Trailful News Spotlight: Outdoor Retailer Magazine

Trailful Outdoor Co owners Eric Champlin and Rob Sollie

#shoplife: Trailful Outdoor Co.

In Real Life

This entrepreneurial couple decided to open their own store along the Appalachian Trail to be closer to the community they helped build.

by Cameron Martindell, Outdoor Retailer Magazine, May 2021 Issue

After publishing two successful online trail guides for Asheville, North Carolina, and the greater Atlanta, Georgia area, Trailful co-founders Eric Champlin and his husband, Rob Sollie, weaned themselves from their corporate jobs to open a brick-and-mortar outdoor retail location early in 2019. The couple wanted to increase in-person time with their robust online community and to serve hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which passes within 10 miles of their shop in Hiawassee, Georgia. Since opening, Trailful Outdoor Co. has expanded from a small 900-square­-foot space to a 5,000-square-foot historic building on Main Street near the town square. Champlin talked to us about the journey from trail adherents to owners of a retail shop.

What's your background in outdoor recreation?
When I was young, my dad included me in many outdoor adventures, and some of my earliest (and fondest) memories are our hiking, camp­ing, and fishing trips. Likewise, Rob began pursuing the outdoors from a young age, growing up on Flathead Lake's shores in Montana, a short drive from Glacier National Park. We met in Atlanta when we were working in our previous corporate jobs and combined our love of the outdoors as we began to explore our new home in the Southeast.

How did you decide to become an outdoor retailer?
Our route into the outdoor industry was actually through the media and publishing side before retail. I was previously a creative director in advertising, leading large teams of designers, copywriters, and pho­tographers to develop campaigns. Rob previously worked as a land­scape architect, designing outdoor spaces for mixed-use communities, retail, and high-end residential clients.

Our weekend outdoor adventures were the perfect antithesis to the high-stress lives we led as we pushed forward in our corporate ca­reers. But, as we began to broadly explore our fantastic public lands in the Southeast, we noticed a lack of detailed, quality, and dependable online info on local trail systems. So to give back to our local outdoor community and as a side outlet for our creativity, we began publishing two trail websites, Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, in 2009.

We've both always shared a bit of an obsession for thoughtfully designed outdoor gear, with strong convictions that being properly equipped and prepared is as important as deciding where to adventure. Throughout our trail content, we began including vital information on Leave No Trace and ethical use of public lands, and encouraged our readers to give back through volunteering and donations to the nonprofits that support our local trails. We also began publishing gear content. We included our favorite gear for each trail adventure in each of our trail reviews. We attended several Outdoor Retailer conferences as working media, making valuable connections with the marketing and PR groups that worked with our favorite brands. Through those connections, we vast­ly increased the gear content on our sites.

Our idea to shift into retail was sparked several years ago. We moved to Hiawassee, a small mountain town near the Georgia-North Carolina border, in 2018. Hiawassee is an official Appalachian Trail town on the shores of Lake Chatuge just below Georgia's tallest summit.

It'd been nearly a decade since we began publishing our sites, and our online community had grown substantially. The beauty of the outdoors is inherently offline, though, and we were craving an oppor­tunity to increase face-to-face time with our community. After test­ing some ideas for our own apparel line at some local outdoor events and pop-up shops, we decided to open our brick-and-mortar store, Trailful, in downtown Hiawassee in early 2019. Alongside our line of Trailful-branded apparel, we stock a large variety of technical hiking apparel, packs, footwear, dog gear, backpacking gear, tents, and sleep systems, as well as some locally-sourced goods from our community.

How big is your staff?
Trailful is currently a staff of five. Shortly after opening our shop, two of our friends had just finished an AT thru-hike to Maine and had moved to the Georgia mountains, so we were lucky to add Tuan Anh Cauble and Kaleigh Cauble to our full-time crew. Rob's sister, Mia Hernandez, has always chased a love of the outdoors and recently relocated here from Montana, so we added her to our full-time staff as well.

Tell us a little about the community that has come together since the shop opened.
We've been amazed at the number of folks that drive two hours from Atlanta or Asheville to say hello in person and include us in their weekend adventures. And being a part of so many thru-hik­ers' dreams to hike from Georgia to Maine is truly rewarding. Our Trailful shop gives us a daily opportunity to make new friends, share our deep love of the outdoors, and help everyone from beginning day hikers to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers chase their adventures, and that's just incredibly rewarding. O.R.