Robert Green (left) and Patrick Jackson (right) practice safe distancing while transitioning the business.
Service is one thing that won’t change.
Whitehorse’s one and only sports consignment store is getting a new owner. Changing Gear Sports Swap’s founder, Patrick Watson, is handing the reins over to Robert Green, who officially took possession on Feb. 1. When I meet with Jackson and Green at Changing Gear on the coldest day of the year, they are more than mid-way through the transition process.
As successful as Changing Gear is and continues to be, Jackson is ready to move on. He says that from the beginning, he had a five-year exit strategy. This is all going according to plan, though there are certain priorities that are driving Jackson’s decision to leave.
“First and foremost, more time with my family,” he says. He’s looking forward to being there when his kids come home from school. As for what he plans to do next, Jackson is noncommittal. He says there are plenty of options but he’s in no rush right now. When I ask Jackson what he’s most proud of in his years of running Changing Gear, he says the sense of community. He speaks of the number of young kids who got into sports and activities, partly because the business provides affordable gear, and thereby removes barriers to participation.
“Without Changing Gear, a lot of these families wouldn’t be able to get their kids into certain sports, or be able to keep them going year after year,” Jackson says. “It’s really fundamental to any community that kids are able to participate.”
The store is kid-focused and kid-friendly. Jackson says he has seen the same children over and over as they grow up and grow out of gear, hence the name, Changing Gear. He gets to know most of them and their parents. It’s kind of like the TV sitcom Cheers, Jackson says, where everybody knows your name.
“Patrick’s amazing at remembering people’s names,” Green says, admitting it’s a skill he is working on.
Green is one of the people who Jackson came to know over the years. An early consignor at the shop, Green is primed to step into Jackson’s shoes.
“I was looking for something I could develop,” Green says of his interest in the business. “My family is very sports-orientated. It happened to be a fit into the kind of life I’ve had. I grew up playing hockey here.”
As well, like Jackson, Green is keen to contribute to the community.
“I think having this establishment is crucial for the community as well as the outlying communities. It was something I could see myself doing and something that needed to stay with the community.”
The new owner appreciates the work Jackson has put into the sports consignment to make it successful. For Green, Changing Gear ticks off several boxes: it’s well set up, it’s a great facility, it’s something he can grow with, and the location (on the Alaska Highway just north of Two Mile Hill) isn’t bad either.
But I had to ask if COVID-19 has thrown a bit of a wrench into the plans?
Initially, Jackson says, the pandemic brought the business to a grinding halt. Changing Gear abruptly closed on the third week of March. Jackson contemplated not opening again for the summer.
“It looked like the world was going to end,” he says. “It looked rather bleak to be honest.”
But Changing Gear re-opened in May, thanks in part to customer support. Jackson also credits the business community, which stepped up to inform the government of what was needed, and the government delivered.
“I felt as a business-owner, when Yukon government announced some of the support mechanisms available, that they were spot on, at least for this business,” Jackson says. “Without the government’s support, it would have been a much different situation. They kind of came through.”
Changing Gear also bounced back because, if Yukoners could do nothing else during the pandemic, they were encouraged to get outside.
“If it weren’t for the great support of the community members, if it weren’t for them coming in wanting to get out and enjoy our country, the rebound wouldn’t have been as good,” Green says.
Now that Green has taken over the business, can the Yukon expect to see a big change in how it’s run?
Not likely. Green says his approach will be similar to Jackson’s. Service the customers, service the community, and give back as much to them as they give to us. That philosophy, says Green, is built into the business. And that’s one thing that won’t be changing.