My first guest post! A quick read about keeping your head on straight when $h!t’s hitting the fan.Follow worklifedad
In August 2013 I was in Las Vegas for the Capsule Show and it just so happened to line up with our family vacation in LA, right after the show. Always looking for a reason to camp out West, I decided we should try to turn my business trip into a family vacation, and a camping trip. The challenge though:
if you’re already packed for a trip to the city & beach how do you camp without bringing the kitchen sink?
Whitney had Charlie’s needs & schedule perfectly dialed-in at this point so with a little planning any family outing can pretty easily roll into an impromptu camping trip.
BE REASONABLE & COMMUNICATE
Luckily Charlie is a pretty amicable kid but he still needs lots of meals, snacks and one nap a day. Whereas my typical approach to camping is to strong-arm and push through all the logistical hiccups to just “get out there,” having Whitney with me was a great encouragement to slow things down and enjoy the whole journey–start to finish.
As much as I love California, I’m also a born & raised East coaster so I had no idea where good camping spots are close to LA. After querying our friends and Facebook, I found Point Megu State Park–a short drive up the PCH to Malibu. We rented a car for two days from LAX using Hotwire (one of the joys of renting a car outside of NYC is it’s usually dirt cheap). After a short run to Trader Joe’s, we were heading up the coast for Charlie’s first camping trip.
SLOW DOWN & CALM DOWN
Unless you’re A. a sociopath or B. some kind of extreme organizational rock star, toddlers and family tend to slow travel down more than if you were heading out solo. My timetable was blown so we left late, took longer than I thought and didn’t really arrive at my target time. I’m really learning over time that this is always going to happen, and I need to plan better for it and get over it. My NY driver side came out leaving LA, and I almost spoiled our lunch being too uptight to enjoy the awesome food and scenery at Neptune’s Net. First don’t be that guy, but secondly mixing in those little local destinations on your trip makes way better memories than just getting somewhere on time.
PICKING YOUR CAMPSITE
This was Charlie’s first trip, and my wife hadn’t been out in a long time so I didn’t bother looking for a deep-woods, extreme backpacking adventure. Point Megu is a car campground at the mouth of a canyon that dumps directly into the Pacific. It also seems to have somewhat regular wildfires that keep it pretty barren and dry except for a few choice hedges and the occasional tree. Our site was close to the entrance (noisy), but also had a nice crab apple tree that we could set the tent under. If you’ve read the blog for a bit you probably know my go-to is a Hammock, but for the family I brought my Nemo Losi 3P.
Unless your toddler can talk (Charlie didn’t at this time), they’re probably not going to tell you that they’re hot or cold so it’s definitely best to err on the side of comfort (and safety) when picking your tent spot.
Normally I think the Deuter / Kelty / etc. child carrier backpacks are great, but I definitely didn’t want to bring one on top of everything else we took along for the vacation. We knew that we would not be hiking more than a handful of miles, so we actually just opted to use our Ergo carrier, which weighs nothing and can be balled up into a stuff sack. Charlie stayed awake for the hike up the bluff, but then passed out for the entire descent. I recommend that the more experienced hiker carry the kiddo, because it does change your balance a bit having a little 25lb’er hanging on your back.
Also being from the East Coast, we had to stay particularly aware of dehydration and made sure to give Charlie water whether he was asking for it or not. The same goes for you and your partner–passing out from dehydration is no joke.
THEY GET INTO EVERYTHING
We setup our tent under a crab apple tree, which meant the ground was littered with crab apples. Charlie tried to eat every single one in the campsite, along with rocks, sticks, handfuls of dirt–I don’t think anything was spared. He also was quite fond of the dusty dirt (which I guess we don’t have in Brooklyn?) so making dust clouds was one of his first orders of business.
I was slightly concerned about him finding rattle snakes, scorpions or other Western treasures I don’t have to worry about on the East Coast. Just make sure you know what could be out there.
Rather than a playground where there’s a bit of an implied “right” way of interacting with things, I really liked watching him figure things out, explore and go wild. I’ve always thought of Charlie as a bit of a caveman and that our role as parents is really just training him to be human. In this context, I think he encouraged me to be a little more wild myself.
KEEP THE COOKING SIMPLE
Keeping an eye on the little Tasmanian takes enough attention that I definitely don’t recommend complicating things by adding any involved cooking processes. He was pretty captivated by the fire, and like any young boy wanted to put whatever he could find into it, including his own little hot poker stick (watch out for burns). We stocked up on basic camp fodder: cheese, sausage, Clif bars, some fruit and instant oatmeal for breakfast. To be safe, stay away from anything that might encourage more diapers than necessary or throw your kid’s stomach off-kilter.
