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30/30: Oregon’s Exit Real World

For Missy Samiee, who grew up hanging out at her father’s chain of Oregon-based camera stores called The Shutterbug, her love for catering to the consumer started at an early age.

“By watching my Dad, I learned that if you truly work hard at something, you are going to be successful,” says Samiee. “I loved seeing how people would line up at the shop to talk with him. He’d remember their names and fun little details about their life.  It made coming to his shop like going to visit with an old friend.”

With four brothers who all had a passion for skating, Samiee was often tagging along to skate contests, parks and shops as a youth. Most of the time, her brothers would ask her father and her to wait in the car while they went inside because the shops didn’t cater to children or parents. Fast forward to the 90s, and Samiee was dealing with similar situations at snowboard shops while trying to find the right gear for her and friends. “Most of the shops were skateboard stores with one rack of dusty snowboard product shoved in the corner,” she says. “I remember going into a shop in Portland and digging through a pile of boots trying to find a pair that fit.  The owner of the shop barely did more than point to the mess and left me to help myself.”

This type of experience was exactly what I wanted to create with my own store: A  super welcoming place where people could find the coolest product available in skate and snowboarding.

It was that type of experience that left Samiee wanting to provide something different—something better—and inspired her to open her first store, Salem’s EXIT Real World, in 1993.  Fresh out of college at Willamette University, Samiee had completed an independent study project her last year in school on how to build a boutique-style snowboard/skateboard shop. The project was called Exit Real World, and while it may have been a research assignment for class credit, Samiee was confident it was applicable to real life—And she was right.

Since then, together with friend and now husband Jake Hauswirth, Samiee has worked to open three more locations— first in Government Camp, Oregon, followed by Portland in 1999, and the newest location, Bridgeport Village, in 2007. We caught up with Samiee and Hauswirth to find out how business is going lately:

What’s your staff like?

We consider our staff part of our family.  These days, we run a pretty tight-knit schedule with really just a handful of staff members, plus a manager at each shop.  This has really helped us make sure that the employees we do have our committed to EXIT’s customer service mission.   Although, in some ways this puts a lot more on the shoulders of our staff, it also gives them a huge sens of responsibility which can be really rewarding..  Most of our employees are very long term.  Rob Aragon, our head buyer has been with EXIT for 14 years!  Now that’s some dedication!

How is the online side of your business going?

EXITrealworld.com is a major part of what we do.  Though for most of our brands, we don’t purchase specifically for it, we stock enough at each of our stores to be sure that we have excess for web sales.  This does create some work, as we do transfers from the stores to fulfill these orders on a daily business.  Not a perfect scenario, but for now with limited funds, it is working!  This can be a bit of a sore subject when staff members see “their” product going away to web sales, but we have to remind them that any sales are good for the store!  Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the website is that our local customers are using it as an online catalog.   Many times they come into the shop and say, “I saw this on your website, and I want to check it out…”.  This information confirms that all of the many, many man hours it takes to shoot product, write product descriptions, upload to our site, etc. really are worth it.

How has the recent economy  affected your shop?

I have to be honest and admit that we’ve seen some very challenging times. With less sales and in most cases rising operating costs, the last 2 years, have been financially draining.  Somehow, even our first few years were so much easier.  I guess that the biggest change from when we first opened, is that we didn’t have 20  employees, a handful of landlords and a huge list of vendors counting on us to keep the cash coming.  If we didn’t have a good month back then, things were just so much easier to manage.  Now, any cash short falls are personally very hard for us to quickly fix.  Banks are extremely conservative these days and honestly, I can’t blame them.  Unfortunately, for us, this means that we have to rely on our income from the shops to pay all of our bills.  Though this sounds like how the “plan” should work, often times lately, we find ourselves struggling to make ends meet.

I really want to thank all of our vendors for supporting us during this crazy period.  It’s no fun to fall behind in our payments and have to say that I’ll send a check next week/month/etc.  In the past, when we’d have open invoices, we’d pretty much just write a check a few days before it came due.  I don’t even know what that feels like anymore, but I definitely plan to get us back there!

