By Amanda Kuhnert
After raising their family in North Carolina, Steve Kenny and Kirstin Behn decided to move back to Kirstin’s hometown of Waitsfield to be closer to family and enjoy Vermont’s four seasons. Steve, who has been involved in clothing retail for 30 years, envisioned opening his own store. But he first had to find a building.
“All the stars aligned,” Steve said. When a building became available on Main Street in Waitsfield, he jumped on it. The couple renovated the space to include an upstairs apartment, where they now live, and a retail space on the lower level. In October of 2022, they opened their clothing store, the Mad Rover (formerly Mad River Outfitters).
“I would call it an outdoor boutique,” Steve said. “I sell coats, jeans, blankets, underwear, but nothing technical. I don’t sell ski pants; there are eight other stores in the area selling them.”
Putting a plan into action
After writing a business plan, Steve reached out to the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) for help turning his idea into a viable business. His business advisor, Charley Ininger, has been advising small business owners in central Vermont for over a decade.
“Charley gave me an economic rhythm—what to expect with the seasons,” Steve said. “I lived in North Carolina for the past 17 years, where it is sunny year-round. Here, it was all about learning my peaks and troughs. I’ve learned that when the weather is sunny, people come out to shop. When there’s snow on the ground, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are my busy days.”
Ininger also helped Steve learn to make more accurate financial decisions. At previous jobs, Steve had a controller to help with financial decision-making. “To do it myself, I had to sit down a lot more and finetune my finances,” he said. “The calculator was out nonstop. There were certain things I wanted to buy, but I had to wait.”
Another part of the learning curve has been figuring out what sells and what doesn’t. “People here know their labels,” Steve said. “They appreciate quality. Higher price-range items tend to sell better.” Along with investing heavily in his most popular brands, Steve has introduced a few new lines that he sold in North Carolina. He’s also bringing in more lifestyle clothing. “I went heavy on resort wear in the beginning but realize now that there is more demand for known brands,” he said.
“We’re still honing it in,” Steve said. “You live and learn. I’m five months into it. After the summer, I’ll be a wiser man.”
The Mad Rover is open 7 days a week; 10-5, Sunday through Tuesday, and 10-6, Wednesday through Saturday. Most of their products are also available for purchase on their website, themadrover.com. “People like to shop local—and order local,” Steve said.
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