Outside Business Journal

Retailer Spotlight: Frugal Backpacker in Asheville, North Carolina

Frugal Backpacker is helping adventurers spend less and play more

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Frugal Backpacker opened its doors in 2002 in Asheville, North Carolina with the hopes of making outdoor gear more affordable.

“We think the outdoors is for everyone,” said Chris Bubenik, marketing manager. He says having such low prices draws people in who otherwise may not have given outdoor activities a try.

Diamond Brand Outdoors, another Asheville store with two locations all operating under the same ownership as Frugal Backpacker.

“It was awesome to see the evolution of these two brands apart,” said Bubenik. “It’s no longer just the clearing out of last season’s stuff.”

Store exterior of #CoolShop Frugal Backpacker in Asheville, North Carolina
The no-frills exterior is a foreshadowing of simple, low-cost shopping experience inside the Asheville store. (Photo: Courtesy)

So how does this outlet store keep prices low? They buy from outdoor brands and sell them to customers at least 20 percent and up to 75 percent off the suggested retail price. They attribute this to the long-standing relationship they’ve built with brands over decades of doing business together. Patagonia, Merrell, Columbia, Arc’teryx, Woolrich, Mountain Hardwear, Kelty, Deuter, and Salomon are just some of the brands you’ll find on shelves.

They also purchase closeout inventory and feature lower price point brands, such as Columbia and North River.

The goal is for Frugal Backpacker customers to have a non-intimidating, welcoming shopping experience. (Photo: Courtesy)

The prices often attract a younger, more budget conscious customer which is ideal since the town is home to several colleges. To bring in the students, the store has a “college day” at the start of every semester where students get an additional 30 percent off with a current ID.

It was actually being the typical short-on-funds college student that brought Bubenik to Frugal Backpacker during his time as a student at the University of North Carolina Asheville. “I remember being in college, walking into other outdoor stores, and feeling beat down because there’d be no way I’d be able to afford it.” But then he walked into Frugal Backpacker and found a bright yellow $500 Patagonia Gore-Tex Rain Shell on sale for $80. From then on, Frugal Backpacker was his go-to for outdoor gear.

Frugal Backpacker Deals

(Photo: Courtesy)

On August 28, in honor of having an 828 area code, these locally made Alpaca socks sold for only $8.28 each.

(Photo: Facebook)

Customers can expect to save at least 20 percent off MSRP.

The pack wall at Frugal Backpacker
(Photo: Courtesy)

Osprey, Patagonia, and Deuter are just a few of the packs customers can be fitted for and expect to pay a fraction of the MSRP.

(Photo: Courtesy)

Customers can find gear for water sports, including this boat, to explore Asheville’s rivers.

(Photo: Facebook)

Sales, like these boots for 50 percent off, are highlighted on Frugal Backpacker’s social media pages and in the newsletter.

#CoolShop Frugal Backpacker sale
(Photo: Courtesy)

Although an outlet store with revolving inventory, Frugal Backpacker merchandise is kept neat and organized as seen here.

(Photo: Facebook)

A satisfied customer purchases a tent at Frugal Backpacker.

More Than Just Low Prices

Besides giving customers a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.

“It’s a different store every time you come in,” Bubenik said, referring to the rapidly changing inventory and all the one-off products (hidden gems in only one size or color). “Customers like the thrill of the hunt. People feel like they’re finding something that no one else has.”

This unique model also impacts how they market the business. Because inventory changes, they can’t feature specific products on the website. Instead, they rely heavily on Facebook, Instagram, and their e-mail newsletters, which have an impressive, according to Bubenik. They use these outlets to let people know when a sample set has arrived or to advertise store discounts.

Facebook is also where they promote their free classes. How to use a map and compass, trail safety and first aid, women’s backpacking basics, and camp cooking are just a handful of Frugal Backpacker courses, all designed to help people feel more comfortable on the trail.

Uniquely Asheville

The beautiful city of Asheville has an evident influence on Frugal Backpacker.

“Our customers are our North Star—what organizations we support, what we have in our store, and everything else,” Bubenik explained.

Frugal Backpacker supports the community by holding adoption days for Asheville animal shelters, donating a portion of sales to local environmental nonprofits, and holding winter coat drives. (As a bonus, any customer who donates a coat gets 20 percent off another item.)

They also sponsor an outdoor hound hiking club with Brother Wolf Animal Rescue where volunteers take rescue dogs on hikes to help socialize the animals and raise awareness.

“We talk the talk about being local, but if we’re not giving back to the places that make Asheville so awesome, we’re not putting our money where our mouth is.”