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Outdoor gear site launched

November 05, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Within the next two weeks, expect a blitz of television, radio, print and online advertising intended to etch the name xoutdoors.com and its cute mountain-climber logo onto every other American's psyche.

At some point within that time frame, the Montana-based company - which has offices in Washington County - will launch its new outdoor gear site, expected to offer at least 80,000 items by year's end.

"What we're trying to do is brand the name xoutdoors.com within a 90-day period to the outdoors enthusiast," said Eric Payne, a Maugansville resident and big game hunter who dreamed up the start-up with several fellow enthusiasts earlier this year.

If xoutdoors.com is successful, it will mean dozens of jobs for Tri-State residents, said Payne, 31, the company's vice president of operations.

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While the company's headquarters is in Whitefish, Mont., where several of the partners live and Payne's family has a house, the bulk of the electronic commerce operation and most of the jobs will be in Hagerstown, he said.

All the customer service representatives taking phone orders and answering questions, the data processors entering new products into the system, programmers and other technical people will be working in the IBM building on Dual Highway, Payne said.

Starting with 5,000 square feet of leased office space on the second floor, the company has been building its workforce and will employ about 20 workers by the time the site is launched, Payne said.

Tech people include programmers, Web developers, illustrators and data entry operators, which he has been able to find locally.

He said he expects 20 more employees to be hired and the office space to be expanded by the end of the year.

What the company won't need - no matter how successful it is - is more warehouse space, because xoutdoors.com won't ever have a stitch or stick of inventory, Payne said.

"All we are is an office with lots of fancy computers and very high-end technical people," he said.

The company will market various manufacturers' products to consumers on the Internet, take their orders and payment information and forward the orders to the manufacturers' distribution centers for drop shipment, Payne said.

The inventory-free system is what will separate xoutdoors.com from other companies that sell clothing and equipment for outdoor sports by enabling it to have a much broader product offering and lower prices, he said.

The company's "mountains of stuff" slogan refers to plans to offer any type of clothing and equipment needed for outdoor sports, Payne said.

The major five sports it will be geared toward are hunting, fishing, camping, golfing and skiing, he said.

In its first 30 days, the site will be directed mainly toward hunting, archery and outdoor apparel, Payne said.

Camping and fishing will be added next, followed by skiing, then golf, all timed to capture the season, he said.

The Oracle-based e-commerce system is fully automated with interfaces to the manufacturers' systems and a secure server for transactions, Payne said.

Customers who are uncomfortable about giving their credit card information will be able to call the customer service department to place an order, he said.

The cyberspace venture is a dream come true for Payne, an avid outdoorsman who'd always hoped he could find a way to combine that passion with his background in computers.

One of three managing partners in the new company, the North Hagerstown High graduate is the only Maryland resident involved in the venture.

He's also the only one with technical expertise, gained by growing up around his father, a former IBM engineer, and his 12-year affiliation with American Advanced Computers in Williamsport.

The other two managing partners are company president Jeff Edwards, who relocated to the area from Salt Lake City, and vice president of sales Kory McGavin, who's commuting to the local office from Montana.

Among the five other partners are "a major financial firm, a major publications firm and a major apparel manufacturer," said Payne, who's keeping their names to himself until they appear on the Web site.

All eight are equal partners in the company, which was incorporated in July, he said.

While not a store yet, the www.xoutdoors.com site exists. "Grand opening" is Nov. 14, it says on the home page, where you can register to win hunting videos and outdoor apparel.

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