Parks Project founder Keith Eshelman is on a mission to leave parks and trails better for the next generation—and he found he could have the most impact by starting a business.
Since 2014, Parks Project has given more than $2.2 million to parks by selling outdoor-inspired clothing and gear. Keith describes Parks Project as part of the life cycle of renewing interest in parks. The first step? Selling Yosemite or Yellowstone shirts to inspire customers to plan future trips to 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 make contributions in whatever way is right for you to the sustainability of our parklands?” Keith asks.
Here, Keith shares his three big lessons learned as he built Parks Project.
1. Bring something fresh to the market
Keith says the unique design was a major reason why the company was able to garner the attention of retail partners like REI and Urban Outfitters. “We thought we could bring in something new, fresh, different, almost mash up a little bit of music album art with street art, with kind of an outdoor theme,” he says.
2. Get the most visibility at trade shows
Trade shows can be an excellent way to get in front of buyers. Keith remembers 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 talk to people in line.
“It turns out next to a coffee cart line is a perfect way to let people know why you exist. We racked up business cards from buyers, from press, from other industry friends, and potential collaborators,” says Keith.
That first trade show experience gave him confidence that there was demand for his products. At later trade shows, Keith found that not all high-traffic areas produce the same results. He found at a later trade show that having a booth next to the bathroom was not as effective.
3. Avoid cycles of boom and bust
One of the big lessons Keith learned was to make the ebbs and flows of business more consistent, so he could better predict inventory.
“We did a couple of events early on, and there were big spikes [in sales],” Keith says. “If you have a big spike in your business, you're gonna churn a lot of resources, including your own wellbeing, because you're all in, on a big high. And then you're going to fall and build it again.”
He found the seasonality of sales and the unpredictability of making events merchandise exhausting, so he started using tools like Shopify Capital to help better predict the inventory needed for the holiday season.
Keith also started investing in more products that people would want to purchase over and over, like candles that smell like National Parks. Those types of products led to more consistent repeat purchases.
4. Expand impact through business
Keith’s advice when faced with adversity is to keep the business’ mission at the core.
“Go back to why you exist. You exist because people want to support a good business. People want to talk about someone doing good in the world. They want to be part of solutions,” Keith says.
To learn more about how Parks Project has expanded their impact and business, listen to Keith’s full interview on Shopify Masters.
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