New challenges are often chief among the reasons why people tell us they seek adventure. The thrill of overcoming obstacles, learning to get the most from our gear and ourselves. Much of this desire is rooted in self-sufficiency; in being responsible for our own outcomes.
Many of our weekend adventures are made possible through grinding it out at the office during the week. We often find ourselves facing a hard line between business and pleasure. We want more adventure. What better way to get more adventure than to start and adventure-based business?
After a quick introduction earlier this year, I found myself continuing to talk about adventure-based business with Patrick at Teton Backcountry Rentals. The conversation turned into something worth sharing. Hope you enjoy!
You’d been living in Jackson, WY, for a while. You’d fallen in love with the Tetons and lifestyle. You invited your closest friends out from Boston to experience your little slice of heaven. What happened on the gear front and how did you guys make do?
I had actually only been living in Jackson for a few months, but I had an entrepreneurial mindset and was on the hunt to fill a need and create a business for myself in Jackson. When friends visited and there was nowhere for them to rent avalanche safety gear, I made a website and started renting out my own gear.
It quickly became obvious that summertime would be a better season to focus on. I knew I needed a bit of help, financially and in terms of manpower. I started to attend local entrepreneurship meet-ups with the goal of finding a business partner.
I met Jacques Li at one of these events, and we started working together to see if we’d be a good team. A few months later he signed on and bought into the company. That first summer, we rented camping gear on a delivery basis out of my house—actually out of my bedroom. It was kind of a mess, but we made it work. We were able to buy more gear as the summer went on.
We enlisted Jacques’s friend Noah to grow and expand our website, which made a huge difference in terms of reach and who could find us. We continued to operate on a delivery basis over the winter, and prepared to move into a storefront for the summer of 2015.
We have continued to grow, and are finally in a more permanent store front. We are always trying to expand our rental offerings, including renting trucks with pop-up campers!
The idea for Teton Backcountry Rentals was born. So many of us yearn for the freedoms associated with owning a business, especially one closely related to our passions (see this magazine). We get the ideas. We see others living the dream. But ideas not backed by hard work and dedication seldom pan out. How did you go about turning your dream into a reality? What steps did you take to get the TBR ball rolling?
I knew that I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship in Jackson, and when the idea for a gear rental service came about, I decided to sink my teeth into it. For the first year, I continued to work other jobs, spinning pizzas and other odd gigs.
Getting Jacques on the team was a big part of setting us up for success. I personally work much better in a team scenario and creating a core TBR team added components of accountability that helped us grow quicker than if it were just me doing it all alone. We were confident that we could grow organically into a reliable outdoor gear rental company in Jackson. We knew it would just take time, dedication, and thoughtful planning.
This is only our third year in business, so there are still a lot of unknowns, and plenty of hard work to be done. We have a lot of room to grow and improve in the future!
Jackson Hole doesn’t seem like a very big place. What were those entrepreneur meetups like? Aside from finding a direct partner in Jacques, did you make any other useful connections? Are there any risks to going to those meetups?
The meet-ups were pretty casual. They meet the first Monday of every month at a local bar. The group is called Silicon Couloir. There was usually a featured speaker or two, and then an opportunity to network and meet people.
I got the opportunity to meet a lot of different entrepreneurs around town. More than establishing any super helpful connections relevant to TBR, it gave me insight into the possibilities that entrepreneurship allowed in Jackson. People were taking chances and pursuing ideas all across the spectrum!
The meetups sound pretty chill—and easy to remember! Same place, same time, same day of each month. How big was the group? Would you recommend our fellow adventurists look up groups like these where they live? What should they look for in a group? And are you still involved with Silicon Couloir? I wonder how your role might have evolved.
The group size range from 10 to 50 people depending on the night and who was slated to speak. I think groups like this are great for people new to a community looking to make connections and break in on the business front. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about their community and where the entrepreneurial minds are focusing.
I am still involved, but honestly I do not attend as much as I did when I first moved to town. There are definitely a couple things causing that.
