Reagan Slee knew when he graduated from Bishop High that he wanted to own a sporting goods store some day. What he didn’t know was how the different career paths he would eventually take paved the way to Reagan’s Sporting Goods. He probably also didn’t know how much work it would take to bring that dream to life.
Reagan’s Sporting Goods opened its doors at 963 N. Main St. on the site of the former Napa Auto Parts Store the week before the Blake Jones Trout Derby, March 17. The timing was ideal; his credit card machine showed up in time and families for whom the Derby was an annual outing stopped in to gear up for the event. Business was brisk.
Slee’s business plan is simple and obvious from the way the shop is laid out with a broad range of hunting, fishing and camping gear. “We want to offer more variety and selection,” he said, “and not specialize in just fly fishing or bait fishing. We’ve got archery equipment and ammo. I wanted a variety so that later on the business can grow and fill in what people are looking for.”
In an industry with massive retail outlets and internet shopping carts, Slee is committed to making the situation work in his favor. “We’re going to keep our prices competitive with on-line and big shopping center prices,” he said. “It’s too easy to check on pricing before you buy and there are a lot of offers out there. I’m going to try to give local people and out-of-towners an outlet to shop and not feel like they could have found a much better price in large, urban centers or on-line. I want to keep business here in town by taking a smaller margin and making up for it with volume and just by working harder.”
Even the choice of Reagan’s web address for the business (www.hunt-fish-sierra.com ) reflects the way sportsmen Google.
“The Chamber is really pleased to see a new business owner with so much enthusiasm,” said Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau Executive Director Tawni Thomson. “Reagan has a positive, pro-active approach to business and that’s great to see.” Thomson also hit on the one element that keeps customers coming to small town businesses. As the recent Retail Coach survey indicated, small town businesses cannot necessarily compete with the internet or the big-box stores on price or inventory. “The one important difference,” she said, “is customer service.”
Slee has already put that concept into practice with special orders. “That’s one service we have to offer,” he said. “If I don’t have it, I’ll do my best to get it. In less than a week of business, I’ve already placed 20 special orders for customers. It’s the best way to keep inventory down and keep customers coming back.”
For Slee the sporting goods store is more than just a business, it’s been his passion. “We grew up hunting and fishing,” he said of a family that is part of the Browns Corporation that includes recreational facilities in Bishop, Big Pine, Keoughs and the upper Owens River. The family compound was on Rossi Hill south of Bishop with a backdoor that opened onto the Eastern Sierra foothills. “We had lizards to catch, squirrels to shoot when we were growing up. Our parents took us hunting and fishing all the time. I really fell in love with it.”
That passion turned into a job working for Mac’s Sporting Goods at the age of 15. While his high school buddies were headed to the river for fun, Slee was at Mac’s, his idea of fun. “I really liked where I worked,” he said. Besides, the store fed his addiction. Slee could get his own hunting and fishing gear at a discount.
After nine years at Mac’s, Slee joined his sister, Randee Pritchard, at Eastern Sierra Realty. He was headed toward marriage and family and figured it was time to make more serious money. The money was there but so was the stress. He decided to back off and went to work for Cola-Cola.
“Everything seems to have happened for a reason,” he said. “I was ready to go after my dream. I figured if I didn’t do it now I might not ever do it. The real estate background helped me negotiate for the building. The merchandising and marketing experience at Coca-Cola helped me set up the store and the displays. The nine years at Mac’s and a lifetime of loving the outdoors, it all came together.”
The store holds not only outdoor equipment, it reflects a lot of Slee, his family and friends. He and his father hand-made the rod racks. There’s a counter in the back with photos of big catches. The walls are lined with heads, some familiar, many exotic. “When I first looked at the store,” Slee said, “I figured I could get about 24 mounted heads up on the walls.” He put the word out he was looking for trophies and now has roughly 40, including a couple wild boars, a caribou and a full-sized bear.
From Slee’s perspective, his dream is coming true. “I’ve got the perfect location,” he said. “The shop is laid out so you can see everything, it’s light and bright. I figure, people get in the door once, it’ll be hard not to come back. This isn’t really my job, it’s my passion. I’m working seven days a week, but I have the energy now and I want to do it.”