During a time of increased uncertainty around the future of work and physical office spaces, the founder and CEO behind Seattle outdoor retailer Evo is doubling down on what it might take to lure people back.
Bryce Phillips and Evolution Projects partner Ira Gerlich have completed the $17.5 million purchase of a parcel of land on the border of the city’s Fremont and Wallingford neighborhoods that gives them control of an entire block and paves the way for Campus Seattle, a mixed-use development that will combine office buildings with retail, restaurants and action sports amenities.
The plan has been 10 years in the making for Phillips, who launched Evo out of his garage 20 years ago, just blocks away from the Campus Seattle location at 3500 Stone Way N. The retailer, which specializes in online and brick-and-mortar sales of action sports gear for cyclists, skiers, snowboarders, surfers and more, moved its flagship store to a former warehouse on the block in 2013.
Evolutions’ “Fremont Collective” already features that Evo store; the restaurants The Whale Wins and Joule; the indoor All Together Skatepark; and the Seattle Bouldering Project rock-climbing gym. Campus Seattle will add 230,000 square feet of office space across two buildings, the first being 35 Stone, and another on the southeast corner of the block dubbed 35 Interlake.
Phillips told GeekWire that the project will kick off when they land the right tenant in a neighborhood that already features a tech-heavy presence with Google, Tableau and other offices nearby. He’s confident that the allure of what’s already around the future buildings will attract the right company, even as remote and hybrid work styles have taken root during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe fundamentally there’s no replacement for bringing people together,” Phillips said. “We think in this new world we’re super uniquely positioned, because we have spent 10 years creating a center of gravity that is all around health and wellness and an active lifestyle.”
Businesses still looking for physical space for employees in Seattle — now or down the road — have plenty of options for shiny new buildings, Phillips said. But he believes the culture of Campus Seattle and offering a collective experience in one square block will be a critical differentiator.
Evo recently completed a new headquarters space of its own, not far away in Fremont at 401 N. 36th St. But the company never fully realized the benefits as the site was completed just before the pandemic. Evo employs about 120 people in headquarters jobs and 600 total. It operates a distribution center in Sumner, Wash.
And while the pandemic may have disrupted where people work, it’s been a boon for Evo’s business as more people flocked to activities close to home and purchased the required gear to do it.
“We got everything wrong, both with real estate and with retail, we thought it was all going to get pummeled,” Phillips said.
After planning in March 2020 to be down 10% to 15%, Evo ended up growing 45% last year and is looking at another 10% this year. The retailer will cross $200 million in revenue this year after hitting $88 million just three years ago.
Evo’s business is split about 80/20 across e-commerce and in-store. While the tailwinds of COVID are driving sales for both, Phillips is bullish on the brand’s continued physical presence. Evo operates nine stores in Seattle, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Whistler, B.C., and Phillips said they’ve gone “bonkers” during COVID.
“I’ve always really loved stores,” he said. “People were asking me way back in the day, ‘Why would you ever open a store?’ Our [original] store in Fremont? People were laughing at me like, ‘What are you doing down here? Not only is brick-and-mortar retail gone, but this is a terrible location for retail.’”
He said the amount of traffic that Evo’s web presence drives to stores is incredible, and vice versa. And now with skateparks, lodging, offices and more in the mix, Evolution is building out a bigger and more complimentary ecosystem of businesses around the core business, which has always been retail.
The company expanded its hospitality business with the October purchase of the Journeyman Lodge, 20 miles south of Whistler Village in B.C. And Campus Seattle is following behind a similar project in Salt Lake City which opens next week and will feature the first evoHotel as well as another Bouldering Project location and All Together Skatepark across 100,000 square feet of onetime warehouse space.
Evolution Projects has also been busy an hour east of Seattle, developing homes and retail at Snoqualmie Pass. The soon-to-open Firehouse will transform another “left-for-dead” building, as Phillips put it, into a new hub for the ski area community, with a co-working space, cafe, and, of course, an Evo store.
As for retail competitors, Amazon sells similar products but Phillips believes Evo has actually gained market share because Amazon hollowed out a lot of the competition in the middle. REI is more “complimentary than competitive,” he said, and Backcountry.com is probably Evo’s biggest head-to-head rival.
“It’s kind of wild, given the scale of the addressable market, that there just really are not a whole lot of folks on the field, frankly,” Phillips said. “I guess because e-commerce is hard, retail is hard, margins are hard, operations are hard.”
Phillips has always been drawn to creating a place that activates a community and brings people together beyond any transaction. Ten years after having a vision for the Seattle block his company now fully owns, he’s looking forward to plugging in the final big pieces of the puzzle.
“We see this as not a project but a platform,” Phillips said of the Campus effort and bringing Evo’s active brand experience to life with a mix of uses. “We don’t have to own them all, we don’t have to operate them all, but we want to curate them and really bring together an amazing mix of concepts in one place.
“There’s just nothing like it in the world.”