The outdoor industry is thriving, with more and more people seeking an adventurous break from their fast-paced workweek. Since most outdoor activities require specialised clothing and gear we’re seeing established brands continue to fine-tune their lines and start-ups launching more outdoor-focussed products on crowdfunding sites every day.
As shoppers become more consciously aware of their choices, however, smaller outdoor retailers are also benefiting from this trend. So, if you’re a gear-junkie and are thinking about turning your passion into a business, then there’s never been a better time to set up you’re own online outdoor gear store. Starting a business is no easy feat, though, and there’s a lot of competition on the web, so we’ve put together this handy guide to get you started on your journey.
Step 1: Choose an e-commerce platform
First things first, you’re going to need somewhere to sell your items. If you’re just dipping your toe in the water or have some unused gear that you want to turn into cash, then signing up for an eBay sellers account is a great way to start selling quickly; you don’t need any technical knowledge and there are a lot of people already shopping for outdoor gear on the site daily. eBay also has an excellent integration with PayPal, so receiving payments and managing receipts and invoices is a breeze. On the downside, eBay and PayPal both charge sizable fees that, depending on your profit margins, can be significant.
If you have a lot of unused gear, another option is to rent it out using a service like Fat Lama (as we discuss in this article).
Hosted E-commerce platforms
If you’re looking for more control and want to take your business to the next level, then setting up an e-commerce store on a platform like Shopify or BigCommerce is a great option. Both platforms are intuitive to use and require no web development skills. There are a number of pricing tiers available, depending on the features you require, and it’s easy to upgrade your store as your business grows. The main difference between the two platforms is that Shopify relies more heavily on third-party apps. This allows new features to be added to your store on a feature-by-feature basis but can result in increased costs, due to third-party subscription fees, so it’s important to consider your requirements carefully before choosing a platform.
Self-hosted E-commerce website
If you have the budget to hire a web developer or have coding skills yourself, then building a self-hosted e-commerce website gives you full control over your business. We recommend building your website on WordPress and using the WooCommerce plugin to add e-commerce specific features. Both projects are open source and free-to-use. There is also a wide range of free and paid extensions for WooCommerce to extend the functionality of your store. You will, however, need to pay for web hosting to host your website—we recommend and host our website with SiteGround.
Using a combination of platforms
A lot of online retailers sell on Amazon and eBay as well as running their own e-commerce store (either on a fully hosted e-commerce platform or on their own website). This enables them to utilise the popularity of the e-commerce giants, to maximise the number of people who see their products. At the same time, they are able to maintain an independent presence on their self-hosted online store, where they can offer cheaper prices and have more control over the payment services they use.
Step 2: Pick products to sell
Picking the products you will sell
Once you have set up your online outdoor gear store, the next thing you need to do is fill it with outdoor gear to sell. With so many sports and outdoor activities to choose from it can be tempting to try and stock as many different items as possible, but you’ll soon realise that without a big team and budget behind you this is nearly impossible.
A better approach, therefore, is to specialise in a niche and expand your product range as your business grows. For example, you could set up an online store focusing on hiking gear, cycling accessories, running apparel or even wetsuits. This model allows you to buy products in bulk with a smaller budget. It also makes it easier to become familiar with each of the items you sell, so that you can better advise customers on which product best fits their requirements.
Another thing to consider is the price-point of the gear that you stock. Higher-value items of gear tend to have higher profit margins, but more people are likely to look for items in the entry to mid-value range. It’s also worthwhile working with brands that have an eco-friendly focus and develop their products ethically. Not only will this help the planet but it will also help your business, as more and more people shop with an eco-friendly ethos in mind.
You can also complement your product offerings with unique handmade or vintage items. You can start an Etsy shop and expand your product line and attract a wider range of customers, while also leveraging print-on-demand technology to fulfil your orders efficiently.
One of the hardest things about setting up an e-commerce store is acquiring stock at the right price. Once you have chosen a range of products to sell, you’ll need to reach out to brands and distributors to form a relationship with them. Since the market is flooded with online stores, a lot of distributors favour businesses that also have a brick-and-mortar shop. So, setting up a physical presence of some description (even a small pop-up store) may help here.
The industry is evolving, though, and there is plenty of room for entrepreneurship. The team behind discount online outdoor retailer TheLastHunt.com, for example, were able to convince 50 outdoor brands to sell them close-outs and discontinued products. This enabled the retailer to offer bargain prices with different conditions for clients: sales being final, shipping fees being paid by customers and service only by email. The brands were also happy since the concept removed their products from the discount section of a full price e-store, which can become harmful to a brand image.
Apart from the initial purchasing cost, you will need to consider where you are going to store your stock. Storing bulky outdoor gear and camping equipment can be quite difficult and the bigger and heavier the item is, the higher delivery costs will be.
Dropshipping your products will help to negate these issues. This model of e-commerce removes the requirement of the retailer to store and ship their products. Instead, these tasks are passed on to a third-party like AliExpress. If you run your e-commerce store on the Shopify platform, then check out Oberlo—they have an app with connects straight into Shopify stores and enables dropshipping straight out-of-the-box (no pun intended).
The basic Dropshipping model works as follows: a customer buys from your online store, their order is then sent to your supplier who ships the product directly from their warehouse to the customer’s address. Products are only purchased from your supplier after they’re purchased by your customers, so you don’t need to have a big budget to get started. It’s also a great time-saver since you can let the manufacturing and shipping be handled by someone else while you focus on marketing, branding and building a following on social media (which leads us nicely on to the next point).
Step 3: Build a brand and market your store
Now that you’ve set up your online outdoor gear store, you’ll need to promote it. A great way to do this is through social media, where outdoor-related topics are proving really popular and outdoor brands are seeing an increasing presence on users’ feeds as people seek inspiration for their next weekend getaway or after-work micro-adventure.
As with selecting products for your store, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew; consider starting with two or three social media channels and concentrating on those rather than diluting your presence across the web. Facebook and Instagram are great places to build general brand awareness, while Twitter and Youtube are perfect platforms on which to share blog posts and product review videos. Another growing social media platform that you might want to check out is Minds.com (an open source platform that utilises blockchain technology to provide a greater reach to brands and pay users in cryptocurrency).
These platforms are also a great place to engage with your audience. For example, Facebook has a useful messaging app where users can ask questions about the gear that you sell.
Are you looking to turn your passion for the outdoors into a business? Or, perhaps you have just launched an outdoor-focused startup. We want to hear from you, in the comments below and via our contact page.
Read more: A chat with UK surf brand, Finisterre, Product Director—Debbie Luffman
Featured image: Adobe Stock