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

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One of the outdoors industry’s best-known and beloved indy hardware stores, Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo., Has been acquired by another traditional store, Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, the two companies jointly announced. 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 amount to Ute owners Maile Spung and her father Bob Wade – happened without the Dunbars ever officially putting it down. business for sale.

“There was no time pressure on 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 falls into good 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.

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

“We really believe the next ideal owner should be a Colorado resident who understands how Neptune serves the customer and the community,” they wrote in the letter. “We will be very 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 confident that what we have created over the past four years will last into the future.

Read more: Neptune Mountaineering Launches LAB To Showcase Crowd-Funded Products

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

“Ute Mountaineer was perfect in terms of who the owners are and what they bring in terms of experience, values ​​in their community, etc. ”Said Dunbar. “We’re just 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 equipment store. , but 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 rocky to say the least, making this latest acquisition all the more dramatic for those who have loved and frequented the store since its founding in 1973. A mainstay of the outdoor community of Boulder for decades, the store was bought in 2013 by Texas retailer Backwoods, which “effectively destroyed” it, according to Dunbar.

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

Read more: Neptune Mountaineering is stronger than ever with a new owner

After this 2017 acquisition, the Dunbars emptied the store, redesigned 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 replenish the store’s customer base and bring back community events that had long been canceled.

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

Choose Ute Mountaineer to move the store forward

Dunbar said that throughout the search for the next owner of Neptune, there was “never a question of money.” Profiting 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 just wanted to preserve a community treasure that had served outdoor enthusiasts in Boulder for decades.

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

Rather, it was about finding a new owner who understood the store’s values ​​and customers, 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 an owner, was the perfect fit for the job, Dunbar said.

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

Preserve Neptune’s Legacy and Serve the Community

Spung said that since Ute and Neptune operate in such different markets, the immediate goal is to make everything in Neptune work exactly as it is now. “Our goal is to move in, observe and collect 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 now. If and when any adjustments do occur, Spung said, they will be carefully considered based on the needs and wants of the Boulder community.

One adjustment that could occur in the future, Spung said, is to find ways to shift Neptune’s product offerings slightly more towards families who are just getting into outdoor sports, without losing any of the benefits. Highly technical offerings that currently attract the more “hardcore” of the store. ” customer base.

“I have a young family and I know South Boulder is an area with 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,” he said. Spung said. noted. “At the same time, we still want to sell all of the technical items that current Neptune customers expect.”

Dunbar said that in his conversations with Spung the subject of store changes was brought up frequently, but they both agreed that Neptune “works wonderfully” as it is.

“They respect that we understand the Boulder market,” Dunbar said. “They see that we are responding to this clientele with the product line and the strategy that we have. We believe there is really no reason to change anything.

In fact, the change can happen the other way around, to Ute rather than Neptune. At present, Neptune has a strong e-commerce business, while Ute does not sell any of its products online. Spung confirmed that after the acquisition, the two stores will make efforts to merge their point of sale systems and begin listing Ute products online.

“There are opportunities for both stores to flourish with this structure,” said Spung. “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 previously could because we did not have enough demand on our one-stop shop to justify buying them in bulk. We can do this in the climbing and ski equipment categories.

What’s next for current Neptune owners?

As the Dunbars leave the property, they plan to travel to Europe and “hope to do a lot of 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 great thing about having a store like Neptune is that it’s a lot of fun being in the sales area, talking to customers,” Dunbar said. “Andrew and I really like selling people some cool stuff to go out and play. It’s a really fun thing to do, to talk about equipment, to hear customers say what they’re going to do. This one-on-one engagement with people like us – this community – I think we’ll both really miss it.

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

“Maile is young and has a lot of time to develop Neptune in the future,” Dunbar said. “It just feels like she’s the one to keep the legacy alive.”

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