THE SWEETEST MOMENT OF ALL TIME
One of my favorite things about the West Coast is watching the sun set on the ocean. I’ve seen the sun rise on the Atlantic my whole life, but for whatever reason the Pacific sunsets still fascinate me. In the evening, we walked under the highway to access the ocean; the tide was up so I carried Charlie through the surf. When we got to the beach I stood him on a sand shelf and he stared at the sunset and was so enamored with it that when I looked down he was actually welling up with tears and crying. If that wasn’t enough to melt my heart, he didn’t turn away or look for his Mom or me to pick up him, he just kept watching it with little tears streaming down his cheeks.
To me, that moment was a huge victory. Not because Whitney and I had tailored a nice experience for him, but because in that moment I think we saw that Charlie had connected with something that was much greater than anything he had ever known. It was “awe” in the true sense of the word. It was incredibly endearing to see him face something that was both beautiful and scary at the same time, and not turn away from it.
CAMPING IS LIKE A KNOCKOUT POTION
I’ve never seen a young child that didn’t absolutely conk out at the end of the night on a camping trip. After the beach, we went back to our fire and stoked it to keep warm in the cool California night. Whitney and I chatted in our A-Lite chairs until we looked down and saw Charlie had passed out while sitting in my lap. We bundled him up in the sleeping bag in the tent, and joined him a little while later. Overnight, he woke up when he got cold, so I just grabbed him and tucked him into my bag. We then slept all the way through to the morning.
WAKING UP IN A TENT = CHRISTMAS MORNING
Waking up inside a tent was apparently the coolest thing that had ever happened in Charlie’s life. Once he stirred and realized he was outside, he went crazy inside the tent and started naming and pointing at everything outside of the no-see-um walls. It definitely set the pace for his whole day. We let him out and he went back to eating crab apples and piles of dirt, but he had a blast.
After heating up water for coffee and oatmeal we packed up and rode out. Camping trip tacked onto our LA vacation was a huge success. We’re still enjoying these memories and looking forward to more this summer, once the 9 month, New York winter-from-frozen-hell goes away.
WHAT TO TAKE: THE GEAR LIST
There’s definitely lots of basics to take on every trip, but here were my big-wins that let me pack as little as possible for the hybrid outdoor / city vacation. Links to everything:
- Small 2-3 person tent: Confession–I have lots of tents, this trip it was my Nemo Losi 3P
- 2-3 light sleeping bags: I have down bags because they pack down to nothing and weigh nothing too. Charlie ended up in my bag overnight so try for as few bags as possible
- 2 sleeping pads: pack small, but are big enough unfolded to fit 3 people (especially a toddler)
- 2 Flat Pack Bowls: fold down to nothing so they were perfect for cutting boards & eating bowls
- 1 Cooking Pot with handle: boiled water for coffee, and held Kuksa cups for drinking
- 3L Water Jug: filling up water as few times as possible was ideal. Collapsible
- A-Lite Chairs: I don’t like coddling, but I do love these burrito-sized beauties
- 70L Seal Line Bag: this is my go-to travel bag because it’s waterproof, indestructible and cheap. All of my gear for the trip fit into this with plenty of room for my other trade show / trip needs as well.
- Tacking on a camping excursion to a business trip or city vacation is possible if
you pack properly
- Family camping is probably not the high-performance backpacking you may be used to
- Slow down and enjoy the journey of it all, don’t get stuck on the itinerary
- Mind your surroundings – keep people hydrated, comfortable and fed
How old were your kids the first time you took them camping? Any good stories? Any advice to add to this?Follow worklifedad
Since I fell off the face of the blog Earth for a year, I want to recap the past year (Bush Smarts‘ Anniversary was actually November 28) and highlight the ups and downs of running an artisanal camping gear business.
(If you don’t want to read the whole thing)
- New businesses often experience a wide marketing mix of opportunities
- Business growth comes from saying NO to some things and YES to others
- Invest your time and effort into compelling products
- Don’t sweat trolls
We started out 2013 a brand new company, having wrapped a nice holiday season and riding the wave of a new press piece from Inside Hook. Press follows press, so we received several offers to participate in Fab, ScoutMobShoppe and a couple of others. I also sought out blogs we wanted to be in and wrote them…and wrote them…and wrote them. Eventually we would get responses, and very hesitantly send out samples of our (then handfuls) of inventory hoping we’d get it back (we always do).
Landing a feature in Gear Patrol was huge for us. Not only did it yield a huge amount of qualified traffic, but caused the “food chain” effect and we were picked up by UnCrate, and NotCot.org in the same day. That day’s traffic has still never been matched. The only downside to awesome press, is you never know when it’s coming so we sold out of Bear Stars in a matter of hours, and cutting and tumbling small batches of titanium doesn’t happen overnight 🙂
For a fascinating expose on blog food chains and Jedi-mind trick marketing I highly suggest Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me I’m Lying (affiliate link).
