Rutabaga started as Rutabaga Whitewater Supply in the basement of an old house south of the University of Wisconsin - Madison campus. A small group of paddling enthusiasts bought gear from manufacturers because the local sporting good stores wouldn't take special orders. They kept some for themselves and sold the rest to friends.
Well, three of the four "partners" graduated, leaving behind one guy to move Rutabaga into an old gas station, and starting what would eventually become the largest paddlesport shop in the US.
Darren, the current owner, worked at the shop part-time from 1990 to 1993 while he worked a day job, but he wasn't growing in his work, and that drove him to quit a very comfortable and secure government job to work full time at the new shop at the current location. He thought he'd be there for a few years, learn some skills, and move on. It didn't work out that way.
When Darren turned 40 in 2002, he decided to either buy the business or quit and do something else. Turns out the business was for sale the week after he announced his intention to leave. He purchased it with a partner, Jeff, and in 2007 he bought him out and became sole owner.
So that's how we got to this point.
As a small, family-owned and operated business, we have the opportunity to make choices that larger box stores can't. We're proud to say we never left value and service. We like being an independent, single-store specialty retailer, because if you call us, you don't get a call center, you get one of us. The management and staff are all paddlers from many disciplines, from whitewater kayaking to wilderness canoeists to sea kayakers to recreational paddlers.
Our values are people-focused: our staff love their work and love getting people into paddling. Some are more connected directly to the sales process, but everyone in the company contributes to our mission: get people on the water as beginners and to provide a pathway (if they so choose) toward more advanced skills. It’s all about you.
We are selective about the products we sell. We work with good people who happen to have the skills to make great gear. You can get gear from a lot of places. Darren gets five or six emails a week from offshore companies who want to sell us counterfeit gear that we already buy from the inventors. Nope. That’s not okay.
So that's where we came from, and where we are now. Moving forward, we see no reason to change our business values as they have served us well. We believe that doing good leads to doing well, and we'll keep doing that. It's the only way we know.