One of the Northwest’s largest independent fishing and hunting retailers has a new owner.
Sandeep Nain of Seattle earlier this month acquired Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor of the Portland area and one of the first things he did to get a feel for his latest recreational enterprise is go out and catch his first salmon ever, along with his first sturgeon – a 10-footer.
“It was a pretty crazy experience,” says Nain, whose journey to our region’s waters and woods couldn’t have begun in a place more unlike here: India’s Haryana state, a mostly flat agricultural landscape northwest of Delhi, the second most populous metropolis on Earth.
“I did feel a little uncomfortable getting into it,” the 47-year-old says of stepping aboard the boat to fish, “but it’s been great. So many have offered to take me fishing and hunting. That’s been very good for me.”
That warm feeling of welcome extends two ways, with members of the local sportfishing industry excited about the future of the company and its potential for growth under Nain. The change in ownership appears to have been first noted on Ifish earlier this week.
So how does a man who spent part of his youth in India living in a “traditional thatched roof and mud walled house” and world with no connection to the outdoors as we know them end up owning a chain of locally owned sporting goods stores and all the 3.5 spinners, 360 flashers, waders, duck decoys, rifle scopes, camo, tents, camp chairs, coolers you could ever want?
Nain has always gone off on big adventures, it would seem, including gaining super-rare admission to the Indian Institute of Technology. Working for tech company Infosys in India in the early 2000s, he considered touring his home country by bike and boot, but instead ended up contracting for Amazon in Seattle, and that’s when he discovered the outdoors in the form of the Northwest’s “beautiful mountains” and luscious greenery.
While working next for Microsoft and then for Expedia, Nain caught the climbing bug and joined The Mountaineers. Eventually quitting his day job “without a plan” but with a good pair of boots and a backpack, he soon found himself opening a guide service, Miyar Adventures and taking hikers and trekkers across the world, as well as doing charity climbs in India for a nonprofit raising funds for education. He’s also been recognized with a Life Saving Medal from the Snohomish County, Washington, Sheriff’s Office for a 2012 rescue of a fellow SAR volunteer.
After opening one climbing-gear store on the east side of Lake Washington, Nain bought what is now known as Ascent Outdoors in Ballard, turning around a business that had been in bankruptcy, reopening it and making it profitable again, he says. Since then, he’s also purchased a bike shop in Tacoma, focusing on mountain bikes.
When Nain heard that Dan Grogan was selling Fisherman’s Marine, which the family has owned since 1975 and built into a three-store chain with locations a couple-three-four long casts from the Columbia and Willamette in Delta Park and Oregon City, respectively, as well as Tigard, he was interested.
“I love the outdoors, and I’ve always been interested in the art of running and improving businesses. So they become intertwined,” he says.
Nain doesn’t have plans to move down to Portland from Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, where he lives with his wife and their three children, but since taking over Fisherman’s, he and one of his managers from Ascent Outdoors have been spending three to four days a week in town getting up to speed.
He acknowledges that it’s hard for sporting good stores – let alone most other businesses – to compete with Amazon and the other titans of online sales these days, but he aims to better organize and update the operation.
Focusing his energy in the “back end of things,” Nain says he’s working to better understand the business model and product lines, build relationships with suppliers and others, streamline the product buying process and improve online sales, all while trying to keep his new employees happy.
He also sees a chance to help the sporting community become more diverse, like he’s seen the climbing world become as newcomers like himself have taken to the mountains and trails.
Liz Hamilton, the executive director of the Oregon City-based Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and a longtime friend of Grogan, is excited about the recent change in ownership, and says that in Fisherman’s Nain has inherited a business with “a remarkable history” of eagerly stepping up to support and advocate for the fish and fisheries, a relative rarity in the retail world.
“Dan never hesitated to sit down with pretty much everyone to work on solutions,” she says, including going to Washington, DC with the owner of GI Joes – a bitter rival at the time – to fight for salmon recovery together.
“Like Sportco and Outdoor Emporium (near Tacoma and in Seattle), Fisherman’s is valued for being a knowledgable place to go,” adds Hamilton. “There’s plenty of places to go to get tackle, but fewer to get hunting and fishing information that will get you on your way, and that’s important for our communities.”
Sandeep Nain may be doing more trekking up and down I-5 in the near future than scaling mountains or flying back to DC, but he’s got his next summits firmly in view.
“Fishing and hunting is my next passion in the outdoors,” Nain says.