Why this independent sporting goods store cares about more than selling gear
Skip Lee, the owner of Portage-based Lee’s Adventure Sports, has a business plan that flies in the face of many retailers.
“We don’t exist just to sell you an item,” said Lee, the second-generation owner of the outdoor sporting goods store at 311 W. Kilgore Road in Portage. “We’re here to give you access to the gear you need to have an experience, to get outside and enjoy yourself.
“We’re going to make sure that you have the equipment that fits what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. You can see, feel and touch what you’re buying. You’re not guessing if it will fit or if it’s what you really need.
“You can’t get that many places these days.”
Lee’s is an all-season shop that outfits adventure seekers of all pursuits, from downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding in the winter to kayaking, paddleboarding and backpacking in the spring, summer and fall.
Lee’s is the rare remaining independent sporting goods store in a world that has become dominated by massive big boxes and the pages of internet giants. The shop carries the same name-brand items of Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Kavu and more that can outfit shoppers from head-to-toe in technical and casual wear.
What many don’t know, Lee says, is that the pricing is no different than what customers will find elsewhere. And it comes with an added benefit the others can’t offer.
“People want to come in and talk about what they are going to buy, and we can be that valuable resource and knowledge to recommend items that fit their lifestyle,” Lee said. “Our staff is passionate about being outdoors and doing exactly what our customers are going out to do.
“And if you’re someone who is just starting out on something, we can be the voice of experience.”
Lee’s has been dishing out that information since 1954, when his parents, Bill and Evelyn Lee, started their business as a general toy and hobby shop. It evolved over the years to focus on outdoor sports and adventure as the family identified it as a market in need and it fit with their desire to be in nature.
Lee said he and his staff thrive on interacting with first-time customers and visiting with returning shoppers. Several years ago, Lee recalls, a father and son came in while Christmas shopping, and when they came back, they cited the service they received as the reason behind another trip.
“They valued that in-depth conversation about what finding what they were looking for,” Lee said, noting that the lag time between shopping stops is because the clothes and gear Lee’s sells stand the test of time.
“You’re buying equipment, jackets and other products that have value and will last for years. It’s a different and better buying experience than what you’ll find somewhere else.”
Lee’s turns over its inventory seasonally, but can assist in any sport’s off-season. The shop is also at the forefront of emerging technology and new gears.
“Things are always getting better and because we’re out there and working with the best brands, we’ll have that new and improved piece of equipment,” Lee said. “We’re here to help you get what you need.”