4 training from a mission-driven outdoor company (2023)

Parks Project founder Keith Eshelman is on a mission to leave better parks and trails for the next generation, and he found he could make the biggest impact by starting a business.

Since 2014, the Parks Project has donated more than $2.2 million to parks by selling outdoor apparel and gear. Keith describes the Parks Project as part of the life cycle of renewing interest in parks. The first step. Selling Yosemite or Yellowstone t-shirts to inspire customers to plan future trips to the parks.

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“Can we inspire you to go explore and … think about how you can protect, how you can preserve and maybe contribute in a way that feels right to you for the sustainability of our gardens?” Keith asks.

Here, Keith shares his three biggest lessons he learned as he built the Parks Project.

1. Bring something fresh to market

Keith says the unique design was the main reason the company was able to attract the attention of retail partners such as REI and Urban Outfitters. “We thought we could bring something new, fresh, different, almost a bit of a mix of album art with street art, with some outdoor themes,” he says.

Four young adults carrying Parks Project paddles
arks Project collaborated with designers to create clothing that people could buy outside of the parks and wear even when they weren’t hiking or camping. Parks project

2. Get maximum visibility at trade shows

Trade shows can be a great way to get in front of buyers. Keith recalls that the Parks Project got lucky at their first trade show because their booth was right next to a coffee cart, which meant it was easy to go up and chat with people in line.

“Next to the coffee cart, it turns out, is the perfect way to let people know why you’re there. We collected business cards from buyers, press, other industry friends and potential collaborators,” says Keith.

His first trade show experience gave him confidence that there was a demand for his product. At later trade shows, Keith discovered that not all traffic locations produced the same results. At a later trade show, he discovered that having a booth next to the bathroom wasn’t very efficient.

3. Avoid boom and bust cycles

One of the big lessons Keith learned was making the ebbs and flows of the business more consistent so he could better forecast inventory.

“We did a few events early on and there were big increases [in sales]says Keith. “If you have a lot of growth in your business, you’re going to spend a lot of resources, including your own well-being, because you’re in the midst of everyone, at a great height. And then you’re going to fall and build it back up.”

He found the seasonality of sales and the unpredictability of commoditizing events so he started using tools like Shopify Capital to help better predict inventory needed for the holiday season.

Kate also began investing in more products that people would want to buy over and over again, such as national park scented candles. Those types of products led to more consistent repeat purchases.

A woman wrapped in a blanket and wearing a hat stands next to a body of water
The Parks Project expanded its product line beyond apparel to include other gear and accessories such as blankets and candles. Parks project

4. Extend influence through business

In times of adversity, Keith’s advice is to keep the business mission at the core.

“Get back to why you exist. You exist because people want to support good businesses. People want to talk about someone who is doing good in the world. They want to be part of the solution,” says Keith.

To learn more about how the Parks Project has expanded their impact and business, listen to Kate’s full interview Shopify Masters:.

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