Our next big adventure came in early April, when we ran a promotion with Huckberry. Richard is a stand-up, first-rate guy and took the time to chat with us for an hour and a half when planning our event. His attention to detail and thoroughness sold us, and their marketing really delivered. It was a huge boost for us, and again led to more following and further direct sales on our site.
POPULARITY MEANS TROLLS
In mid-January, we received some biased, negative press from the survival section of Outdoor Life. They called us the “The Most Unbearable Camping Gear in the World,” and then basically just wrote that our prices were too high. The author didn’t testing anything, request information or even contact us. He just ran with it.
After reading Holiday’s book, I realized that this guy gets paid for traffic, so I didn’t take it personally. The funny part is–that article actually brought traffic that made us some sales, so thanks for that surly reporter 😉
A little while after that, a troll bushcraft forum confused the difference between a tumblr blog and sales content. Our tumblr blog feeds into the inspiration section of our site, and some folks accused us of pirating their photos and yada yada. We didn’t take anything that wasn’t on tumblr (shared on 700 other blogs), I happily took their photos off and apologized–and then they continued complaining about our prices and talking about how they could easily replicate our business.
The lesson learned there, is that it’s not worth your time to engage and pander to negativity when running your business. In our case, if the people were offended we obliged them with removing their photos and that settled it. By complaining about our prices, I know they’re not our customers anyway.
SUMMER MEANS CAMPING
Our big product launch last year was the trio of Hammock, Storm Tarp & Trail Tarp. We did a lot of camping to make sure it had the right features, right feel and utility to make it the premier lightweight, American-made Hammock and tarp system on the market.
What ended up becoming one of my favorite camping trips ever, John and I went up to Pine Meadow Lake in Harriman State Park during the cicada invasion. There were so many flying all over the place that it felt like pre-historic time, luckily despite their dull roar they quieted down at night. Also it was the first warm, sunny weekend all year so I saw more snakes on that trip than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We literally had to watch our footing to not step on snakes during the day and I got to see a Northern Timber Rattler.
The real capstone of that trip was when we were about to hike out, we were still packing up and saw a long party coming down the trail. I said “weird, they’re not wearing shirts…actually, probably not pants either.” By the time we packed up, we had to merge into the middle of International Hike Naked Day (kind of NSFW…plus old balls…blech), and hiked with men & women, young & old for a few hundred yards before they branched off for a swim.
THE WOODS CAN HEAL YOU
My Grandfather passed away on July 31st last year, just a few days before our final testing for the hammocks and tarps. I was very fond of him, and went to Maryland the next day to see my family. In May I was there, and had taken the time to tell him and my Grandmother both, with Whitney and Charlie next to me, that we were grateful for how they lived their life, blessed by their legacy and inspired to build a fruitful marriage. We prayed for them, and I left certain that they knew their life’s work was validated in future generations. For me that was good-bye.
The funeral was scheduled to accommodate out-of-town family, and I had to go back to work. It wasn’t easy, but I’m certain that’s what my grandfather would’ve done–make a hard decision with what’s best for your family. Coincidentally, when my paternal Grandmother had passed away, my Dad, brothers and I also made the trek up to the ‘dacks to get away. I knew that I could rely on their solitude and beauty to restore me–the woods can heal you if you let them.
At 5am the day after I got back, John and I + 2 dudes took the hammocks and tarps out for their final test, a week-long foray into the Adirondacks–canoeing, photoshooting, swimming and Red Red. We paddled to the back of Little Tupper Lake, and then through the marsh to a spot called Rock Pond. After a bit of scouting around we setup camp in a rooty, wooded spot with an awesome rock–perfect for jumping. The weather stayed perfect, which is not always great if you’re testing hammocks, but on the last night Mother Nature joined the party and dumped a helluva lot of rain on us.
I stayed dry and slept like a baby – using only the Trail Tarp, which we recommend only as a light-weather cover (it was seam-sealed, btw).
OPEN THE FLOOD GATES
Later in August, we were given the opportunity to show at the Capsule Show Donut Shop in Las Vegas. It was our first public exhibition and trade show–very big considerations for a small biz. It’s amazing the first time you approach an event with no empirical data, how many things you overshoot, forget or just don’t think about. Luckily, John is an absolute master of planning and preparation.
We were very well received in Vegas, made tons of connections and made a decent number of sales (Donut Shop is a cash & carry section). The people we met and buzz set the pace for the rest of our year, August-onward. Things got and stayed very busy–press requests, sales, promotions, finishing gear designs and of course prepping for the holidays.
