Tom Campion, 59, is all about having fun. The founder and chairman of Zumiez zooms through each day, enjoying the moment and reveling in the frenetic pace of running a hot retail concept. In fact, he says that to be a successful entrepreneur, the pace and the risk should be part of the draw.
“You’ve got to be able to ask yourself [before launching an entrepreneurial venture], ‘Can I handle the stress of risk?’” said Campion. “It’s not for everybody. That’s why such a small percentage of people do it.”
Campion knew from a young age that he would be part of the percentage who do it. He went to J.C. Penney in 1970, right from college, and worked for the department store chain for nine years before launching Above the Belt in 1978.
He and co-founder Gary Haakenson, (who today is mayor of Edmonds, Wash., and no longer plays an active role in the company), both graduates of Seattle University and both former Penney employees, opened the first Above the Belt store in Northgate Mall in Seattle, selling apparel that catered to young men and women. In the late 1980s, recognizing an opportunity in the extreme sports-apparel category, Campion modified the model and, in 1997, changed the name to Zumiez to reflect the new direction. Although the metamorphosis of the brand occurred no less quickly than many retail concepts, Campion still wishes, looking back, that he’d pushed the envelope a little faster.
Founder and Chairman Zumiez, Inc. Everett,Wash. Annual sales: $298.2 million (2007)Type of business: Retailer of snow, surf and skate products for young menNumber of stores: 280+ storesAreas of operation: 27 states
“If I could have done anything differently along the way, I’d probably have grown a little faster at the beginning,” he said. “There were two of us in it at the start, and interest rates were really high. It was late ‘70s, early ‘80s—a very different time than today—and I would have been more aggressive with the amount of product in stores and I would have been more on trend with younger fashions.”
In May 2005, Campion took Zumiez public, making enough of a splash with the offering to be labeled as one of 2005’s hottest IPOs. The successful public launch, coupled with consistent profitability and rapid sales growth, is allowing Zumiez—still mall-based—to speed its expansion across the country, selling clothing, shoes, accessories and gear to 12-to-24-year-olds who enjoy action sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing.
The acquisition of the 19-store Fast Forward chain in May 2006 gave Campion a desired stronghold in the smaller competitor’s home state of Texas—and all of those Fast Forward stores have since been converted to the Zumiez banner. Today, Campion and his team are focused on continued growth—and the chain’s leader still hasn’t tired of the stress that comes with growing and managing his own business.
“I love the risk,” he said. “I love multi-tasking, I love everything about retail.”