Marketing

Why Eastern Mountain Sports just hosted hundreds of overnight campers in its parking lots

Emerging from ownership changes and store closures, the brand is growing again with an anti-elitist campaign.
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Tremayne Sheppard/Eastern Mountain Sports

· 3 min read

The tradition of crowds camping out at stores in advance of Black Friday to be the first in the door has waned, largely because retailers start the sales earlier and shopping online has gotten more popular. Now outdoors retailer Eastern Mountain Sports is starting a new tradition of pitching a tent in parking lots, but it’s camping for the sake of camping, and it happens at the end of Black Friday, not a day (or week!) beforehand.

On what EMS is calling its first annual Black Friday Parking Lot Campout, more than 200 campers at stores in Princeton, New Jersey, and West Lebanon, New Hampshire, arrived at about 6pm. The first 20 groups to arrive (and stay the full night) got to keep a camping package valued at more than $1,200, including a four-person tent and four sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and camp chairs, all of which had already been set up by EMS.

Most tents were set up in grassy areas on the periphery of the parking lot, while on the pavement there were food trucks, a climbing wall, movies, porta potties and—the cornerstone of any camping experience—deejays.

Along with being a [dislodges hook, line, and sinker from esophagus] ploy for media attention, the event is part of a broader marketing effort by EMS to position itself as an antidote to what it calls the “elitism” of other outdoors retailers.

Some of those function as “gatekeepers,” but “we want you to be outside anyway, anywhere, anytime, and we are going to give you quality gear, but at accessible prices,” Kerry Muricchio, EVP and general merchandise manager at EMS, told Retail Brew.

“You don’t have to be a millionaire to go camping; you don’t have to sleep in a national park…And this campout was just one part of the campaign to say, ‘Hey, come sleep in a parking lot.’”

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Climbing back: EMS has been outfitting hikers since 1967, but in recent years it hasn’t exactly been happy trails for the brand. In the last decade, its ownership has changed three times, with one owner filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and its footprint, once more than 60 stores, is now 25.

But GoDigital, which purchased the company in 2022, is intent on getting the brand back on the path.

In the last year, it has opened three new stores, with plans to open two more in December and three more in Q1 2024, and intends to grow its footprint by 20% in the next year.

“They’re all opening in markets right now that we’ve been before, so we’re coming back where our customer has been asking for us again,” Muricchio said.

Pitching tents: While companies generally are loath to draw attention to their past financial difficulties, a television campaign introduced in October, by SlapGlobal, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to inform viewers that EMS is opening stores in markets where it had previously shuttered them.

“A little while ago all of us here at Eastern Mountain Sports took a long hike on the Appalachian Trail,” explains an EMS store associate in the spot. “It was a lot of fun, but I guess we lost track of time and we were gone longer than expected, because when we got back someone had closed a bunch of our stores. Sorry about that—but we’re back, we’re refreshed, so come on in we’ll be here—this time.”

“Even though we’re poking fun at ourselves...we’re taking it to heart and we’re making it better, and we’re elevating and we’re growing,” Muricchio said.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.