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Talent Search: Iconic Minneapolis Outdoors Shop Wants to Train a New Owner

midwest mountaineering Rod JohnsonRod Johnson, Midwest Mountaineering owner and founder; (photos courtesy/Johnson)
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Over half a century ago, Rod Johnson founded Midwest Mountaineering. The shop has become a cornerstone of the local outdoor scene. Now, the proprietor seeks a qualified successor.

Generally, one should avoid pursuing online job listings that begin with, “Want to be your own boss?” But in that and many other aspects, Midwest Mountaineering is a special case.

On January 27, shop owner Rod Johnson sent an open letter to the industry with an unusual proposal. The 73-year-old plans to continue to work at the store, but he wants to hire an individual with proven experience as a general manager to whom he could at some point pass it on (hopefully).

Whoever fills the role will need to display Johnson’s passion and understanding for the job duties, the store, and the community it supports.

midwest mountaineering

“Midwest Mountaineering is family to me,” Johnson told us. “It’s not for sale and never will be, but I’d like to pass it on to someone who has proven that they can do a great job of running it.”

His open letter states, “This person — my future replacement — will initially be hired as the store’s general manager” at a tidy salary. “They’ll be trained on the ins and outs of this unique business, and then they’ll hopefully be given ownership of the store.”

Johnson welcomes anyone with any retail general management experience to apply. He said applicants could come from anywhere in the world or from any industry background.

In any respondent who meets the resume requirements, he’s looking for one essential quality: a “true knack for retail — that rare ability to instinctually balance what’s good for the customer, what’s good for themselves and what’s good for their staff.”

Midwest Mountaineering History and Reputation

Johnson developed that knack during a committed entrepreneurial career. He started Midwest Mountaineering in 1970 and ran it out of his kitchen in Minneapolis. At the time, he was a self-described “long-haired hippie with no credit and no formal business education.”

Initially, the business sold climbing and backpacking gear to college students, Johnson’s friends, and others in the area. The idea was to access equipment that he wanted at wholesale prices.

Then it started to grow. Soon, Johnson moved Midwest Mountaineering to a second-floor commercial space, which he rented for $50 a month. The story goes that he cut expenses by living in the store’s backroom and eating a subsistence diet from a day-old bakery nearby.

But Midwest Mountaineering was off and running. Over the next 5 decades, the retailer grew into a regional outdoor adventure and lifestyle scene leader. The store’s counter has been the site of an estimated 2 million transactions.

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Johnson said the shop and its 50-person staff are thriving and that he will work until he no longer can. His stated reasons for finding a capable successor have more to do with his hippie roots than finding a way out.

midwest mountaineering
Community events are popular at Midwest Mountaineering, including annual tent sales, speaker nights, and classes about all things outdoors

“I don’t want to sell the store to some faceless corporation, and I don’t want to close the doors and liquidate the inventory for an easy profit. Instead, I want to find a person who can run Midwest Mountaineering for the next 50 years, someone who truly understands that it’s not about how much you sell, or how much money you make, it’s about getting people outdoors,” Johnson said.

“I believe that we’re all better people when we spend time outdoors, and I want to find a successor that embodies this idea,” he added.

How to Apply

If you know someone interested in applying to be Midwest Mountaineering’s new general manager or want to apply yourself, read and respond to Johnson’s open letter.

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