“Adventure Awaits.” This is the message that greets outdoor enthusiasts and athletes before they enter Kennebunk Outfitters in lower Kennebunk village.
This is also what the store’s owners, Charlie and Robin Buckley, want their customers to experience when they enter the renovated 1840 barn and explore the inventory of outdoor apparel, footwear, and hats before embarking on the next run, cycling tour, hike, or kayaking expedition.
The couple opened their new business last spring following two years of intense planning. They researched all of the brands they wanted to sell, the advantages of their location just outside of Kennebunkport, and their overall market share. Charlie’s 25 years of investment banking experience in Manhattan was advantageous.
“We felt like the town really needed something like this, a real activity hub,” Charlie said.
Until Kennebunk Outfitters came along, their customers would either have to trek to the Kittery Trading Post to the south or Cabela’s in Scarborough and the Maine Mall in Portland to the north. By bringing sought-after, high-quality brands like Patagonia, Smartwool, Prana, Vuori and many others closer to the Kennebunkport area, Charlie and Robin believe they have filled a niche.
“We wanted to give something to people that would make their lives better,” Robin said.
The circa 1840 barn previously housed a number of antiques businesses, and was not winterized. The couple knew that once it was renovated with a design that would incorporate its rustic beams and features along with modern décor, it would be a welcome attraction in and of itself.
Robin had been working for Hurlbutt Designs. Her expertise, along with great input received from her mentor, Louise Hurlbutt, helped the couple come up with the right design.
To open as COVID-19 waned last spring was not an easy decision, but the couple felt confident it was the right time. “People were eager to get out and experience in-person shopping again. It was invigorating for people,” Robin observed.
“We had affirmation from the local community in just a matter of weeks,” Charlie said. Many of the brands they sell were also very enthusiastic to partner with the new business because of its location, he added.
They also wanted to create a store that would be experiential in nature, and have staged a few community events. The couple works with other Kennebunk area businesses such as Aquaholics, Maine Revolution, Mainely Bikes, Coastal Maine Kayak and others that complement each other. Charlie also started a running club that began with eight people last spring and has grown to 20 runners.
“Our goal was not to take business that is already here, but to fill in what is missing,” Robin said.
As they transition from fall into winter, Charlie and Robin are busy adding skiing apparel for cross-country and alpine skiing enthusiasts.
Opening the new store was a family affair. The Buckleys have three children: Tyler, 25, Hannah, a senior at Boston College, and Briggs, 10, in the fourth grade. The pandemic allowed the family to live under the same roof again when the world shut down in 2020. Tyler was able to work his sales job from home. Hannah continued her college studies remotely and Briggs was participating in a hybrid model.
“The kids played a huge role in starting this business,” Robin said. Their daughter helped with purchasing women’s apparel and managing social media. Tyler created the point of sales system and managed inventory. Briggs helped out on the sales floor, demonstrating his knowledge on the sneaker wall and helping customers interested in fishing. In that sense, the pandemic was a blessing, Robin said, because it brought their family closer.
Before coming to Maine, Charlie and Robin were leading a completely different life in Bedford, N.Y. Charlie spent two hours a day commuting by train to and from Manhattan and travelling internationally for work. Robin stayed home when the kids were young, then owned and operated a custom drapery business, and went on to earn her master’s degree in literacy. She taught at a premier school for children with language-based learning disabilities.
Charlie and Robin discovered the area when they visited her parents who had relocated to Kennebunk when her father became the lead pastor at the Sea Road Church. They purchased and renovated the Welby Inn, one of the historic bed and breakfasts in Kennebunkport where they spent summers prior to their full-time move.
Three years ago, Robin said they decided to live in the Kennebunks full time. In many ways, the Kennebunks reminded the couple of their hometown, Warwick, N.Y., a community known for its dairy farms and apple orchards.
“It was like stepping back in time” when they moved to Maine, Robin said.
They have been married for 25 years and have been together since they became high school sweethearts, Robin said. Charlie was a senior and Robyn was a junior when they got together. After they attended separate colleges, they later married.
When asked if she ever thought she would be doing what they are doing now, Robin replied, “I never imagined us working together. I never imagined working in retail. I still can’t believe we get to live and work in this beautiful place!”
Their decision to open an outdoor apparel store made perfect sense. Charlie and Robin are passionate runners who enjoy playing tennis, hiking, and cycling. They are currently not doing any e-commerce, but Charlie said they will ship items to customers upon request.
To learn more about Kennebunk Outfitters, please visit @kennebunkoutfitters.com. All photos by Stephanie Stellwagon.