BIRMINGHAM – The Alabama Retail Association (ARA) in cooperation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business today recognized 12 outstanding Alabama retailers representing 10 retail businesses as “Retailers of the Year.” The presentations were made at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham during the 2010 Retail Day Luncheon. This marked the 11th presentation of the Retailer of the Year Awards since 1999.
Mark Whitlock, president of Mark’s Outdoor Sports in Vestavia Hills, an Alabama Retail Association member since 1995, became the first ever two-time winner of the Gold Award in the “Annual Sales More Than $5 Million” category. He also took the honor in 2008. Nine people nominated Whitlock for the 2010 award: Terry H. Waters, Alabama Power Co.; Travis Owens, Costa Del Mar Sunglasses; Will Primos, Primos Hunting Calls; Kevin Benton, Pure Fishing; Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry; Paul Rossi, Skeeter Products Inc.; Andy Everett, Stewart Sneed Hewes Insurance Agency; David C. Smitherman, The Better Business Bureau; and James Shepherd, The Outdoor Wire Digital Network.
“Mark’s (Outdoor Sports) is one of the stores the entire industry looks to when it comes to best practices, customer relations and community involvement. They do it right – hundreds of times every day,” said Shepherd, a 35-year news veteran.
In his entry, Whitlock said 2009 was the store’s “best year ever” with sales up 10 percent and inventory down 25 percent. The outdoor retailer moved all inventory to one on-site location and expanded every department. This year, he’s added 30 percent more parking at the Montgomery Highway store and doubled the store’s size in a speedy two-week renovation, taking over the adjacent golf shop, which relocated. For Whitlock, business is mostly about service. “We look every day to add a service to our store that no one else will do,” he wrote in his entry. “Retailers sell the same products, so price shouldn’t be the only reason a customer shops with you.”
He shrugs off talk about a poor economy. “Mark’s has decided not to participate in the economy,” he and his employees tell anyone who brings it up. “Problems are between the ears, and your attitude is everything,” Whitlock said. That doesn’t mean he isn’t sensitive to customers’ growing need for a bargain. “The overstocked market, selling first quality items at below wholesale prices, is the greatest growth area of our store,” he wrote.
Whitlock’s greatest assets are his customers and employees. “Our customers talk to each other and pass on the passion to each other through the stories they tell and the adventures they’ve been on,” which brings in more customers, he said. “Everyone on staff is a buyer and talks everyday with industry owners and chief executives,” which makes them all experts, he said.
“(Mark Whitlock) is a successful business owner, an expert in the field, but most importantly, a friend to all the patrons,” said Chief Curry, who has shopped at the business throughout his entire 30-year law enforcement career.
Whitlock’s scope stretches beyond his store as he supports a myriad of conservation organizations and more than 100 events annually, from clay shoots to fishing rodeos. Each year, Mark’s Outdoor Sports restocks Lay Lake with bass for its Lay Lake Open bass tournament. Over the tournament’s 19-year-history, Mark’s has used the profits from the tournament to stock the lake with more than 2 million bass fingerlings. “His concern for wildlife and fish is unsurpassed,” Rossi said in his nomination of Whitlock.
Not mentioned specifically by his nominators or Whitlock was that the business owner completed chemotherapy in August for Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Follicular Lymphoma. He’ll know in November if the treatment succeeded. In the meantime, his daughter Shelly, whose right arm was paralyzed as the result of a Christmas Eve 2006 car accident, will wed her fiancé, Ron Smith, on Oct. 9th.
“In spite of personal challenges …, this retailer has continued to deliver excellent goods and services to customers,” said Waters, who credits Whitlock for taking a lead role in increasing recreational tourism through promotion of motor sports.
Mark’s Outdoor Sports celebrated its 30th year in business in 2010 thanks to its person-to-person service, a brand of service that Whitlock brands as “suicidal,” or SCS. To Whitlock, this award goes to his “team,” the 26 employees who deliver stellar service to every customer who walks in the door.
Mark Whitlock, Mark’s Outdoor Sports | 205.822.2010
Nancy Dennis, Alabama Retail Association | 334.263.5757 Ext. 101 | 800.239.5423