NOTHING beats the great outdoors.
Just ask Phil Haynes, who lists ski-ing, hill walking and biking among his favourite pursuits.
Phil’s hobbies certainly help when it comes to his job as retail development manager for outdoor clothing and equipment company Outdoor Mania, which is based at the former Crag Rats mill in Dunford Road, Holmfirth.
And its a passion shared by other members of the team.
“We ski, we snowboard, we camp and we go bike riding,” he says. “That’s how we try out the products we sell and how we can talk with authority about them to the customer. We are very active people.
“In fact, people generally are becoming more active – and they don’t just go to the gym.
“Many people are leading healthier lifestyles. And it’s not just about being healthy. It’s about enjoying the countryside.”
Outdoor Mania was launched seven years ago as an internet-based business selling everything from checked shirts and walking gear to ski clothing and camping equipment. But the founders quickly realised the need for a showroom to enable customers to see the products for themselves. That led to the formation of retail arm Let’s Go.
“We had a lot of people who were happy enough to order online, but we realised we needed somewhere for people to touch and feel and try out the products,” says Phil. “While other companies are going from bricks and mortar to online, we are going the other way.
“In both cases, it’s a matter of providing customer service, attention and care.”
The showroom was opened two weeks before Christmas – and the timing couldn’t have been much better. “The wintry weather certainly helped focus people’s minds on our products,” says Phil.
“We have had a lot of customers from as far afield as Durham, Doncaster and Hull.
“About 90% of our customers have seen the products online, but they want to see them for themselves.
“When you are buying a £600 tent and all the accessories, you want to see what you’re buying.”
Phil and the team had been looking for suitable premises for three or four years before fixing on the mill, which became available following the demise of training and theatre company Cragrats.
Says Phil: “It was an awful shame that Cragrats went out of business, but it would have been just as big a shame if the mill had gone to wrack and ruin.”
Thankfully – although the mill was empty for some time – that hasn’t happened. And after moving into the building, Outdoor Mania set about restoring it to its former glory the building.
“There was an awful lot to do,” says Phil. “It took 11 months to get it looking half right and there has been significant investment. We stripped back the walls to expose the original stone and features. We restored the wood flooring and installed new staircases.
“The mill has returned to textiles, only this time it’s modern, technical textiles in their finished form.”
The ground floor is given over to the retail showroom while the second and third floors accommodate the internet business.
There are plans to open a coffee shop on the third floor during April, while the top floor houses the company’s call centre.
Outdoor Mania/ Let’s Go currently employs seven people, but has the potential to create up to 20 jobs, says Phil.
“That would be a positive boost for the area,” says Phil, who sees the company as a key part of efforts to generate wealth for the Holme Valley and maintain its tourist trade.
“Last of the Summer Wine has finished,” he points out. “It wasn’t just about three grumpy old men – it was about the landscapes and the countryside.”
Phil was born in Newcastle and grew up in Yarm on Teeside. “My ambition was to become a paramedic,” he says. “When I grow up, that’s probably what I’ll be!”
Instead, he has spent 21 years in the “outdoor” industry. At first, it was just another job, but over the years Phil has developed a real love for the outdoors. Phil also works with two other companies in Heckmondwike, Outdoor Revolution and caravan and motorhomes firm Blue Diamond.
Says Phil: “I have done the Six Peaks Challenge – walking up the six highest mountains in Great Britain in 72 hours.
“You get a sense of achievement doing that, but it is the spectacular sights of nature that you really appreciate.”
It’s also a family affair. “When the kids were young, I didn’t have a great deal of money to spend on holidays. We’d spend time together in the outdoors because it was a cheap and fun way to get to know the kids.
“We lived on the edge of the North York Moors and when my daughter was very young, she’d set the alarm for six o’clock in the morning, We’d take a packed breakfast and sit out in the hills.”
Photography is another growing interest. “I bought myself a new camera for Christmas,” says Phil. “I also got a book on how to use it and I am going to go on a course so I can get the best out of it. It’s all about catching those memories.”
Meanwhile, other people are discovering the simple pleasures of the great outdoors, says Phil.
“The recession has meant lots of people holidaying at home to save money – and finding out what there is on their own doorstep.
“People say the British weather is what puts them off holidays at home, but we have technical products to deal with the elements.
“As Billy Connolly said: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!”