More Than a Store
Wisdom, experience, and trend-setting are a rare combination. Equally rare is a business partnership and friendship that’s lasted over 35 years. But Ed Camelli and Brian Havertine, co-owners of Trail Creek Outfitters, have all that and more. They’ve weathered the challenges of growing a small business, blazed new trails with retail trends, and faced into the headwinds generated by big box stores and Amazon. And they’ve remained friends and done a tremendous amount of good for the community and the environment along the way. Their two stores—in Glen Mills and Kennett Square—are each, as their hashtag says, #morethanastore.
To Outfit Your Free Time with the Best Products & Brands While Giving Back to Our Community
– ED CAMELLI & BRIAN HAVERTINE
Camelli and Havertine take this motto, and their mission, “To outfit your free time with the best products and brands while giving back to our community,” very seriously. Trail Creek Outfitters offers quality products, consistency, and a caring, expert staff who make an effort to know your name. “What we have,” says Camelli proudly, “is community. People really do love the store. They come to hang out, share stories, talk to the dog.” If he had it to do over again, Havertine says, he would install a coffee bar and maybe a beer tap. It’s that kind of a place.
But their beginnings were not as auspicious, and so their story is also one of reinvention and perseverance. Their first store, in Delaware, was called Country Classics. They sold hunting and fishing gear—and anything with a duck on it. “We even had a duck phone that quacked,” Camelli says. Havertine smiles and nods. (This was, after all, the 1980s.)
The two young entrepreneurs experienced a bit of an epiphany when they were standing in a queue behind some sales reps at a trade show. “Those guys really don’t know what kind of a store they have,” they overheard one rep say to another. Camelli and Havertine realized they were talking about Country Classics. “It was a head scratcher,” Havertine says. “We realized he was right. We were trying to be all things to all people, and it wasn’t going to work.”
Evolving Styles and Timeless Classics
They were fortunate in those early days, Camelli says, to see the trend in outdoor sportswear. “No one was doing sweaters or flannel shirts,” he says. “So we set out to be the best outdoor clothing store we could be.” Most outfitters at the time took an elitist approach with a technical focus that was intimidating for many enthusiasts who simply wanted to be warm and dry while spending time outdoors doing what they loved.
“We morphed and evolved from there,” Camelli says. “We cover both the technical and non-technical outdoor enthusiast from head to toe, for all seasons.” They made a conscious decision not to carry hard goods (skis, backpacks, tents, etc.) and to focus on clothing, or “the soft side.” While about 90 percent of their initial inventory was for men, that has flipped. About 60 percent of what they carry now is for women and kids.
And the industry has morphed along with them. “We pioneered this in the industry,” says Camelli. “Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a dress in a sportswear store. Today it’s about fashion, color, and being enough ahead of the game to predict trends a year ahead.”
Take the quintessentially preppy Duck Head khakis, for example. In the 1980s, Camelli and Havertine ordered them by the dozens when kids in private schools and colleges in the south came back home and requested them. And now the brand is back, and in true TCO style the Kennett store celebrated its return with a Flashback Friday party in November.
While the iconic chinos haven’t changed much over the years, many other styles and materials have—and Trail Creek Outfitters continues to be at the leading edge. Multi-use garments (e.g., a jacket you can wear skiing but also to the park or anywhere else), for example, are increasingly in demand, as are goods that are environmentally sourced and ethically produced and clothing that’s made from recycled and recyclable fabrics, bamboo, and organic cotton.
The Many Faces of TCO
What’s the key to a partnership that’s lasted longer than many marriages? “We stay out of each other’s way,” they say with a laugh. At the beginning, they both did everything. But their interests diverged naturally and Havertine, who also ran an ad agency for decades, prefers to do the million and one things that need to be done behind the scenes while Camelli is the buyer and “front man.” They’ve always spent as little as possible on overhead, even making many of their own fixtures, so they can focus their resources on investing in quality products and in their employees.
Both men take great pride in their staff. “Annie knows everyone in town, and Claire is an amazing artist who does all our graphics,” Havertine says. “Everyone brings different strengths and talents.” They enjoy watching each employee use their talents, find their niche, and pursue their passions. No one has a title and everyone is on the bathroom cleaning schedule. You won’t find a CEO suite at TCO either. Camelli, who serves on various boards, laughs when he describes trying to find a suitable place to sit for video conference calls. “Everyone else has shelves with photos and trophies, and I sit in the hallway with old junk behind me.” It seems he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Humility runs deep as a lake trout’s lair here, but both friends are eager to sing the praises of the other. “Ed’s a published photographer,” Havertine says. Camelli has a book, What Labs Love, as well as photo credits in various magazines, including Field & Stream. “He even earned $1.61 in royalties last year,” Havertine says with a smile. When Camelli can escape from his desk he enjoys running, fly fishing, and enjoying this beautiful backyard we call Southern Chester County—often with his nine-year-old lab Hannah by his side. Like Camelli, Havertine also enjoys spending time in this spectacular landscape that first inspired them to become outdoor outfitters so many years ago. He enjoys hiking and golfing, and with four children and four grandchildren, much of his free time centers around activities with his active and growing family.
Gratitude and Generosity
Giving back—to the community as well as to protect the environment for their customers and future generations to enjoy—is one of the core values that Havertine and Camelli have worked hard to cultivate since the beginning. Through initiatives like the Wild and Scenic Film Festival and their five-race Trail Run series, TCO has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to numerous nonprofits over the years including The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (Camelli serves on the board) and Stroud Water Research Center. Through their “1% for Kennett” campaign, TCO donates 1% of every sale from the Kennett store to support a different local charity every six months. This giving has benefitted the Kennett Food Cupboard and Camp Dreamcatcher, and this winter proceeds will go towards coats for kids through Operation Warm. Their recent “Brands That Give Back” event also raised thousands of dollars—and an invaluable wealth of awareness—for local environmental organizations. Havertine serves on the board of the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, and the influence of TCO ripples further afield, too. Camelli serves on the board of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, a collaborative of independent outdoor retailers that shares best practices, advocates for small businesses, and helps to drive change for good in the industry.
For Camelli and Havertine, it always circles back to community. They’re quick to credit their staff, and they’re just as quick to express gratitude to the “outsiders”—their customers, old and new, who choose to love local, engage in this community, and support something much bigger than themselves. “People want to be part of it,” Camelli says.
Now that’s more than a store.