It had been almost three months since Arkansas Business last visited with Ted Herget about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on his Gearhead Outfitters, a chain of outdoor supply stores based in Jonesboro. At that time, late March, Herget called the disruption to his business “a slow death.”
Since then, Gearhead Outfitters has added tornado and civil unrest to the list of challenges it has faced. And is overcoming.
In a telephone interview, your Whispers staff caught up with Herget as he jogged, which he continued to do throughout the visit, all the while displaying admirable breath control.
In late March, only four of Gearhead’s 22 stores were open. Those 22 locations included 13 new stores that Gearhead had acquired with its purchase last year of Rock/Creek Outfitters of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Uncle Dan’s Outdoor Store of Chicago.
“We’re back,” Herget said. Every store under the Gearhead Outfitters umbrella is up and running, Herget said, with the exception of its Fayetteville location and the store in the Promenade at Chenal. That store remains closed only because it’s being remodeled; Herget expects it to be open by July 1 at the latest.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “A lot of people in. We’re busy. We’ve pretty much sold every bike we have in stock.”
Recent business has presented quite a contrast, “considering how scary it was the last time you and I talked,” Herget said.
Three of the six Uncle Dan’s stores and six of the seven Rock/Creek stores have reopened, he said. A couple of the Uncle Dan’s stores were damaged in the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
His company is updating hardware and software, and the e-commerce side of the business “has been super busy,” Herget said, adding, “I’m very proud of my team.”
Sales haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels, he said. “What the e-com did was allow us to move inventory we had,” Herget said. “It allowed us to keep a few more people on staff.”
Tornado Takes a Toll
Shortly after many retailers in Arkansas shut down in mid- to late March, a tornado struck Jonesboro on March 28, damaging stores at the Mall at Turtle Creek, including Gearhead Outfitters, and injuring more than 20 people.
“Our store was a direct hit,” Herget said. But it was closed because of the pandemic and “none of my people got hurt, although I lost a great store. We can rebuild that and we are.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared Jonesboro a disaster area. The Gearhead at the mall remains closed, and Herget is looking for a new location. “I’ve learned to not ever say it can’t get any worse, because, let me tell you, it can.”
Out of about 270 employees the company had before the pandemic and then the tornado, it now has more than 100 — “very lean,” he said — but store hours are not yet back to pre-pandemic levels either. “We’re just going to run a lot leaner,” Herget said. “I think a lot of companies are going to do that.”