An active and engaged kid doesn’t have time to get into trouble.

It’s for good reason that Midwest Mountaineering has been thriving for forty-one years. This independently owned retailer has worked hard to become a leading dealer of paddling, rock climbing, backpacking and camping gear. And while they understand that carrying the right brands and employing knowledgeable customer service superstars are a big part of running a successful retail store, they’ve also learned that integrating their brand into the community and finding ways to give back is the special ingredient in successful specialty retail.

Most of us are in the outdoor industry because we are inspired by the outdoors. We want to share our inspiration, whether it’s by doing something good for the landscape we love, geeking out on the latest gear or instilling in the next generation an appreciation of nature.

“Getting kids active in the outdoors has always been a goal for us,” commented Rod Johnson, founder of Midwest Mountaineering. “We have several youth programs that provide opportunities for kids to get involved, including urban kids that would not otherwise be able to afford the experience. Part of my personal goal is to get involved in our own community and inspire other specialty retailers to do the same in theirs. It is an easy thing to do that enriches lives, including our own.”

The youth-oriented programs at Midwest Mountaineering include:

Adopting a Neighborhood Youth Center

Midwest Mountaineering has an urban youth center right down the street (which is how they got involved with youth programs in the first place).  They helped to sponsor urban-at-risk youth by providing gear and trips for paddling, hiking and climbing adventures. They gave these kids character building experiences and an alternative to gang activities. This summer they have various smaller trips scheduled, such as learning to climb in the climbing cave at the store and paddling day trips. The big trip this summer is a partnership with Big City Mountaineers, sponsored by Vasque / Red Wing Shoes. This life-changing trip will take five kids to the Boundary Waters for a week.

To make this program happen, Midwest Mountaineering partnered with the youth center and leveraged their partnerships with vendors like Smartwool and Vasque to support the venture.

Venturing Crew
Midwest Mountaineering partnered with Venturing Crew, a youth development program for young men and women (13 and 14 years of age). Venturing’s purpose is to provide positive experiences that will help young people mature and prepare them to become responsible and caring adults. Crews are locally created and managed by Venturing Crew adults so there is less trip and resource management from the store and employee point of view. Midwest Mountaineering has become a key part of the program by supporting the adventures through the use of the retail space and equipment.


Sending Kids to Camp.
Summer camp is an iconic childhood experience. It can help kids bond with the environment and elevate their self-worth. Midwest Mountaineering partnered with area summer camps and Outward Bound to secure space the camps might not otherwise fill at half the normal cost so that underprivileged kids could have a summer camp experience. The financial support for ‘sponsoring a kid’ comes from direct consumer donations, vendor support (like Granite Gear, Katadyn and Wenonah) and Midwest Mountaineering itself. This year their lofty goal is to send twenty kids to a local camp and two kids to Outward Bound. This is doubled from last year’s goal.






How can you create your own youth outreach program?

  • Find a local youth organization that your store can partner with.
  • Ask your vendors and manufacturers to back these endeavors through financial and product support.
  • Get your consumers involved. Let them know what you are doing and ask them if they would like to support these ventures. This could be done through email, social network or an in-store sale promotion.
  • Need more inspiration? Chat with Rod Johnson, founder of Midwest Mountaineering. He’s excited and passionate about the ways his store is getting kids active in the outdoors and would love to share his experiences with you.
  • P.S. Don’t forget to let your local media know what you’re up to. It is o.k. to toot your horn and let your community know the good things you’re doing.

The reasons to get kids involved and active in the outdoors are numerous, but Rod summed it up best: “We hope to create transformative outdoor experiences and inspire youth to choose a better future – a future that embraces education, purpose, self-worth and respect for the environment. At the same time we hope to build creative collaborations with outdoor industry manufacturers and community organizations to get more kids into the outdoors, helping companies ‘do business while doing good.’  We want to connect emotionally with consumers and gain competitive advantages by showing commitment to societal needs. This shared value is a paramount to being a successful specialty retailer and seeks to produce in legacy and emerging partnerships in our own community. We want our customers to experience first-hand what Midwest Mountaineering is about:  facilitating a lifestyle that supports the outdoors.”     posted by SRC,  Inspired by Rod Johnson, Midwest Mountaineering