Photos Andy Calvert
Blue Sky Outfitter has been a staple in both Rome and Cartersville for over ten years now.
The outdoor gear shop provides top brands of shoes, outerwear and practically anything one may need to explore beyond the concrete sidewalks of the city.
Elizabeth Watkins bought the business in November of 2018 from Lisa Hamilton. Since then, she has been working to grow the brand of Blue Sky Outfitter so that both Rome and Cartersville have access to all that Blue Sky has to offer.
Watkins takes some time to explain the philosophy behind her plans for Blue Sky, and talk about what we can expect to see in the future.
She began her career in commercial banking and worked in that field for 14 years until her son was in Kindergarten. In an effort to spend more time with him, she decided to start her own business. “I started my online women’s clothing boutique, Spool of Dreams, and that venture grew from online to an office pop up store. Eventually, I opened a brick and mortar, and later a second location.”
Watkins would later change the name of Spool of Dreams to Everjean. Soon, she found an additional opportunity to expand her current retail store and acquire an already successful outfitter.
“Lisa Hamilton, Blue Sky’s former owner, founded Blue Sky in 2005 and she opened the Cartersville location first. The Rome location opened in 2006. There is a funny story connected to the store here in Rome. As a commercial lender, I actually handled the refinancing of Rome’s Broad Street location. Eventually, Lisa was looking to sell Blue Sky. I felt that since I was already in the retail industry, I could take the reins and continue the hard work that had been put into Blue Sky, ” recalls Watkins.
“In August 2019, I decided that I would merge Blue Sky Ladies with Blue Sky Outfitter at the Cartersville location. There were actually two different storefronts in Cartersville, and I wanted both the Cartersville and the Rome locations to be consistent in what we offer in store. So, I gave the old Blue Sky Ladies store a light facelift and reopened it as Everjean. Now all of the stores, in both cities, have the same look and feel.
Watkins runs two different types of stores with four different locations, but she does not do it alone. When speaking about her team, it is easy to see her appreciation for her amazing staff.
The general manager for both locations is Taylor Mills. Watkins says of Mills that, “I hired him to be the manager for the Rome location, but I quickly promoted him as the general manager. T. Mills is a key asset to the business and works closely with me in all capacities; he is my guy perspective.”
Her sister-in-law, Kelly Watkins, manages accounts receivable and accounts payable, and essentially makes everything in the back-office work and run smoothly. Callie Dodd is the general manager for Everjean and according to Watkins, “she also helps with the buying for Blue Sky. So, she is a key team member and my hope is to have her as my buyer for both businesses.”
“We have a great team in Rome,” says Watkins. “Jack Tunnell is the floor manager in Rome, and his niche is in merchandising due to his artistic abilities.”
Of the sales staff, Watkins says, “We try to hire kids who are either in high school and transitioning into college, or college kids.”
Karsten Black functions as the web designer and works diligently to ensure that the website is updated and the merchandise is displayed accurately on the page. Due to the nature of the products, having an accurate website is key for Blue Sky Outfitter.
All of the buying for Blue Sky Outfitter is done a year in advance, and Watkins walks us through the process.
“We are guessing when it comes to trends; we are guessing what people will like according to data we collect. Dealers have projections, but it really is a gamble. This is our first season to buy for spring and summer, so this year is very exciting for us. We have worked really hard to put together collections and have them all flow according to what we anticipate our customers will need,” says Watkins.
The goal is to have the collections change with current trends and put together fresh looks with each season. Their goal is provide excellent customer service at Blue Sky, and by offering a unique selection, the stores will provide a year-round shopping experience.
“By ordering in smaller quantities, we hope to keep from oversaturating our community with the same look,” she explains.
“Spring is around the corner and labels are using bright color palettes. We are excited about the variety of active and athleisure wear we are going to be able to provide for our customers. We are also adding light-weight travel wear options to our inventory and those colors will also be fun. We are looking forward to growing our new hiking shoe line, as well,” adds Watkins.
One thing that Watkins is exploring in 2020 is to assist her customers by renting specialty equipment like kayaks and camping gear. By leasing these items to outdoor enthusiast, she can offer the temporary use of gear for those who do not want to spend a ton of money on a product they may only use once or twice. And if customers wish to give their new favorite piece of gear a permanent home in their garage, they will not have to look far to find it.
Blue Sky Outfitter hopes to be your provider for all of the best products in outdoor gear available. With Watkins and her team at the helm, the franchise has big plans to improve what they offer to all who wish to explore the great outdoors.
Look for them in both Rome and Cartersville as they continue “Equipping North Georgia for Adventure.”