Stepping into Feral Mountain Co. is like walking into your coolest friend’s house growing up, as cozy as your home, but with better stuff and chill parents. Located on the walkable Tennyson Street in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood, Feral primarily specializes in premium gear and trip planning, but they do much more than that. Feral is small, for sure, but its craftsman walls are bursting with adventure inspiration.
Don’t know where to go? There’s a map room for planning. Maybe you need a few pointers to bag that backcountry peak? There are hella friendly group outings. Want to pet a cute dog and test hammocks, and maybe talk to someone that will get just as jazzed about your next adventure as you are? If that’s your deal, then Feral might just be your favorite new hang. We caught up with owner, Jimmy Funkhouser–and his very cute dog friend–to find out what makes the neighborhood gear shop model the new big thing.
Q. First off, what is Feral Mountain Co.? How do you describe the shop and what you do?
A. Generally speaking, we are a locally-owned, independent boutique gear shop. We are very community-driven and our focus is really very simple. We want to create adventure for people. That is our mission statement and it informs every decision we make and everything we do. It’s the product we carry, the events we host. It’s the way we market.
Q. We love the name Feral. What was the inspiration for it?
A. Etymologically the word means to escape from domestication and become wild, and that’s very synergistic with our mission. We want to get people out the door, on the trail, on the mountain. The word just connected really viscerally with our goal of helping people find that adventure in their life that they might be lacking. Beyond that, from a more business side of things, I really wanted something a little edgy. Every outdoor shop in the world is “outfitters this” and “outfitters that.” It’s a very sterile industry on some levels from a branding perspective. And I wanted something we could create a brand around. Everything is either a shop or a brand, and there is very little cross over. I kind of wanted to be both! I wanted to create something that we felt had a strong identity beyond just “Denver outdoor gear and stuff.”
Q. The store seems so accessible. How do you maintain that welcoming vibe?
A. Everything we do is about trying to grow the community, or as I like to say, “Spread the gospel.” Ultimately, while we want to be successful, what I really want to do is show that you can grow organically with a community and in a way that’s fun. That’s really the vibe that we try to keep and I think people get that. We’ve been very fortunate to have a great response from the community and I think they appreciate the fact that we’re just a couple of Joes in here, hanging out, wanting to help people. I’m here everyday with the customers building that relationship.
Q. Inclusivity isn’t always on the forefront of the outdoor industry, but Feral has a very welcoming attitude for all skill levels. Is that a specific choice you’ve made for the shop?
A. I think the most important thing is to have a welcoming environment because a lot of people are intimidated by mountains and getting out on the trail for the first time. I think the most important place to begin is to meet people at their starting point, wherever that may be. We want to let people know that we can help them wherever they are, but we also try to provide the tools and knowledge that people need, whether it’s the content we provide on social media or the stories we share.
To have a shop, you have to have that knowledge to share, but more importantly, we really try to act as a source of inspiration for people. Through our content approach or on social media, we try to inspire people to get outside, to take that leap. And on the flip side, we have gotten a little bit of push back because there are those people who feel like in order to protect those spaces, we should keep people out of them. We take some criticism because some people feel like we are driving more people to these places. I don’t subscribe to that. My philosophy is kind of the antithesis of that.
One of my grad school professors once told me, “You’ll never protect what you don’t love, you’ll never love what you don’t know, and you’ll never know what you haven’t come to experience.” What that meant to me was that for us to protect these open spaces, we had to have people who have experienced them because those are the people that will be on the frontlines willing to fight, volunteer and help. People who have never been on a trail are never going to fight passionately to protect them, so I feel very strongly that for us to build a strong army of people willing to protect these places, we just need to get them out there. I feel like that’s the role we play in protecting our spaces and building that community. Even if we do get some criticism for driving people out there, I feel like that will always be our mission.
Q. How would you describe the vibe of the shop on a normal day? Who is your average customer?
A.Our core demo is the 22- to 44-year-old aspirational core, as I call them. The people who don’t necessarily have a lot of technical mountaineering experience, but maybe just moved to Colorado or Denver. One thing that’s always irritated me is shops that seem to just want to figure out how good you are at certain things or how skilled you are in the outdoors. There are a lot of shops that have become a little too elitist in the approach they take with customers. I tell everyone, our whole team, that we want to work very hard to avoid that. Everyone is on their own journey. We just want to get people outside, whether that’s a short little day trip or hiking the PCT. You start where you are and that’s fine. We work very hard to not have that holier-than-thou approach that I think, unfortunately, a lot of shops are guilty of. That doesn’t serve anyone’s interests. We really want to be the shop that introduces people to the outdoors and gets them excited about it.
Q. Tell us a little about the events and trips Feral puts on.
A. The goal with any of the events we do is to create adventure for people, whether that is getting people outside on a trail or to create adventure in their own lives through our summer film series or some of the social events we do. Indirectly the goal of all our events is to encourage people to get outside, create the emotional response, or shift their lifestyle towards the outdoors.
Q. What does the future look like for Feral?
A. Our growth strategy is pretty aggressive, but we want to stay a small shop. I never want to be in a 10,000-square foot building. Our idea of growth is more locations like this. Small, welcoming, neighborhood-based. We don’t want to be a suburban sprawling commercial mall retailer. We want to be the kind of place that when you walk in, it feels different, it looks different, and I feel like the trend of retail right now favors that approach. This street is a great example. It’s a flourishing area of mom-and-pops because people value being able to walk into a shop, know somebody, know that their questions are going to be answered, and know that there is someone there who wants to hear stories and tell stories. I don’t think that will ever change. There is space for a store like us and a team like us to thrive.
To find out more about Feral Mountain Co., visit their website.
Images by Arya Roerig.