SANTA WILL SLAY YOU
In a stroke of genius, John built our holiday campaign in September/October so all of our creative assets were ready to go, saving us a ton of time when the rush came later. We had a huge hiccup printing the hammock stuff sacks (custom ink we bought did not adhere to the fabric as promised but we were able to reconfigure, and launch all three still in time for the fall shoulder season. We also found time to release two new bandanas which took a huge amount of design time, but have definitely been worth it in terms of sales: Ram Bandana, Moose Bandana.
In a previous post I highlighted the value of how crucial the right partner is.
By early November, we had “settled” on a holiday marketing and event plan. At Capsule we had made friends with Gene Han of Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co, and scheduled weekly shop-in-shops and an event to highlight our cooking products, namely our awesome $4 Sweet Potato Pancakes.
Another great move for the holidays was signing up (and getting admitted) into the Renegade Craft Fair. It was held in downtown Brooklyn the week before Black Friday so we were absolutely crushed with traffic and sales. They definitely hooked us up with a great spot, right in front and a cool space to lay out the goods. It was so much busier than we expected I had to resupply overnight to bring more the next day.
Gizmodo also picked up our “poo” shovel the day before Black Friday…
Realizing the potential for holiday markets, we jumped on board with BK Bazaar and spent Black Friday weekend there. It was overall a pretty good venture for the holidays. The only downside to it though (all holiday markets not BK Bazaar), is when the holidays are your first frame of reference for what to expect at a market, the rest of the year can leave you pretty jaded (but hey we’re New Yorkers). We really enjoyed meeting great people, making friends and developing new business relationships with cool people (e.g. Throne Watches and Awesome Boxes).
Coinciding with the holiday markets, we also bought our first paid ad, which was a sponsored blog post in Brooklyn Based. In terms of ROI it was definitely worth our while–I always recommend if you’re leery of when to start paid advertising, do it at the holidays when you’ll have a higher probability of success. The only downside is you won’t learn as much about your audience targeting because holiday shoppers are in the heavy buying zone (not a great control group).
BrooklynBased also promoted our cooking event at Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. and several other local event blogs did too. We ran our tickets through Eventbrite, sold out in no time and had a waiting list. Unfortunately rain cut back on the attendance a bit, but lots of people came out–we cooked a ton of pancakes, Red Red and damper.
The last major component to our holiday mix, sprouted from the ether in November. Capsule Market Square is a retail shopping event planned by the Capsule team to offer direct-to-customer access to all the brands in their trade show circle. It was held in SoHo a week and a half before the holidays, and again was a huge success. In addition to a high volume of direct sales, we picked up a few wholesale clients and met some press contacts that have paid off since.
Tying all of the holidays together: We started off thinking we’d do weekend installations at Hatchet and the Renegade. By staying flexible and attacking opportunities we still had weekly appearances at Hatchet, entered two new markets and spent infinitely more time selling to and learning about our customers. BE FLEXIBLE
THREE’s…or FOUR’s COMPANY
Through the holidays, while I was running and recovering from weekend markets, John was plowing through online orders and making things alongside our first intern from the Pratt Institute–Grace Kwok. Having an additional team member adds an interesting dynamic to the shop, in terms of staying on-task and also keeping the products flowing out. Since Grace finished the semester we hired a winter intern and now are working with Alex for the spring. He’s a camper and outdoorsman so that’s also an interesting mix–how hiring “on brand” can line up with talents and experience.
To help with the markets and shows, Whitney joined the team and is now the “official” go-to person when we’re running events out and about. That was hugely beneficial for us, as my work days got longer she was able to be a part of it all and in many cases bring Charlie. In times when he couldn’t be with us, we were and are blessed with a huge community of family and friends from our church and Williamsburg Community Group to stay at our home and watch him.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS AS A DAD
2013 was a great year–a long, hard year, but really a great one and maybe my best year ever. It started so cold and dreary, and really accelerated so rapidly and furiously that 2014 has started with incredible momentum. I learned a lot about work-life balance, and about how being better at my work was not for the sake of doing more work, but for the sake of living a better life. It’s easy to forget sometimes that starting a business is ultimately for the purpose of living a life on your own terms. In 2013, I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted with Charlie and Whitney, but looking back on it my best and most-treasured memories where with them–and that’s incredibly reassuring to me. It’s given me huge inspiration to be better at Bush Smarts, better at Creative Consulting and better at everything else so that I can have more time with them and more meaningful quality time.
- New businesses often experience a wide marketing mix of opportunities
- Business growth comes from saying NO to some things and YES to others
- Invest your time and effort into compelling products
- Don’t sweat trolls