Focus on Business: Overlander Sports

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Chances are if you’ve ever needed a canoe paddle, a pair of skis or a tent, you’ve been told to check out Overlander Sports.

Jordan Crosby, left, Aislinn Stirling and Sandra Stirling, right.
Sandra, who has been running and working in Overlander Sports for 35 years with pride, says her daughter Aislinn and her fiancé Jordan are the next generation of Overlanders.
Brett McGarry / NNSL photo

The go-to place for outdoor gear in Yellowknife has been serving the city for 36 years.

It all started when Sandra Stirling, Overlander co-owner, was approached by the late Tony Chang, a Yellowknifer with an eye for business, along with a group of silent investors who saw the need for a sporting goods store in the city.

“I had been working for the government in environmental protection service, hadn’t been thinking about getting into businesses,” said Sandra. “I had recently had a baby and was sitting at home and I was approached to run the store.”

She jumped at the opportunity, but with a background in renewable resources, Sandra was no salesperson, so in the early years she relied heavily on her business partners for advice.

People who frequent Overlander may know Sandra runs the shop with her husband Bill Stirling, but they might be surprised to learn that Sandra was the one who hired her husband.

“I’m a bit of a trailblazer for this place,” said Sandra.

With extensive knowledge in paddling, skiing and team sports, Bill brought a lot to the table.

Over the years Sandra has made a point of hiring sales reps with expertise in each category of product they sell, citing the paramount importance of making sure customers have the right gear.

“That’s what we do when we get into a category or sport, we need to hire people who know their stuff,” said Sandra. “I don’t feel comfortable sending someone out the door with the wrong thing … You want them to be comfortable but also safe. It’s very important.”

Considering the nature of the items being sold, Sandra said it’s important for customers to understand the activities they’re getting into.

“For example, if we’re selling someone a bicycle, we always try and make sure they walk out the door with a lock and the helmet,” said Sandra. “If they don’t want to buy it from us that’s fine but we make sure to discuss it with them.”

The products they carry include gear for rock climbing, paddling, camping, skiing, biking, soccer, hockey and everything in between. They even experienced a fast but furious skateboarding fad in the ’90s.

Community involvement has been important to the Stirlings and they’ve donated to a wide range of various clubs and causes.

“If you’re going to set up your businesses in the community, you have to give back,” said Sandra. “Of all the causes we donate to we try to keep it for sports, youth and local.”

With the addition of her daughter Aislinn to the shop’s sales team about five years ago, Sandra said she’s happy her family will continue serving Yellowknife’s small but sporty population.

She and Bill have recently started taking days off during the week, but Sandra said she has no plans to retire anytime soon as her job hardly feels like work.

“I’m still excited every day when I come in,” she said. “There’s the challenges of picking new products to bring in and learning about them, but its also connecting with the young people who work here and the genuine satisfaction of having a customer leave happy with a product I know they’ll enjoy.”

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