August 15, 2014

Rock Hill’s Nichols Store is an “outdoor paradise,” say shoppers

Sportsmen’s store relies on customer service, inventory and staff that hunts and fishes to compete with larger retailers.

Bill Davis of Brattonsville remembers his first visit to Nichols Store south of Rock Hill.

New owner Darren Nichols was making the transition from family grocery to sportsmen’s store. Nichols leased the store from his dad and lived behind it.

At the time, Nichols had a few pistols and rifles, boxes of ammo and accessories and fishing rods. The inventory probably didn’t fill more than a sheet of notebook paper.

Davis came for a sight for one of his guns, and Nichols was only to happy to sell him one – and to talk hunting.

Twenty-five years later, the inventory of items at Nichols Store numbers in the thousands. The sprawling complex on S.C. 901 has two buildings and an addition to the main building is planned.

The inventory includes everything from impulse-buy items near the cash registers to hunting stands that tower over the parking lot like guard shacks and to gun safes so massive they look like they came from a western movie.

Of course, there is an assortment of guns, rods, reels and yard after yard of camouflage in every possible kind of apparel.

At one end of the gun section there is a wall of Davis’ “Pure Gold” chokes for shotguns. The barrel extensions are milled from American steel in Brattonsville. They allow just one gun to be adapted for many different kinds of hunting.

Davis, one of Nichols’ first local vendors, and other vendors will be at Nichols Store on Saturday as it completes its 25th anniversary celebration.

Davis returns to Nichols quite often, coming for the same reason that drew him there in the first place – the friendly expertise of the staff and their willingness to share it.

“When I need something, when I need an answer, these guys know it. They live it every day,” Davis said.

Fellow shopper and vendor Marty West of Rock Hill said Nichols Store lives up to its motto on the door. “It is the outdoor paradise. They sell anything you want,” West said.

West makes cedar furniture which Nichols sells.

Inventory and customer service have helped establish Nichols Store’s reputation and allowed it to compete with larger chain competition, Nichols said.

Jeff Bolton and Linda Christopher, Nichols’ sister, said the store’s success is based on the relationships employees establish with customers. Some of the customers have been coming since they were kids and they now come with their children. Bolton and Christopher each have been working at the store for more than 20 years.

Phil Pierot of Fort Mill, who has been coming to the store since 2000, agrees. “They treat you like family, and they do what you do,” he said.

Nichols said he would be foolish not to be concerned about stores such as Academy Sports + Outdoors and Cabela’s opening in York County.

When Academy opened in Rock Hill in March 2012, Nichols said he was nervous. But after Academy opened, “our numbers have grown with them here,” he said.

With Cabela’s set to open in 2015, Nichols is ready for a David-and-Goliath exchange.

“It’s the biggest test we will have seen,” he said.

But Nichols fully expects to have the same result as when Academy opened.

“Once the ‘wow’ factor is over,” at Cabela’s, he said, “we won’t miss a beat.”

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