DARRY JACKSON, owner, Bill Jackson’s, Pinellas Park, FL
Bill Jackson’s Shop For Adventure has been in business since 1946. Now run by founder Bill Jackson’s son Darry Jackson, the one-door retailer in Pinellas Park, FL, has not only evolved with the times in outdoor retail, but even has experience weathering a few storms. Here, Darry Jackson shares his insights on the store’s secrets to success — and that time Hurricane Irma came through town.
The town we are in, Pinellas Park, is surrounded by water on three sides — you’ve got Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The store was started by my dad in 1946 as Army Surplus, carrying brands like Kelty, which was an original backpack brand.
My dad (a World War II vet) started teaching scuba diving in 1950. Long before there were certifications, he would teach classes. We have an indoor pool at our store that we designed ourselves for scuba diving and kayaking lessons. We also teach snow skiing in the store. (Customers “ski” indoors on a conveyor belt “hill” that has heavy-duty canvas with carpet glued on. It rotates up hill as you ski and when you make turns you stay in one spot ). We have an indoor pistol range and we have a lake outside where we have paddleboarding and flycasting events.
We have four classrooms inside. The store space is about 40,000-square feet and we wish we had a lot more. Actually we are looking at how we can add on.
My dad was never motivated by making money. He was motivated by doing a good job at whatever he did. He started teaching classes and that brought money in, but that is not the reason he did it. There were no dive shops or scuba lessons and he wanted people to be safe. Classes helped people pick up the sport. It’s not unusual for us to have seven classes on a Saturday. Teaching what we sell is really something that’s been great for Bill Jackson’s.
We only hire outdoorspeople, not salespeople. Enthusiasm for each sport is what gets people into it. When you teach customers and they fall in love with a sport, then they want to be customers, they want to be loyal. Now we have four generations of customers coming in to buy from us, which is pretty cool.
The hurricane came close with Irma, it hit about 70 miles per hour and at one point actually took the water right out of the bay. There are shots of Tampa Bay with no water in it. In our area, as the hurricane was coming, businesses started shutting down to let employees go home. The hurricane got here late on a Saturday and Sunday, so by the Friday before businesses were closing, but at that time we were scrambling to get things done.
We worked with our vendors to make sure we had supplies for our customers. We did more business than we did on Christmas. We sold stoves, fuel, water filtration, you name it. People had just seen a disaster in Houston with Harvey and there was fear of flooding. People came in for lifejackets, which thankfully we didn’t end up needing.
Sawyer, a manufacturer of water filtration that is located about a 30 minute drive from us, we drove over there and got five cases of water filtration and there is a wholesaler in Pinellas Park selling waders, we bought all of the waders they had and we had those for the public works employees. The Tampa police department came in and bought waders. Our buyers were on it. We knew we needed to support the community that needed those products.
When the storm was here, we invited employees to stay here in the store. It is a relatively safe place to be, plus there are things to do. You can shoot in the range or swim in the pool. We had several employees staying here and we would open up the doors if people came because almost every store was closed by Saturday, while we had a full staff until noon.
Once the wind got to 45 mph, even police and emergency vehicles are off of the streets. But it was gusting about 50 mph when these three guys came to the door and they wanted flashlights. We invited them in and they thanked us and then later they came back with a gift basket for us all filled with wine, cake and cookies, to thank us for letting them in.
Most people in the area here lost power for about a week, but the store never lost power. Something like two-thirds of Florida was without power or had outages — six million didn’t have power for some period of time.
In addition to the employees who stayed at the store overnight throughout the week, we had some deputy sheriffs staying here because they didn’t have power and they are friends of ours. People were sleeping on the floors in the classrooms, some slept in the ski shop — it has a nice carpet.
We tried to open fully as soon as we could after the hurricane, and the employees who stayed here helped clean up the property. It was a mess with trees and branches down. A lot of other stores didn’t have power and were closed a full week.
There was damage and some trees fell on houses, but the only flooding was from rain. It could have been a lot worse.