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Russ Towers on Second Gear’s “Million Dollar Milestone”

Russ Towers on Second Gear’s “Million Dollar Milestone”

What does a size 9 pair of Chaco sandals, an ENO hammock, Olympic medalist Lauren Tomayo’s husband’s old skateboard, and a beige Columbia Outerwear fleece all have in common?

Well, not much, except that each of them along with $1 million worth of gear and clothing was sold by Second Gear in 2019. It was the first time in the store’s fifteen year lifespan that revenue surpassed the seven figure mark.

“It may be a drop in the bucket compared to larger retailers, but when you start a business from scratch and put everything into it it’s really satisfying,” said Second Gear founder Russ Towers who launched the shop with three partners in 2004.

The notion to create an outdoor gear consignment store crystalized while Towers was hunting for a used road bike soon after moving to Asheville in 2000. In the era before Craigslist, few brick and mortar stores in Asheville were selling second hand cycles or other pieces of used technical outdoor gear and apparel. Based on the success of other similar out-of-state enterprises, Towers’ tailored the business model to suit Asheville by specializing in selling retail and consignment outdoor gear for mountain sports.

While the shop endured a few lean years since its opening, the enterprise has flourished in the last half decade. The turning point, claims Towers, was two monumental events in 2012.

The first was the opening of a downtown location, the second said Towers, was his personal financial investment in the purchase and restoration of Second Gear’s headquarters, the historic Mardis Building on Haywood Road. Balancing the management of two storefronts and commencing an 18 month historic renovation nudged him to step away from his employment as a commercial real estate agent and concentrate his attention on nurturing Second Gear and managing the Mardis Building.

Towers’ professional move paid off. Although the downtown shop shuttered after three years, Second Gear’s revenue has soared by 125% since the completion of the building’s restoration in 2014.

“We went from being the only business in a dated building to one of many on a vibrant block in West Asheville,” said Towers who manages the store’s finances, oversees marketing, and guides the strategic planning. “It took persistence and confidence in the people who are involved with Second Gear and belief in our ability to pull it off.”

Among the key players was founding partner Buffalo McMurry. A former Outward Bound instructor, McMurray has continued to work shifts in the shop and has marveled at its growth.

“For me, having sixteen years of relationships with my partners and our employees has been a highlight,” said McMurry.  He’s also proud of the store’s social and economic impact on the community. “Every dollar that comes in does so many things” from paying employees a fair wage, by recycling and reusing gear, to supporting local non-profit organizations.

According to Towers, Second Gear has paid $3.4 million in consignment fees, and since the kickoff of a non-profit revenue sharing program in 2017 the shop has contributed nearly $40,000 to several dozen community organizations.

As for the future, Towers’ hope is to reach the store’s twenty year mark.

“I think we’re constantly looking to evolve and improve on what we do,” he said, adding that the shop will aim for the next milestone by continuing to focus on its mission to be a one-stop outfitter for people to affordably gear up and go outside.

By Jack Igelman

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