TOWNSEND — “A huge inventory, but with unique products,” Gary Evans said, describing his store, Evans On The Common, which has sat at the North end of the Town Common since 1979.
The building has been around since 1871 when it was used as a one-room school house. Evans says the third floor was a meeting room for the Masons. Since then it has become Central Massachusetts’ local outfitter and has grown into a small-business success story.
“At first it was hard to convince people that Townsend was a good place for a store like this,” Evans says.
“But if you look at it there are a lot of smart people, smart consumers, with income.”
He says the idea for his store came after he got out of the Marine Corps and had been working in the shoe-manufacturing business. A lot of his job was traveling, meeting people and locating test stores to sell things in.
Working in this model, Evans bought the building and began filling it up with clothing, outdoor supplies and shoes.
“We’ve grown everything else from how well we sell shoes,” he says. Its Gilded Age walls are lined with boxes and boxes of shoes.
No matter your foot size, say 18 double E, you can buy this type of shoe at Evans.
“It’s about being ahead of the curve and predicting styles and brands, because eventually we’ll get something that is trending,” he says, adding that at times, shoes became popular and Evans had shelves stocked, and more coming in.
Walking about the store this plan is easy to see. His waning display of Berkinstocks was being phased out by Ugg Boots, but now both can be found marked down next to the funky-looking Vibram Five Fingers.
On the other side of the store, marked by a divider that used to separate two classrooms, are unique, high-quality sweaters, backpacks, shirts and other things made by Filson, ExOfficio, Dale Norway, and Woolrich. The brand names are expensive, but Evans says they are high quality and made to last.
“Everything is an item we can be unique in because not a lot of people carry them,” he says, and such a philosophy rings true in today’s world of Walmart and e-commerce.
Evans’ realization that it is impossible to take on large, sophisticated department store operations is his forte. He says he knows consumerism is changing and he is totally uninterested in the products that are sold in bulk to places like that, and, unsurprisingly, not catering to that kind of customer.
“If people want high-end stuff, they come here,” Evans says, adding that Carlisle, Littleton, Acton and Westford customers he gets used to go the other way, that is, into Boston, for such gear.
“And as for the whole ‘Taxachusetts” thing, we get a large percent of business from New Hampshire.”
Perhaps more importantly, is how many referrals he gets. Doctors have sent loads of people with foot problems to get the right types of shoes from him. Companies and public works departments are usually quick to purchase large orders of steel-toed boots for their workforce.
For this, a well-trained sales staff helps.
“There’s sometimes a footwear requirement for companies; we try to make it easier on them,” said Gary’s son, Matt, who has been working at the store for 12 years, and is a part of the workforce.
“We get unique products in, and sometimes we are the first carrier in the states,” he says.
“It’s all about a reputation one establishes.”
“They are involved in every aspect of the business, including buying and restocking inventory,” says Evans, adding that having someone talk to a customer, and fit them to the right shoe, is much better than ordering from the Internet. Evans does have a website, but it only lists the brands they carry and events, rather than provide a way to order products.
Despite the state of the economy, Evans says the store has grown over the last four years, and each year before that. This helps when the building is 140 years old.
“A lot of renovation done year after year; it’s good to stay on top of it and be able to fund a major improvement,” he says.
Evans and his store are involved in the Rotary Club and the Business Association. They sponsor town events such as golf tournaments and hold events at their store almost every weekend.
“Who would think of Townsend?” Evans says, but alas, when it comes to quality outfitting, people do.
Walking over to greet a couple, Evans helps the customers find a pair of rugged shorts; they are “just stopping in” on their way from Michigan.