Alaska native Kevin Dana has been living the hunter’s life for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Anchorage, Dana grew up hunting with his family, first for small game and then eventually Sitka blacktail deer, moose, brown bear, and wild sheep. After graduating high school in his hometown, he immediately started guiding hunting trips on six-week stints in the Alaskan bush.
“That’s when I started to get into the gear,” he remembers. “I started doing these big trips and remember sitting around a campfire with our clients who had nice jackets from Barney’s. I was wet and cold and remember thinking, ‘Holy shit, my gear is heavy.’”
With a pocket full of cash, Kevin returned to town and headed to Barney’s Sports Chalet for a new jacket. He eventually got to know the owner, Bob Hodson, and before he knew it was working part time at the store. Bob became a mentor to Kevin, cultivating the youngster’s passion for hunting and guiding into sporting goods salesmanship. Six years later, Kevin came to a crossroads. It was a fun job, but not necessarily a career.
“I was living check to check and needed to make a decision,” Kevin explains. “I offloaded everything I owned and made an offer to buy the store.”
In 2015, not yet 30 years old, Kevin Dana purchased Barney’s Sports Chalet and has never looked back. Barney’s had been in business for just over 50 years at the time – since 1963. While Dana takes pride in carrying on the small shop’s long-standing traditions, becoming the owner brought new opportunities for him, the business, and its tight knit community of customers. As the owner, Dana was able to begin pursuing his own vision for the store. At the forefront of that vision was expanding the store’s offerings.
The entrance to Barney's Sports Chalet.
When Dana took over, he inherited a unique sporting goods store model: Barney’s had been producing several of the key products it sold under the Frontier Gear of Alaska banner, namely small batch runs of pullovers, pants, and packs. While Dana has kept the iconic Barney’s products alive, he sought to expand his inventory to carry more of the best hunting gear available. Kevin knew firsthand that hunting in Alaska demanded nothing less, and so he began Barney’s first wholesale product integration. First up were the big game packs.
“I didn’t want to take away from one brand or the next, but when you have all those packs you capture everything,” Dana says. “I never wanted to be a one-brand shop. We’re a small store, but you can see every big brand in the hunting industry that’s worth a damn. I just wanted to carry the best gear and let it sell itself.”
As small brick and mortar sporting goods shops like Barney’s continue to decline, Dana has hung the Barney’s hat on offering his customers exceptional gear and customer service, both of which are informed by his and his staff’s real world experience and passion for big game hunting. At the cornerstone of his business model is trust.
The trophy room at Barney's.
“This is why we exist: these guys put their trust in us,” he explains. “It’s one of the biggest things I try to instill in my employees. You can access this stuff anywhere, so why should they buy from us? They have to have confidence in our knowledge, and they have to trust us. It’s all about relationships.”
Hunting in Alaska requires a level of knowledge and preparation that many hunters are not accustomed to. As Kevin says, “Alaska is a place that informs excellence, and you need it here. It’s one of the few places left where it’s truly an adventure.”
Hunters invest tens of thousands of dollars of hard-earned money into Alaskan hunts. Kevin understands that quality gear should be an integral part of those investments, and he approaches his customers with both a knowledge of what’s required and an appreciation for the high cost of these hunts.
“When I talk to hunters who have a trip planned, I start by asking them what they’ve done and what gear they already have,” Kevin says. “Then I can build off that by explaining the things they’re going to want to pay attention to.”
That often means he has intrinsic knowledge of the hunt and the places people are pursuing.
“A lot of times, I’m saying, ‘Man, I’ve been there before. This is what you’re going to need.’”
Kevin also prides himself on the relationships he has built within the Alaskan guide and outfitter community.
“If we don’t get these guys and their clients set up properly, they just won’t do business with us,” Kevin says. “We want them going into the field prepared. We have to take responsibility for their success and safety.”
Kevin particularly likes talking to young hunters – guys not unlike himself as he sat shivering around a campfire in the Alaskan backcountry as a young hunting guide.
“I really enjoy talking to young guys who either don’t think they need technical gear or can’t afford the gear they want,” he adds. “I like dissecting it for them and helping to build their system one piece at a time. Eventually, a light bulb goes off and they come to trust you. That guy might be coming back to Barney’s for the next 20 years.”
Kevin Dana and his family.
Barney’s Sports Chalet proudly carries a full line of Stone Glacier Packs, Apparel, Sleeping Bags, and Gear. Learn more by visiting their website.