Breaking Trail: Gerry Fullington, Massey’s Professional Outfitters
Sustainability is becoming impossible to ignore in the outdoor industry. In this series, we look to our industry leaders for guidance, inspiration, and best practices in sustainable business in the outdoor-product space. Breaking Trail is an Outdoor Retailer Series that is powered by Walden Hyde. Here, Walden Hyde speaks with Gerry Fullington, General Manager of Massey’s Professional Outfitters, about sustainability from an outdoor retailer’s point of view.
What does sustainability mean for Massey’s?
We think about it in terms of reducing the impact we have on the environment—through the products we sell and our decisions in the stores—and helping people spend time in the outdoors.
We need to introduce children, especially those in the cities, to the outdoors, so they can understand how their lives impact the environment. Massey’s brings people out on the water to demo kayaks in the bayou system in Louisiana. We partner with the North Lake Nature Center so people get to learn about the wildlife while we’re touring. We don’t have hiking trails here, so we tour our backcountry by boat.
Because of this connection to the water, we are involved in the Bucket Brigade, which tests water samples and cleans up waterways. We help them with grants and sponsor a big Earth Day celebration that they host.
Community is part of the sustainability story. So we support a local project to build a greenway on land that once was a bayou, then part of a canal system, then a railway, and finally unimproved property. It’s in an inner-city neighborhood near one of our stores and will be a place where people can ride a bike and see a green patch of grass without being afraid of getting hit by a car or a bus. We’ve provided funds, supplied storage for materials, and of course manual labor in support of this project.
The greenway is a beacon of hope. It’s drawing developers and new businesses to rebuild after Katrina. People see the greenway, Massey’s, a new coffee shop, and new Winn-Dixie as promising. We aren’t trying to do it all, we’re just trying to be a positive voice for change.
What are customers asking for in terms of sustainability?
More and more we’re hearing them ask what products are made in the US. They had always asked about it for economic reasons—about buying as close to the community as they can—but now they’re also asking for environmental reasons. Made in USA says something about how things are made.
We’re hearing fewer questions about content as consumers have become more aware of the advantages of natural fibers. I think companies like Smartwool and Icebreaker did a great job to break the image that wool is just the scratchy fiber of old, which made people reconsider natural fibers.
Customers are also asking about what to do with their things that still work—since they’re high quality products—but that they don’t need anymore. They’re looking for options to donate or repurpose these things. So besides supporting programs such as Patagonia’s Common Threads, we encourage people to resell their goods twice a year at our gear swaps.
There’s also a new expectation that companies are doing the right thing. If vendors don’t have a green story, they must be earth shattering in another way. Vendors that don’t have a green story better be pioneering new products or else they don’t stand a chance.
Other than philanthropic efforts, what should outdoor vendors be doing in terms of sustainability?
Companies should be looking at how they manufacture products to consider the waste, environmental impact, and conditions of where they manufacture. For example, I know that Prana does a good job in offsetting their energy use through RECs. Manufacturers also should be looking at how to make more and more in the US.
And as a retailer, it would great if suppliers didn’t give us so much waste in packaging to deal with.
What is Massey’s biggest sustainability challenge?
Reducing our own waste is constantly a challenge. Packaging needs to protect the product, but cardboard and plastic wrapping from shipping product is our biggest waste. Vendors are interested and working with us on it, but it’s still tough.
After Katrina, recycling was offline for a while because of the floods… so we had to put a lot of cardboard in our dumpster. Recycling seems like a basic practice but once it went missing, it became very difficult to get it back.
Speaking of Katrina, have you seen a change in mindset around climate change and the environment after this natural disaster and the BP oil spill?
Oil exploration is a sensitive issue down here. On one side, people make their livelihood from it and on the other is the seafood and sport fishing economy, which is dependent on clean water. People in oil understand it’s risky and they have to do it right. The fishing industry is slower to change, but they see when things go bad that it can ruin lives.
Katrina should highlight that people have an environmental impact and we need to start paying attention. I think outdoor enthusiasts are knowledgeable and interested in climate change and man’s effects, but sometimes it takes life altering events such as Katrina to bring them to the forefront.
About Massey’s Professional Outfitters
Massey’s specializes in outfitting people for their adventures—whether local or far-flung. It has five stores in Louisiana (Covington, Metairie, New Orleans, and two in Baton Rouge) as well as an online e-commerce platform.
About Gerry Fullington
Gerry was born and raised in Louisiana, but spent part of his career in California as Store Manager and District Manager for Adventure 16 in San Diego. He is currently the General Manager for Massey’s Professional Outfitters in New Orleans and oversees five retail stores and internet sales operations.