Neptune Mountaineering of Boulder, Colorado acquired by Aspen’s Ute Mountaineer

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One of the outdoor industry’s best-known and most beloved indy gear stores, Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colorado, has been acquired by another legacy store, Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, the two jointly announced. companies this afternoon. The acquisition is expected to close on September 30.

The acquisition of Neptune – which owners Shelley and Andrew Dunbar sold for an undisclosed sum to Ute owners Maile Spung and his father Bob Wade – happened without the Dunbars ever officially disclosing. business for sale.

“There was no time pressure for us,” Shelley Dunbar told Outside Business Journal today after the acquisition was announced. “We just wanted to find the right next owner. Because the store is such a legend, we really wanted to make sure it fell into the right hands. We didn’t put it on the market, we just started letting people know last year that it was for sale, just to see what happened.

At that time, the Dunbars circulated an internal memo to store employees, letting them know that the business was for sale.

“We truly believe that the next ideal owner should be a Colorado resident who understands how Neptune serves the customer and the community,” they wrote in that letter. “We will be extremely careful who we sell the business to; what we have created here must be valued and preserved. We will want to see not only financial strength, but also a passionate commitment to Neptune employees, the local outdoor community, our loyal customers for whom Neptune has become their beloved “home” and our relationships with our supplier partners. Like we don’t need to sell, we can take our time and be selective, so we are convinced that what we have created over the past four years will endure in the future.

Read more: Neptune Mountaineering launches LAB to showcase crowd-funded products

Dunbar said she and her husband had received several offers over the past 12 or so months, all but one from prospective buyers based in Colorado, but after careful consideration and weeks of conversations, they finally landed on Ute. Mountaineer as the store’s next owners. .

“Ute Mountaineer was perfect in terms of who the owners are and what they bring in terms of experience, their values ​​in their community, etc.,” Dunbar said. “We are so closely aligned.”

Maile Spung, co-owner of Ute Mountaineer with her father, Bob Wade (who himself co-founded the store in 1977), said she never intended to run more than one gear store , but that the opportunity was too good to pass up. “We just couldn’t help but jump on it when it happened,” she said.

Saving Neptune Mountaineering from bankruptcy

Neptune’s path over the years has been difficult to say the least, which makes this latest acquisition all the more dramatic for those who have loved and frequented the boutique since its founding in 1973. A pillar of the outdoor community of Boulder for decades, the store was bought in 2013 by Texas-based retailer Backwoods, which “effectively destroyed” it, according to Dunbar.

“When we acquired it in 2017, we bought it out of bankruptcy,” Dunbar said. “Previous owners managed to drive it into the ground. When this happened, all of us outdoor people in Boulder couldn’t believe the beloved heart and center of our community was gone. Our decision to buy it was almost like a good community action to save the store from closing. We never intended to make it our long-term business.

Read more: Neptune Mountaineering is stronger than ever under new ownership

After that acquisition in 2017, the Dunbars gutted the store, redid the interior, and redesigned the product line, all with the goal of “bringing a community treasure back to life,” according to Dunbar. It took a few years, she said, to rebuild the store’s clientele and bring back community events that had long been canceled.

In just four years, the couple completely transformed the business. Once that goal was achieved, they wasted no time looking for new owners. “About a year ago, when we felt that Neptune was thriving, profitable and had a great team – while the community seemed happy – we thought it was time to find the next owners who could take Neptune into the future,” Dunbar said.

Choose Ute Mountaineer to advance the store

Dunbar said that, throughout the search for Neptune’s next owner, it was “never about the money”. Making a profit from the store rescue was the least of the Dunbars’ concerns as they embarked on their four-year journey to find a new owner for the business. They simply wanted to preserve a community treasure that had served outdoor enthusiasts in Boulder for decades.

For this reason, Dunbar said she and her husband only look for “fair market value” when discussing the acquisition with potential buyers. “Certainly we thought we deserved the amount of money we put into it,” she said. “It was a big investment up front. We ended up getting back more than the actual amount we invested, but that was never the goal for us.

Rather, it was about finding a new owner who understood the store’s values ​​and customer base, and who could protect the store’s legacy for decades to come. Spung, who acts as a ski and climbing buyer for Ute in addition to running the store as owner, was just the person for the job, Dunbar said.

“There’s so much history with Neptune,” Spung said. “After seeing what happened when the shop was sold to Backwoods and the community almost lost it, we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. We thought we could be those people to keep going.

Preserving Neptune’s Legacy and Serving the Community

Spung said that because Ute and Neptune operate in such different markets, the immediate goal is to get everything in Neptune working exactly as it is now. “Our goal is to move in, observe and gather all the information we need to operate there,” she said. This means that the product line, layout and general business practices will remain the same for the time being. If and when adjustments occur, Spung said, they will be carefully considered based on the needs and wants of the Boulder community.

One adjustment that could happen in the future, Spung said, is finding ways to shift Neptune’s product offerings a little more toward families getting into outdoor sports, without losing any of the highly techniques that currently attract the most “hardcore” of the shop. ” customer base.

“I have a young family and I know South Boulder is an area that has a lot of families, so we want to make sure we speak to that population, especially those who might feel intimidated by a hardcore store,” Spung said. “At the same time, we still want to sell all the technical items that current Neptune customers expect.”

Dunbar said that in his conversations with Spung the topic of store changes came up frequently, but they both agreed that Neptune “works great” as it is.

“They respect that we understand the Boulder market,” Dunbar said. “They see that we cater to this clientele with the product line and strategy that we have. We think there’s really no reason to change anything.

In fact, the change may occur in the other direction, towards Ute rather than towards Neptune. Currently, Neptune has a robust e-commerce business, while Ute does not sell any of its products online. Spung confirmed that after the acquisition, the two stores will work to merge their point-of-sale systems and begin listing Ute products online.

“There are opportunities for both stores to thrive with this structure,” Spung said. “We have a great little climbing community here in Aspen, but it’s nothing like the one in Boulder. We will be able to start offering our customers here much more specialized equipment than we were able to before because we did not have enough demand on our single site to justify buying in bulk. We will be able to do this in the climbing equipment and ski categories.

What’s next for current Neptune owners?

As the Dunbars leave the property, they plan to travel around Europe and “hope to do a lot of rock climbing trips”, according to the couple. They will sell their Boulder home early next year and split their time between Australia, where Andrew is from, and Maui, where they own a home.

“The cool thing about having a store like Neptune is that it’s a lot of fun to be on the sales floor, talking to customers,” Dunbar said. “Andrew and I really enjoy selling people cool stuff to go play outside. It’s a really fun thing to do, talking about gear, hearing customers talk about what they’re going to do. That commitment in one-on-one with people like us, this community, I think we will both really miss it.

As for the couple’s concern about the future success of the boutique? Dunbar said she was 100% sure selling to Ute Mountaineer was the right decision.

“Maile is young and has plenty of time to grow Neptune into the future,” Dunbar said. “It just feels like she’s the person keeping the legacy alive.”