The RuggedOutdoors story begins in 1947, shortly after World War II. A young couple from Chicago made their way south to Champaign-Urbana, to start a new business and a family.
Two hard-working generations later, their retail legacy has endured and evolved.
Leo and Anne open a small appliance repair and military surplus store in downtown Champaign, Illinois. The store is named Champaign Surplus and is located just one mile from the University of Illinois campus.
Camping merchandise is introduced as small appliances are phased out.
The store moves to a larger downtown Champaign location. Items like canvas pup tents, original Coleman sleeping bags, Navy pea coats, Levis bell bottoms, external frame backpacks and heavy leather hiking boots gain in popularity.
A UofI student named Ira starts to work at Champaign Surplus — and is the first employee to ever keep up with Anne + Leo’s daughter, Lynn. He still does, over 50 years later! The couple purchase the business in 1985.
Champaign Surplus outgrows its footprint again, and moves to a new location at 303 South Neil in downtown Champaign. It adopts the tagline Rugged Outdoor since 1947, which will become the name of the business decades later.
Outdoor recreation brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Columbia, Jansport and Timberland gain in popularity and fashion. Ira and Lynn build the business into a robust specialty outdoor store.
Dan, a corporate finance guy from Chicago, visits Champaign with his girlfriend, Shira (Lynn & Ira’s daughter). He sees the store for the first time and begins daydreaming about a career change and getting to wear his favorite gear to work every day.
Dan and Shira move to Champaign and become ‘Generation Three’ when they purchase the business from Ira and Lynn. The store gets new branding and an eCommerce site is launched.
Online sales grow rapidly. Ruggedoutdoors.com is launched and becomes the nationally branded website for the company.
The retail store changes its name to Champaign Outdoors and moves to a new location. RuggedOutdoors opens its first brick-and-mortar outlet next door, to support the growing eCommerce branch of the company.
At the same time, company operations move into a new 20,000 sq ft corporate headquarters and internet logistics warehouse. Just 6 months later, an additional 40,000 sq ft warehouse is needed.
Covid hits, and the stores are forced to close down. The web business is categorized essential and continues operations with a skeleton staff.
RuggedOutdoors moves out of its relatively new HQ to consolidate locations and costs due to the pandemic. A new state-of-the-art warehousing logistics system is put in place at the new 40,000 sq ft location.
COVID speeds up change to online shopping habits and the traditional specialty outdoor business model of Champaign Outdoors. The entire brick-and-mortar location is transformed into the very popular RuggedOutdoors Outlet.
A second RuggedOutdoors Outlet location opens at Carle at the Fields in Champaign.