After more than three decades outfitting Travelers Rest for the outdoors, nothing surprises Sunrift Adventures owner Bo Terry these days
JENNIFER REYNOLDS | CONTRIBUTOR
It started with a catalog, a ski trip and a passion to climb mountains. That’s how Bo Terry, cofounder of Sunrift Adventures, recalls the beginning of his retail store 35 years ago.
Terry and cofounder Jim Kelly both worked for Wilderness Outfitters in Greenville. When Terry picked up a free copy of the Chouinard catalog from Mountaineering South in Asheville, N.C., he knew he’d found his life’s calling.
While on a skiing trip, the two came up with the idea to create Sunrift Adventures. They launched it as a tour guide service for people who wanted to go backpacking, climbing or paddling.
They soon ran the business from Kelly’s living room, which they used as a showroom. Clients began asking the two if they could buy products directly from them, and Sunrift’s retail business was born.
Soon ready for a larger space, they sought out a location and opened a storefront on Hawkins Road in 1982. It was small, with just 1,500 square feet of retail space and a scant 600 square feet of office space in the back. Yet it served their needs until 1995.
In 1991, after several life changes, Kelly approached Terry and asked if Terry would buy Kelly’s share. After careful thought, Terry agreed and became the sole owner of Sunrift.
In 1995, Terry moved Sunrift to its current location on Center Street in Travelers Rest – a location rich with its own history.
The property once belonged to David Brown of Brown’s Feed and Seed. The large building that stands behind the retail store, now known as the Boat Barn, dates to 1904 as part of the cotton gin that stood on the premises. The old scales where cotton was weighed still stand at the back of the Boat Barn. When a colony of bats moved into the roof of the building, the outdoor-loving staff installed bat houses on the outside and plugged holes to keep the bats outside – mostly.
Bumps on the trail
Sunrift has weathered the shifting terrain of the retail business over the years. Terry recalls several challenges to the success of Sunrift.
The first happened the day of their move to their current location on Center Street. It was early September and time for Sunrift’s big annual sale. They moved the day before the sale, and ran the business from two locations during the sale. During the stress of the combined sale and move, the computer died. All of the store’s records were lost.
In late 1995 and early ’96, Terry faced what he described as his biggest challenge. In spite of good sales, Sunrift was on the brink of bankruptcy, and Terry said he had to decide whether to fight for survival or close down. He decided to fight.
“I did it for employees, customers, the community. It’s a good business and we need more businesses like that,” Terry said. He read books on how to turn a business around and implemented the strategies recommended. He weathered the storm, but said it was not without consequences.
“I swore at the time that I could never go through anything like it again,” he said.
Then in 2014, he faced the bankruptcy demon again, and once again emerged triumphant. May and June of 2015 were record months for the business.
Another challenge to the success of Sunrift was the opening of REI on Woodruff Road in Greenville. “REI took us down a couple notches,” Terry said. “Our business was 15, 20 percent down for 3 ½ years.”
In spite of the challenges, Terry is positive about Sunrift’s future. “Business is good,” he said.
Terry said his staff has been pivotal to Sunrift’s success. “I love everyone who’s ever worked [at Sunrift] for all they’ve contributed to the place, ’cause they were all underpaid,” he said.
The staff was equally complimentary of their workplace. Bike shop manager Tad Nielsen, who has worked at Sunrift for eight years, says his favorite part of the job is the customers. “We have a lot of really positive energy,” he said. “We don’t have unhappy customers.”
Heather Davis has worked at Sunrift for 10 years, and said she enjoys helping customers buy equipment to use on vacation. She especially loves it when they come back and tell her about their trip. “It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I get to hear their stories.”
New manager Andy Hendrix, who joined the team earlier this year, said that working at Sunrift is his dream job. He first visited Sunrift with his wife during his first trip to the Upstate. Jessie Burns, a local girl and a graduate of Blue Ridge High School in Greer, was adamant that Hendrix visit the store. It was on this trip that Hendrix first decided that he wanted to work for Sunrift. But there was a problem. They lived out of state.
After several years away from home, his wife was ready to return to her Upstate roots.
“About six months before moving back to Greenville, I started trying to get a job [at Sunrift],” Hendrix said.
Hendrix has a background in the industry. He has worked for Orvis and spent summers guiding whitewater rafting and fly-fishing in North Carolina. He and Terry agree that his background made him a good fit for Sunrift.
“When I walked in on my first day, it felt like I’d already been here 10 years,” Hendrix said, “like I already had relationships.”
The Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail has made an impact on Sunrift. Though the bike shop in the store originally sold primarily mountain biking gear, the advent of the Swamp Rabbit has seen a slow but steady shift in customers who want road biking gear as well.
“It’s always been a mountain bike shop,” said Nielsen. “We’re getting more and more into [road biking]. We’re right here by the path, so we get a lot of path customers.”
The location of the store along the trail allows them opportunities to service bikes as well. “Being right here on the path, we get overloaded with repairs,” said Nielsen. “We’ve got a lot of loyal customers that want to come here.”
Terry said that he hopes to continue to cater to Swamp Rabbit users in new ways. “We want to provide a place where people want to hang out.”
Terry promotes shopping local, and cites numerous examples of local vendors that Sunrift buys from, such as Confluence Watersports in Greenville, Invert SUP in Greenville, and Watersports Warehouse in Anderson.
“If someone wants to buy local, we are the place,” he said.
In the future, Terry said, “I think my role is gonna become more visionary” at Sunrift. “We’ll see where [Hendrix] fits in. I’m open. Nothing would surprise me – what the future holds.”