Exterior of River Rock Outfitter.
Virginia-based River Rock Outfitter has aimed to build a nurturing and inclusive environment where people can bond and share their outdoor journeys. — River Rock Outfitter

River Rock Outfitter has been named the Southeastern regional finalist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's America’s Top Small Business Awards.

River Rock Outfitter isn’t your typical outdoor retailer. It’s a community-focused specialty outdoor brand — and it’s one of few in the industry owned and operated by a woman. That woman is none other than Chief Executive Officer April Peterson.

With a predominantly female staff, Peterson and the River Rock Outfitter team strive to provide every customer with a hands-on experience that focuses on accessibility for all skill levels. It’s through a selective curation process and an emphasis on employee training that Peterson has propelled River Rock Outfitter from local business to community fixture and education hub for all things outdoors. In doing so, the store has seen revenue growth year after year, with a 19% increase in 2023 over the previous year’s numbers and no signs of slowing down.

3 things that made River Rock Outfitter a finalist for America's Top Small Business:

Its founder has become a prominent fixture in the community

The inspiration behind River Rock Outfitter traces back to Peterson and her husband Keith’s sophomore year of high school in Shreveport, Louisiana. The couple met in gym class while on a rock wall, where they learned foundational lessons in trust and partnership. Those lessons stuck with them, and their shared passion for climbing and the outdoors led them on adventures spanning Arizona State University to various locations with the Marine Corps. The couple set roots in Fredericksburg, Virginia, before launching the store in November of 2014.

Since then, Peterson has been an active member of the Fredericksburg Virginia Main Street, serving as its president from 2020-2021, a particularly challenging time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These roles, among others, have earned her multiple accolades from organizations such as the Rotary Foundation, Chesapeake Conservancy, and Blue Ridge Outdoors, for her contributions to the community and philanthropy.

Her business reflects these accomplishments as well, as River Rock Outfitter now stands as a beacon of inclusivity, community service, and economic revitalization. The store continues to support conservation and access efforts as well as emphasize green business practices, as Peterson strives not only for retail success but also for lasting positive impacts on the community.

With a staff of 70% women at River Rock Outfitter, Peterson has made it her mission to challenge the gender biases and male-dominant presence in the outdoor sector and inspire more women to embrace outdoor activities.

It focuses on female representation and creating a welcoming environment for marginalized people

With a staff of 70% women at River Rock Outfitter, Peterson has made it her mission to challenge the gender biases and male-dominant presence in the outdoor sector and inspire more women to embrace outdoor activities.

Instead of viewing the gender disparity as a barrier, Peterson has leveraged it to bring about change by offering gear designed for women and crafting women-centric workshops and programs. One such program is the GirlsGO! (Girls Get Outside) initiative, established in 2016, which offers guided excursions that teach participants about core hiking lessons, covering leave-no-trace principles and basic wilderness first aid. In addition, the River Rock Outfitter team hosts monthly trail-mixer events designed for women to network and find adventure partners in the area, along with "Some Girls Go Hike," a week-long camp exclusively for teenage girls.

In providing these opportunities, River Rock Outfitter has built a nurturing environment where women and members of other marginalized communities can bond, share their outdoor journeys, and uplift one another, leading the push toward greater inclusion within the community.

It created a sustainable program that benefits the environment, consumers, and its financial longevity

During the pandemic, interest in outdoor recreation exploded as more people found themselves with more free time to get out and explore. While this sudden boom meant more customers for River Rock Outfitter, it was paired with supply chain issues that were disrupting its ability to maintain stock.

To ensure the company could continue pursuing its mission and keep the doors open, Peterson made a strategic move to pivot operations, creating a reselling program called the Re-Boot with River Rock consignment program. This program was backed by extensive branding and a marketing campaign, the establishment of a new e-commerce presence, and required policy development.

Following these efforts, River Rock Outfitter saw an immediate return on investment, registering 15% annual growth in the program since its inception in June 2020 and becoming the store’s second-highest performing department. Through this initiative, River Rock Outfitter has captured the national spotlight, attracting customers from across the country drawn to their specialized and customer-focused approach.

As the company continues to expand its reach, it remains dedicated to its core mission: promoting outdoor recreation and conservation, and motivating individuals, especially from underserved communities, to explore nature.

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