Retail and Sports Business

Better late than never for retailer

Moosejaw opens ‘pop-up’ store after six years of searching for right time.

September 16, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Moosejaw Mountaineering leadership acknowledges it might have taken a bit too long to establish a retail presence in Grand Rapids.

The Madison Heights-based retailer opened its Grand Rapids “pop-up” store Sept. 19, following nearly six years of on-and-off searching, said Nick Rau, Moosejaw director of retail. The “pop-up” store will be at Klingman Lofts, 410 Ionia Ave. SW, until at least January, but Rau said it’s been outfitted to be as permanent as possible with a decision to be made by later in 2016.

“It’s been a real discussion, and we looked at a lot of real estate in late 2011, 2012, but we just didn’t find a place that was specific to what we were looking for,” Rau said. “When we came back to Grand Rapids recently to see how things were going, with the development of the community, it took one visit to show us it became an absolute certainty that Grand Rapids was a market we needed to be in, and if anything, (we) drug our feet too long and needed to be here a while ago.”

For the past three years, M Retail Solutions President Chris Muller attempted to bring Moosejaw to Grand Rapids and finally signed the company to the lease in the Downtown Market District. Muller said he and the company’s leadership had active dialogue of the nuances of downtown retail, and the Klingman Lofts location clicked.

Muller’s involvement as a founder of Grand Rapids Whitewater also proved a positive for Moosejaw, as the project to restore the Grand River was cited by Rau as a reason Moosejaw is excited about Grand Rapids.

“Moosejaw really likes districts that promote cross-shopping,” Muller said. “How their customer might shop somewhere else, or their customers are like the ones that might shop at the Downtown Market, Slows or Social Kitchen and Bar.”

The Downtown Market also provides a beacon for Moosejaw fans to easily find the store, something Muller said was important, since the company finds it draws customers to its stores from a large region. Moosejaw has stores in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado and Massachusetts.

Another reason the company took longer than desired to settle on a space in Grand Rapids was “a Moosejaw needs to feel like a Moosejaw,” Rau said.

“All of the demographics look good, but because we follow the numbers, and sometimes they don’t turn out the way we desire them, the most important thing is the community into Moosejaw, the madness, do they get our culture?” Rau said. “We need to find a space that portrays our culture really, really well.

“That’s what great, is this space feels like a Moosejaw.”

Rau said there were several areas across Grand Rapids that could have been a Moosejaw location. The collective vision of Grand Rapids was a point of excitement for the Moosejaw leadership team, he said.

“For a city of this size, the unity and vision of how to build a community, it blows my mind,” Rau said. “Landlord to landlord, there is no reason they have to be connected and share the vision, but they’re all pushing toward the same goal to make Grand Rapids more notable, cool and engaging.”

More than a decade ago, Rau came to Grand Rapids as a student at Ferris State University and bypassed downtown to explore 28th Street. He said the lack of downtown excitement was one of the reasons Moosejaw passed on the city for some years, not willing to be one of the pioneers of risk in development, as it was in 2012 when it opened a pop-up shop in downtown Detroit, which turned into a permanent store.

The location of Slows Barbeque and Social Kitchen & Bar, along with some of the other national retailers settling into West Michigan for the first time have taken away some of the risk to enter Grand Rapids, Rau said.

“You can look at photos of this district just a few years ago, and it’s a reason we probably wouldn’t have considered it a few years ago; we maybe weren’t in a position to support that risk,” he said. “To feel like a Moosejaw, we need to have a store to connect with the community and having partners to do that and willing to engage with the community in our space and have fun with is better.

“I can’t stand up and say we’re an early adopter to the area, but we’re not the last, and we’re here to have fun and build out the corridor.”

Partnerships will help Moosejaw hold food, beverage, yoga and other events at the store, Rau said, which is “on-brand and part of the strategy” to be a larger part of a community than just a retailer.

Rau said the 2,000-square-foot High Altitude Lounge in the store will have a TV, Nintendo, table tennis, bar area and a refrigerator stocked with Capri Suns. While the area might shrink if the store goes permanent, Rau said it currently is the largest community space at any Moosejaw, and he’d love to keep it that way.

The weekend following the opening will include an event with Founders Brewing Co. and Yesterdog, and 10 percent of retail sales from the whole weekend will go to Grand Rapids Whitewater.

Community excitement and participation at the store will be — along with sales — among the deciding factors if the store remains beyond January, Rau said.

“We need people to come and hang out, play ping pong, Nintendo, have fun and spread the word that Moosejaw is here and excited to be here,” he said.

Muller said the buzz surrounding Moosejaw is exciting and could be an indicator of the company’s long-term potential in Grand Rapids. He also said the success of Moosejaw could show where Grand Rapids is in terms of retail sustainability, especially in the Downtown Market District. M Retail still has some spaces available in Baker Lofts and Klingman Lofts.

“It’s starting to fill out and become a district,” Muller said. “I’m hoping it’ll encourage some development of the real estate in between the buildings.”

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