6 Things to Consider When Starting a Business in the Outdoor Industry

In the United States, the Outdoor Recreation Industry generates almost $650 billion in consumer spending and supports 6.1 million jobs. The phrase “economic powerhouse” seems almost understated for an industry that spreads into almost every American life. Bikes, running shoes, backpacks, water bottles, hunting equipment; all are pieces of the outdoor industry. Starting a business within the industry can also sound incredibly appealing. Play outside! Hang out with ski models!

But what does it really take to get an outdoor industry-based business off the ground? Consider a few factors before taking the plunge.

Examine your potential market closely.

The outdoor market is huge. Determining whether the market can support your business is key to your success. Does your product or service appeal to a very narrow segment of the market that might not be sustainable? Is your product or service cost-effective for the segment you are targeting? Is the market oversaturated? Research your potential market carefully to determine how your business can make inroads and stand out.

Build a team that knows your market area.

Apple was started by computer enthusiasts. Black Diamond was started by climbing enthusiasts. Building a business with a team that is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the market you are trying to reach provides numerous advantages. Personal connections with other companies and with potential distributors can help your product, or service, reach customers faster, and with built-in “goodwill” to help it get started. Additionally, connections within the outdoor industry can help bring in investment dollars and industry recognition. An enthusiastic team also helps ensure that everyone has “bought into” the product or service you are selling. Customers know when the employees of a company are enthusiastic and are “all in”.

Define what sets your product apart.

The benefit of a well developed outdoor recreation market is that the market can absorb and support numerous varieties of the same type of product. For example, Strafe Outerwear and Flylow Sports are both apparel manufacturers marketed to skiers. However, each company pursues different parts of the same market. Flylow Sports designs apparel for skiers and riders who spend a lot of time in the backcountry while Strafe Outerwear markets to skiers who incorporate hiking and mountaineering into their ski days. By defining what sets their products apart, Strafe and Flylow are able to appeal to different segments of the market (while still providing products that appeal to the broader market).

Identify your competition and learn from their successes (and failures).

Because of the appeal of designing a product around something you love to do, like skiing or running, your potential market could be full of businesses trying to flood the market with products or services. Don’t let this dissuade you. Instead, take a look around and identify the big players and smaller guys; what works for them? What didn’t work for them? During the rise of the snowboarding industry, dozens of companies tried entering the market, with companies like Burton, K2, and Ride coming out on top. Burton was able to thrive by helping to create the market for its products; Jake Burton worked tirelessly to convince ski resorts to open their mountains to snowboarders.

Make sure your product crosses over.

Strafe and Flylow started their brands with a specific segment of the market in mind, but create a product that appeals to the broader ski market as a whole. Enduro Bites was originally designed for cyclists and mountain bikers but is now sold in running stores and used at CrossFit competitions. Patagonia thrives by designing products purchased by everyone from big mountain skiers to urban professionals. Ensuring your product can appeal to a broad market can help make sure it is successful for the long haul.

Join a trade group.

One of the best ways to become familiar with a market and the businesses within that market is to interact with those businesses. Joining an industry trade group, such as the Outdoor Industry Association, can expose you and your team to hundreds of different businesses and allow you to network with and build relationships within your potential market.

Starting a business in the outdoor industry can turn your passion into a profitable business. Taking some of these steps early can help ensure success while helping you avoid unnecessary pitfalls. The more time you consider your market, do your homework and work hard to connect to retailers and distributors the more likely it is your business will succeed, and the more time you get to spend skiing, running, and enjoying the fruits of your outdoor business success.


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