Eric Badder has dedicated his life to his love of the outdoors. He transformed his obsession with kayaking into a successful business, The Outdoor Center, in Boulder. After 26 years, he has decided to close his doors.
Badder’s passion for the outdoors has surpassed his love for his business. His customers still consider him a prime source for Boulder’s high demand of outdoor lifestyle equipment. He has enough knowledge and experience to answer any question about the outdoors, whether it is the best place to rock climb in the summer to the best backcountry route for tele-skiing.
Badder, a 45-year-old Connecticut native, originally started The Outdoor Center at the age of 19 as a kayak school, which he enjoyed teaching. He also sold kayaking gear, since Boulder offered no other place to purchase it.
“I kind of got absorbed slowly,” Badder said.
Badder had a part-time job as a kayaking instructor prior to starting the business. With the help of friends and family, he borrowed money and continued to expand his store by integrating many of his passions into the company.
“I love the outdoors,” Badder said. “I expanded to other things I enjoy.”
The Outdoor Center is a paradise for the typical Boulderite. Badder’s store offers an array of equipment, rentals and clothing ranging from snow kites to water skis and surfboards.
Although surfboards are not the most popular product in the store, they do, according to Badder, occasionally get bought or rented for “fashion and function.”
“People use them for parties, photo shoots or training for vacations,” he said.
Badder has experience and background on the majority of equipment sold at the store except for the surfboards, but staff members with surfing experience make up for that.
He learned how to be an entrepreneur solely through the experience he has gained by founding The Outdoor Center.
“I wasn’t a business major,” Badder said. “The store has been my education. It’s taught me a tremendous amount of stuff.”
Badder said that the only way to learn is by doing. He learned everything he knows about owning a business simply through his experiences.
Badder also offers classes, trips and training for everything sold in the store for any level of customer. There are river-running kayak trips for all levels year-round, as well as snow-shoeing, avalanche safety lessons and heli-skiing classes in the winter. Various other seasonal trips are offered.
“I have more certifications than I know what to do with,” Badder said, who ensures that a well-trained staff accompanies him on all of the trips.
According to The Outdoor Center’s Web site, Badder and his employees guarantee expertise, which sets their trips apart from the offerings of other companies.
The Web site also provides a snow report, backcountry guide, online shopping and information on all of the equipment sold at the store.
Colleagues of Badder describe a comfortable and fun working environment at all times.
“It’s interesting,” said junior biochemistry major Sam Arnold, who has been working for Badder for 1.5 years. “It’s a nice, small business atmosphere and non-corporate.”
Arnold began working at The Outdoor Center after he jokingly asked Badder if his store had any openings and has been an employee since.
Badder’s vast knowledge of Boulder and the outdoors have made the store as successful as it is, as well has his self-described workaholic attitude.
“He knows the history of Boulder like no one else,” Arnold said. “He’s like a grandfather. He knows so many stories and a lot about Boulder.”
Badder’s main goal is to educate his consumers on the gear The Outdoor Center offers. He also aims for the store to be different from bigger companies, which he refers to as “box stores.”
“The gear is not cookie-cutter stuff. We want to educate the consumer on the product,” Badder said. “(We have) expert staff and knowledge to sell gear. Box stores don’t have that.”
Badder is content with the current status of his store.
“I think we’re pretty well set. It’s fun to sell toys,” Badder said.
In addition to operating his own business, Badder is a volunteer firefighter for the Sunshine Fire Protection District and Boulder Rural Fire Protection District. He also finds time to spend with his wife and two children.
Despite his hectic and active schedule, Badder always maintains a positive attitude.
“He’s a humorous, dorky guy,” said junior linguistics major Ashley Vest, who has been working for Badder for six months.
Vest began her job with an interest in outdoor sports such as snowboarding and rafting and has begun kayaking because of Badder’s influence.
Among the many outdoor activities Badder participates in, which include rock climbing, tele-marking, snowshoeing, running and biking, kayaking is by far his favorite.
“When I’m kayaking, it’s all good, it’s all outdoors, it’s all fun,” Badder said.
Badder’s charm and fun-loving personality contribute to the positive atmosphere of The Outdoor Center.
“He’s a bad-ass and nerd at the same time,” Arnold said.
During his time working for Badder, Arnold said he has improved his people skills and understands the gear a lot more.
Badder’s store has influenced his own life, as well as the life of his employees and customers. However, all good things must come to an end.
After his 26-year-long business, Badder has decided to close The Outdoor Center.
“I’m going to go ski backcountry,” Badder said. “I want to try something new. The only way I know how to do this is to close the store. It’s been good, but it’s time to pull the trigger.”
Badder has decided to dedicate more time to his love of the outdoors. He wants to get more use out of the equipment he has sold for the past two-and-a-half decades of his life.
Within the next four to five weeks, Badder hopes to get rid of the entire inventory and close down the store. He said it was a tough decision, but he wants to spend his time participating in what the outdoors have to offer, rather than sitting inside for the majority of the day.
“I wish all of you the best and hope to see you on the water, out in the snow, or just lost out in the backcountry,” Badder wrote on the store’s Web site. “I want to personally thank those of you that have shopped at the BOC, taken lessons and helped us over the past 26 years. It is time for me to go play.”