventure Cycling.

Big Sky Fulfillment, a Missoula distribution company located near the airport, will handle inventory and distribution for Bedrock. CEO Patrick Claytor said his office will add one full-time employee and one part-time employee to service the Bedrock Sandals account.

Big Sky Fulfillment helps retail businesses grow by warehousing their inventory, packing and shipping customers’ online orders as well as orders from wholesalers.

“We are excited for Bedrock Sandals moving to Missoula because they are a great company run by a great team,” said Claytor. “Bedrock’s company culture and Missoula’s culture are aligned, and they will fit right in with the business and nonprofit community here. Missoula has a lot of physical product companies like Spectrum Aquatics, Kind Apparel, Vim & Vigr, American Eagle Instruments, and now Bedrock Sandals. As the Bedrock Sandals team immerses in the community, the ideas and lessons all these companies can share will only enable everyone to do better.”

It’s not a secret anymore that Montana has hundreds of miles of rivers and public access to the outdoors going for it.

“For Montana, we do have this amazing resource – this amazing outdoors – you can’t make that up,” said Rachel VanderVoort, Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation director for the past two years. “We are like No. 4 for our business tax climate. When you look at everything, this is a highly desirable place to live and relocate.” 

Other business advantages for new-to-Montana companies include a robust, outdoor lifestyle, proximity to national markets and transportation, access to a viable workforce and workforce training, and interconnectivity in terms of national air travel and broadband capabilities, added VanderVoort. 

Montana ranks fourth for overall well-being – behind only Hawaii, Wyoming and Alaska, according to a February 2019 Gallup Poll survey. Gallup measures well-being in terms of physical, community, financial, social and career benchmarks. 

“The coolest part about Bedrock Sandals is that the recreation space is really about elevating everyone together – it’s a very exclusive industry to work with,” said VanderVoort. “The rising tide lifts all boats sort of thing.”

Since the state outdoor recreation office aims to grow and enhance the outdoor recreation economy, she said Bedrock Sandals is a very good fit.

“This is a core industry to the outdoor recreation economy; these are the people manufacturing and selling the goods,” said VanderVoort. “Also out of this office, we look at what is it that sustains and supports these businesses thriving in what they make. Our infrastructure is not only the trails; it’s access to healthy waters and core to Montana’s way of life: hunting, hiking and boating.” 

Grant Kier, Missoula Economic Partnership CEO, said his office welcomes Bedrock Sandals with open arms.

“Bedrock is what we consider a best-fit business — one that builds long-term success around great people, a great place and a great product,” said Kier. “It’s been a pleasure to get to know them and help them make Missoula their home.

“We know Bedrock is great for Missoula and that Missoula is great for Bedrock, offering all the ingredients to ensure their growth and success, and we’re delighted to welcome them to our community.”

Opelecz said the local shop will open with between 5 and 7 employees, until it grows. While it remains to be seen exactly where Bedrock Sandals will locate its shop in Missoula, the industry as a whole looks very promising for Missoula residents seeking work.

Case in point: Outdoor recreation is big business in Montana.

“Outdoor recreation has quickly grown to be a powerhouse in Montana, representing over 5% of our economy and $70 billion in annual consumer spending, while creating over 71,000 jobs,” said VanderVoort, citing Outdoor Industry Association consumer spending data.

“From our office perspective, this is just one more amazing, awesome piece of our state’s economy and the outdoor recreation economy thriving and growing within the state,” she added.  

Frank said he hopes for referrals from Bedrock Sandals. 

“We’d love to have people call their company and develop that type of relationship,” he added.