Founder and CEO of Seattle Outdoor Retailer, during a time of growing uncertainty about the workplace and the future of physical office spaces avo Doubling down on what it might take to lure people back.
Bryce Phillips And development projects Fellow Ira Gerlich has completed the $17.5 million purchase of a parcel of land in the city’s Fremont neighborhood that gives them control of an entire block and paves the way for Campus Seattle, a mixed-use development that will combine office buildings with retail, restaurants and action sports facilities.
It’s been 10 years in the planning for Philips, who launched the Evo 20 years ago from his garage, just off the campus Seattle location at 3500 Stone Way N. The retailer, which specializes in online and brick-and-mortar sales of action sports gear for cyclists, skiers, snowboarders, surfers and more, moved its flagship store in 2013 to a former warehouse on the block.
The “Fremont Collective” of Evolutions already supports the Evo Store; Restaurant The Whale Vince & Joule; Indoor All Together Skatepark; and the Seattle Bouldering Project rock-climbing gym. Campus Seattle will add 230,000 square feet of office space in two buildings, the first at 35 Stone, and the second at the southeast corner of the block called 35 Interlake.
Philips told GeekWire that the project will begin when they land the right tenant in the neighborhood, which already has a tech-heavy presence with Google, Tableau and other nearby offices. He is confident that the allure of what is already around the buildings of the future will attract the right company, even as remote and hybrid work styles have taken root during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe there is no substitute for fundamentally bringing people together,” Phillips said. “We feel like we’re in a super special position in this new world, because we’ve spent 10 years building a center of gravity that’s around health and wellness and an active lifestyle.”
Businesses still looking for a physical location for employees in Seattle — now or down the street — have plenty of options for shiny new buildings, Phillips said. But he believes the culture of campus Seattle and offering a collective experience in a square block will make a significant difference.
Evo recently completed a new headquarters location, 401N in Fremont. Not too far on 36th St., but the company never fully realized the benefits as the site was completed just before the pandemic. Evo employs about 120 in headquarter jobs and a total of 600 people. It operates a distribution center in Sumner, Wash.
And while the pandemic may disrupt where people work, it’s been a boon to Evo’s business as more people flock to activities closer to home and buy the gear they need to make it happen.
“We got everything wrong, with both real estate and retail, we thought it was all going to be a mess,” Phillips said.
After planning for a 10% to 15% drop in March 2020, Evo grew 45% last year and is growing another 10% this year. The retailer will surpass $200 million in revenue this year after reaching $88 million three years ago.
Evo’s business is split roughly 80/20 into e-commerce and in-store. While the tailwinds of COVID are driving sales for both, Philips is bullish on the brand’s continued physical presence. Evo operates nine stores in Seattle, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City and Whistler, BC, and Philips said they have gone “bonkers” during COVID.
“I’ve always loved stores,” he said. “People were asking me long ago in the day, ‘Why would you ever open a shop?’ Our [original] Stores in Fremont? People were laughing at me like, ‘What are you doing here? Not only has brick-and-mortar retail come to an end, but it’s a terrible place for retail.'”
He said the amount of traffic coming from Evo’s web presence to the store is unbelievable, and vice versa. And now with skateparks, lodging, offices and more, Evolution is creating a larger and more complimentary ecosystem of businesses around the core business, which has always been retail.
The company expanded its hospitality business with the October purchase Journeyman Lodge, 20 miles south of Whistler Village in BC and running past the Seattle campus one Similar Project in Salt Lake City Which opens next week and will feature the first Evohotel as well as another bouldering project location and All Together Skatepark in 100,000 square feet of onetime warehouse space.
in development projects Also busy an hour east of Seattle, Developing homes and retailing in Snoqualmie Pass. The soon-opening firehouse will replace another “The “left-for-dead” building, as Phillips put it, is a new hub for the ski area community, with a co-working space, cafe and of course, an Evo store.
As for retail competitors, Amazon sells similar products, but Philips believes the Evo has really gained market share because Amazon hollowed out a lot of the competition in between. REI is more “complimentary” than the competitor, he said, and Backcountry.com Perhaps the Evo’s biggest face-to-face rival.
“It’s wild, given the scale of the addressable market, there really aren’t a lot of people on the field,” Phillips said. “I think because e-commerce is tough, retail is tough, margins are tough, operations are tough.”
Philips has always been poised to be a space that energizes a community and brings people together beyond just any transaction. Ten years after having a vision for the Seattle block his company now fully owns, he’s looking forward to plugging in the final big pieces of the puzzle.
“We see this not as a project but as a platform,” Philips said of the campus effort and bringing the Evo’s proactive brand experience to life with a mix of usage. “We don’t own them all, we don’t have to operate them all, but we want to curate them and bring a really amazing mix of concepts in one place.
“There is nothing like it in the world.”