Tackle-ing together: Bemidji couple launches Ridge Top Outdoors
Ridge Top Outdoors owners Justin and Brittany Schuver's love for the outdoors sparked the couple’s decision to open the Bemidji storefront just under a year ago.
BEMIDJI — If there’s anywhere perfectly suited for running a successful outdoors store it's Bemidji.
Hunters from around the state flock up north to their cabins in the fall and fishing on the area's numerous lakes is a year-round hobby.
For Ridge Top Outdoors owners Justin and Brittany Schuver, it was their love for these activities that sparked the couple’s decision to open the shop just under a year ago.
Justin, a lifelong Bemidjian, has been into hunting and fishing since he was young. His wife Brittany grew up in Brainerd and is no stranger to the outdoors lifestyle.
“I’m an only child, so I was my dad’s son,” Brittany said with a laugh. “I got to do a lot of hunting and fishing as well. As an adult, I had gotten out of it, but then when (Justin and I) got together it came back.”
Between Justin owning a jig-making company and Brittany running a bookkeeping business, the pair saw the opportunity to combine their skills and interests to embark on a new business venture together, and the rest is history.
Ridge Top Outdoors, named after Justin’s father’s taxidermy business, opened its doors in late April 2021. The shop is located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and Highway 71 south of Bemidji and boasts an impressive range of tackle, bait, hunting equipment and other outdoor products.
One thing the Schuvers focused on when they opened the store was tracking down a selection of local products to carry at the shop.
“A lot of that local stuff is what we’ve been striving to have,” Brittany said. “Even (Justin’s) jigs are out there.”
The shop carries a variety of Minnesota-made tackle, hunting calls and even Heroes Rise coffee and KC’s Best Wild Rice. Many of the gift items sold at the shop are created by Schuvers Design, a company owned by Justin’s brother.
Besides offering local products, the Schuvers also find connections within the community by hosting hunting and fishing events.
After dipping their toes into the world of event planning with their first big buck contest in late 2021, the couple said they hope to hold more contests in the future.
“There’s lots more to come, it’s just about getting started,” Brittany said. “We want to do it well and do it right.”
For the couple, the shop’s first year has involved plenty of trial and error as they work together to learn the ins and outs of retail.
This first year obviously we’re learning the ropes,” Brittany said. “Neither of us has retail experience, so that’s been a whole different story.”
With Brittany’s corporate background and Justin’s product knowledge, the couple said the dynamic between them makes it possible to successfully juggle all aspects of the business.
“We talked about that right away in the beginning — who’s responsible for what,” Brittany explained. “That’s been really helpful for working together in this first year and making sure we have all the things we need to have.”
Between operating a shop that’s open seven days a week, taking care of their two children and Brittany working a couple of part-time jobs, it’s vital that the pair work as a team.
“We work really well together,” Brittany said with a laugh, “even when we are together literally 24/7.”
A female focus
Brittany explained that one of her biggest goals during the early days of the shop was to make it a place where women could feel comfortable and heard.
“My goal was to be female-oriented,” she said. “There are a ton of females that like fishing and hunting, and I want to bring them comfort for going into a bait shop.”
Brittany’s vision was to break away from the typical bait shop stereotype she’d noticed in the past — small, smelly, cluttered and sometimes not very welcoming towards women.
“I would sit in the car when (Justin) would go get bait,” Brittany said about her experiences with bait shops. “I didn’t want that to be our store.”
She also stressed the importance of women being able to feel free to converse and ask questions when they come into the store.
“I want women to want to come in and feel comfortable talking to people. There are a lot of bait stores that you go into and if you ask questions as a woman, they’re going to look at you like you’re stupid,” Brittany said. “That is not OK here.”
She added that seeing women who are passionate about the outdoors is one of the most fulfilling parts of her experience as a store owner.
“I like meeting all these women that really love fishing and really love hunting,” Brittany said. “Even learning from them and then applying that to my own skill has been a lot of fun for me.”
Though the Schuvers have worked through their fair share of uncertainty and learning experiences during the shop’s first year, ultimately they said it’s the support of the community that keeps them going.
“I like the conversations and the people,” Justin said. “Just hearing what they have to say and how happy they are.”
For Justin, one of the best parts about being at the store every day is seeing children come into the shop and gather around the clear bait tanks. He said that the tanks were an important piece of nostalgia that he insisted upon incorporating in the shop when it opened.
“When I was a kid I’d always want to go (to the bait shop) with dad and see the minnows, so it kind of stuck with me,” he recalled. “When we decided to do this, I said ‘we’re having clear bait tanks.'"
“It did not matter what it cost, “ Brittany remarked about her husband’s wish. “It was like, this is non-negotiable in this business.”
Whether it’s excited children with their parents, weekly regulars or new customers from out of town, Brittany and Justin enjoy meeting anyone and everyone who comes into Ridge Top Outdoors.
“The people in this community have just been amazing," Brittany said. "That has to be my favorite part.”
After almost a year of learning, adapting and growing through the challenges that inevitably come with starting a new business, Ridge Top Outdoors has planted its roots in the community and the Schuvers hope the shop will be a staple in Bemidji for years to come.
“You hear about all these horror stories in retail, but in a small business like this, people are rooting for us,” Brittany said. “This community has been so welcoming.”