Many people you meet in Moab have what one might call a well-rounded resume. Grand County seems to attract the type of person who is willing to try out new things. But you would be hard pressed to find someone who has been more successful at more divergent things than the Kennedy brothers: Greg, Doug and Steve.
From restaurants, to coffee shops, to inventing a flashlight now used by the U.S. military, to their outdoor gear shop, Gearheads, the Kennedy family has not been afraid to take chances.
“When we opened Gearheads, we knew nothing about how the industry worked,” said Greg Kennedy.
But that hasn’t stopped Gearheads from becoming one of the most popular outdoor gear stores in Moab.
Before Gearheads ever even became a serious idea, Greg and his wife, LJ, tried their hands at a few different business schemes in Moab.
They began by opening Liquid Station, a coffee and smoothie business that was based in Poison Spider Bike Shop for its first year of operations, then moved to a kiosk outside of City Market. But after taking their kiosk to 24 hours of Moab, they decided that the hassle wasn’t worth the money.
Next was the restaurant.
“Doug moved down the year after (my wife and I) got here. We almost bought a restaurant. All of us had 20-plus years experience in the restaurant industry,” Greg Kennedy said. “But on our way to buy the place Doug said ‘stop the car, I can’t do it! I can’t go home smelling like chicken every night.’”
That ended the restaurant idea.
Through all this, LJ had always felt that Moab needed a combination backpacking and climbing store, and so, after the restaurant idea was abandoned, they started looking into it.
“We wanted to have a real gear store, not just a glorified clothing store,” Greg Kennedy said.
So on Friday the 13th of March 1998, with the help of several of Doug Kennedy’s credit cards, $20,000 backing from a family member, and a freshly vacated Kawasaki store, Gearheads was born.
The only problem was, at first, they couldn’t get any real, name brand gear. The big brands like Patagonia, Black Diamond and Mountain Hardware already had distributors in town and were weary of getting involved with a new business. So Gearheads first stocked military surplus and no-name hardware. That didn’t last long.
“We went into our first outdoor retailers show super excited but with no idea how it worked. We were like gang-busters,” Greg Kennedy said.
Enthusiastically telling every big-brand rep who would listen about how they should give Gearheads free promo gear didn’t get them very far, but eventually their passion got a few company representatives to give them a chance.
They took it and ran with it.
Since then Gearheads has been struggling to expand their retail space fast enough to keep up with demand. In 2001 they expanded into the neighboring unit, doubling the stores size to 2,000-square-feet. Last year they doubled their size again, taking over the space that health services used to occupy.
“One of the biggest problems has been the lack of adequate space. Now that we have that resolved the business is starting to grow again,” said Steve Kennedy.
But though they have grown at an enviable rate, the stress of staying in business has never left, said Greg Kennedy.
“Interesting thing with a business like this is that people think you are making a ton of money, but even if you are doing everything right you are lucky to make ten cents on the dollar that you can take away,” he said.
That may be so, but it is hard to look at the success story that is Gearheads and not think that they must have done quite a few things right.
And if running the shop can be stressful, that hasn’t stopped the Kennedys from enjoying the ride and loving being in Moab.
“People come from all over the world to get to Moab and I get to live here. It’s a great place to raise my 8-year-old son Alex; a real close knit community,” Scott Kennedy said.