Are you altering the way  you buy for next season/year?

The past couple of years has really kept us on our toes.  These days, we aren’t simply buying product that looks good and might sell. We have to really focus on the winners.  We’ve been firm and more structured with our buyers by setting a budget that they just simply have to stick to.  Whenever we seem to let orders slip through (whether the buyer wrote something outside of the budget, or the rep padded the order), it always seems to get us in trouble.  We just can’t flood the store with a bunch of stock and expect it all to sell before the bill is due. With everything we buy, it has to be the right product, arrive during the right time, and with the right discounts and terms.  Then, it’s up to our staff to move it out the door.  If we’ve done our job in buying, this should be the easy part of the process.

What’s your the Inventory breakdown at your shops?

In round numbers:
Womens clothes 10%
Shoes 15%
Skate hardgoods: 20%
Snow hardgoods 25%
Mens clothes 30%

Which brands have you (or  would you like to) collaborate with and why?

We’ve done collaborations with Volcom, Oakley, Burton, Airblaster, Toy Machine, Pendleton, and probably a few more.

We love doing collabs as it gives us a chance to create a product that without the vendor’s support, we wouldn’t be able to manage.  Plus, we’ve only done the collaboration products with vendors that we really like and are stoked to have EXIT’s name next to theirs!
Singe best selling product  category in the past six months?
Snow — we had an excellent season!

Who are the top reps for  the shop that you’d like to recognize and why?

Anne and Ken Everaert of Podium are our best reps.  They truly understand our business and are always open to help.  To top it off, they always follow through with our requests.

An up and coming rep that I am really impressed with is Colleen Farrell who does Volcom women’s.  Every Monday she sends us detailed availabilities that she has organized and includes product pictures.  Sounds simple, but I cannot tell you how many other reps just flood our in-boxes with huge lists of products that we don’t have time to sift through, even when we are actually needing at once product.

Do you have a team and  who makes up that team? (Answered by co-owner, Jake Hauswirth)

Jake Hauswirth: EXIT has an unpaid skate and snowboard team.  In general, the team is comprised riders that like EXIT and who rip–DUH!

EXIT’s skate team is an amazing bunch of dudes (there have been skate team ladies in the past, too) who get out there, skate and make videos and shoot photos in addition to just getting together to seek and destroy.  For the past couple of years it has been a really good fit and they all actually get along with one another.  Although these guys are street pirates, they have successfully performed scores of demos at school assemblies in our areas and surprisingly kept it clean.  We’re very proud of what our skate team has done for the local skate community.  Some of the most amazing skateboarders worth mentioning here are Sebo Walker and Josiah Gatlyn, Trevor Ward, Eric Billups, and Kyle Billups.

EXIT’s snowboard team is a migratory species, many of whom hail from the NW, but can be found wherever the best snow and parks are for the season.  There are some heavies on the snow team:  Nick Dirks, Josh Dirksen, Scotty Whitlake, Shane Flood and Kumara Kelly, to name a few.

EXIT doesn’t use commercial generic POP in the stores and on the website;  we only use photos of EXIT team riders, employees and other noteworthy locals.  We are thankful to have team guys and gals that provide, not to mention amazing photographers that are willing to help us out.

What has your shop done  to give back to the local community and the overall action sports community  as a whole?

Last year, our skateboard team did the amazing EXIT School Skate Tour.  For weeks and weeks, they visited our local schools and put on a skate demo in the school gymnasiums.   With over 20 stops, this truly helped present skateboarding to kids that hadn’t had much previous exposure as well as to kids that were already big fans.

We also recently did a shoe drive after a young girl, asked us to help provide shoes for her less fortunate classmates.  With the support of Sole Tech, Podium, and our girl on a mission, we were able to round up 100s of shoes for underprivileged teens in our area.

Describe the local market  over the last six months:

Still challenging!

At what point do you consider  yourself successful? Any particular milestones?

Now that we have three little ones at home, our time is definitely split between EXIT and family.  I think I’ll feel successful when we can go a whole week without our cell phones ringing during dinner!