Rockfish Gap is in the business of outfitting smiles on rivers, bicycles, and trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Chuck Walker is a 40-year veteran of the outdoor business, but he still insists that the joy and satisfaction of his customers is his number-one priority. “The people who shop here trust us with one of the most valuable things there is: their spare time.”
Rockfish Gap Outfitters, which he has owned since purchasing it from another Waynesboro couple in 1998, attempts every day to meet the leisure and adventure needs of local residents and traveling tourists. From kayaking and water sports, to road and mountain biking, to the weekend family camping trip, to epic backpacking treks from Georgia to Maine, Rockfish Gap finds its niche by catering to the full suite of mountain town adventure sports.
“Take care of people, and everything else (like sales) will take care of itself,” he says. Asked what he loves best about his job Chuck responds instantly: “I love to hear people laugh.”
Waynesboro as Trail Town, Home of Adventure Sports
“A lot of people in Waynesboro have been good for this store,” says Chuck. A long list of first names spills freely. Trail angels, event planners, fellow entrepreneurs, volunteers, and outdoor adventurers all populate his index of gratitude.
“There’s a greater awareness today of Waynesboro as a destination,” he adds. Thru-hiker and adventure cyclist destinations like Basic City Beer Co, all you can eat restaurants and buffets, downtown camping options, and hiker hostels have all sprung up to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem that mirrors the greater Blue Ridge ecological diversity. Chuck say he sees increasing numbers of young professionals and families choosing to make Waynesboro their home for its combination of immediate outdoor access and attractive and affordable housing.
Local Business Builds Local Community
The relationship that Rockfish Gap Outfitters has formed with Waynesboro over the years flows in two directions. “I love this business,” says Chuck. “I like retail because I can help people find what they want. But I also love that I’ve been able to support activities and causes and events that make sense to this community.” Elementary school fundraisers, Riverfest, Xtremefest, and the Banff Film Festival have all been recipients of Rockfish’s generosity over the years.
“We put people who have never been in a kayak on the South River,” says Chuck. “The hope is you get the kids away from the screens, out on the water, up on the trail. As a business owner, you get to make these decisions that can have a positive community impact.”
Rich Gibson, a once Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and now manager at Rockfish Gap Outfitters, embodies the integration of work, play, and volunteerism. Every Sunday, he organizes a group of local volunteers to build entry-level mountain biking trails at Sunset Park in Waynesboro. They’ve secured the enthusiastic support of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, but the work is theirs. Armed with shovels and work gloves, they are carving the turns that will one day inspire children, beginner riders, and adults of all ages to fall in love with their cherished mountains and trails, the outdoor landscape that roots them in Waynesboro.
Advice for Fellow Entrepreneurs and Adventurers
Chuck’s advice for fellow retailers echoes the same customer service philosophy he began with decades ago. He knows that brick-and-mortar retailers are under increasing pressure from the Internet. Finding incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff has been crucial to maintaining his business’s culture and customer following. Campers, boaters, cyclists, and cross-sport adventurers all comprise his bicycle mechanics and retailers.
As gear preferences have changed over the years, Rockfish Gap has had to learn to listen to their customers and respond accordingly. As the “ultra light” trends have hit backpacking and cycling, everything from shoes to camp stoves have evolved. Rockfish Gap changes with the times, and anticipates them as they are able.
Beyond gear lists and inventory counts, Chuck’s advice is to find a business that is also a passion, to sustain a level of love and enthusiasm that customers can feel. “This is me doing what I told my kids to do,” he says. “Find something you love, and you’ll never have a job. Find something you love and be happy.”
To learn more about Rockfish Gap Outfitters, you can check out their bikes, kayaks, and camping gear at www.rockfishgapoutfitters.com To learn more about the businesses and entrepreneurs who are forging Waynesboro’s local economy, check back at GrowWaynesboro.com for stories and start-up opportunities.