During the summer, I work a lot! So when I get out of work I want to hit the trails, whether that is on the mountain bike, on foot, or in the truck to head out into the forest for a camp fire. After working for 10 hours I’m not super excited to go sit in a dark bar at 6 P.M. when it will be light out for the next 3-4 hours. I am a much more frequent attendee in the winter months when I get my exercise during the day!
Did you know you wanted to rent trucks from the get go? How did that idea take shape, and where do you see the business going overall?
I had no idea I wanted to rent trucks when I started the business. When I incorporated TBR, I had no idea I even wanted to rent summer camping gear. Everything has evolved from the original idea of renting winter backcountry safety equipment. Summer gear rentals became obvious very quickly once I got to know Jackson and its local economy a bit better.
Last summer I bought a Phoenix Pop Up camper for my Toyota Tacoma because I was sick of getting rained and snowed on while I was car camping. I wanted a winter-ready solution. I loved the concept and ease of having a solid weather-proof camp always attached to my truck.
After experiencing it for a couple months I was totally sold and starting thinking how I could incorporate this into the business. No one else in Jackson was renting rigs like this, so I decided I would give it a try and work towards having another rig to rent for summer 2016. We are booking up for this summer, so with any luck hopefully we can have another option to add to the fleet for next year! The goal is to keep growing!
Curious: how many of your customers, trucks, snowboards, etc., are first timers vs. experts? For example, how many people have overlanding rigs at home but flew in and rented from you? Like, how many people have what you offer, but get it from TBR. Why is that?
The majority of people who rent from us are pretty much first-timers. We definitely get customers that are experienced campers and mountaineers who do not want to travel with their bulky gear, but the majority of our customers are excited to try something new, and we help them do that. A lot of people fly into Jackson. We specialize in full outfitting so people don’t need to fly with gear- just their personal clothing and footwear!
We have not had any renters yet that have their own overland rigs. Most people are either interested in testing it out with dreams of owning one in the future, or just people who are really enticed by the opportunity to camp in this gorgeous ecosystem with the convenience and luxury of truck camper.
It sounds like you’ve long been the winter sports kinda guy. When you say the summer gear became pretty obvious, how so? Were you getting inquiries for items you didn’t stock? Did you find yourself looking for something to do in the “off season?” I’m curious how you discovered the need and adapted the business.
Winter sports, specifically snowboarding and splitboarding are my biggest passions. I try to spend as many days as possible on the snow every year. When winter sports people think of Jackson Hole, they obviously think skiing at this famous resort, but it turns out that summertime in Jackson is about four times as busy due to the national park traffic.
If anything, wintertime is the “offseason” in Jackson, and I love it! Jackson acts as a portal for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, as well as all the other fun summer activities that draw people to the area like rafting, biking, fishing.
Another big factor that affects the shear numbers in Jackson between the two main seasons are just general demographics. It costs a whole lot of money to fly a family out to Wyoming, pay for them to stay in a hotel, and then pay for a $130 lift ticket for each person, each day. Coming on a camping trip through the national parks can be much more affordable, and so the summer inherently attracts a wider range of visitors.
A lot of these visitors want to camp, but not all of them have the appropriate gear. Either they just don’t own it, are new to it, or are flying in and do not want to carry it. We quickly realized that there were some gaps in the offerings that local outfitters were bringing to the table, so we decided to enter the market with the goal of being able to completely outfit car-campers, backpackers, and mountaineers.
I’m going to assume the shortest truck rental so far has been one, maybe two nights. How long has the longest rental been? Toyota trucks are known for their toughness and reliability. How well have they held up to so much use?
The longest rental has been four days. So far, the trucks are holding up great.
There have obviously been some kinks where renters are not accustomed to the troubleshooting involved with using any type of camper or RV. Nothing crazy has happened, and everything has provided a good learning experience for us.
The biggest thing I have learned is to never assume what people already know! I think I’ll be better suited to answer this question at the end of September! We are still in the early phases of this rental program, but it is already obvious that we should be trying to expand for next summer.
Looking ahead to that summer 2017 expansion, what are you considering sure-things? What’s in the all-depends category? And what does that depend on?
We will definitely be expanding our rental fleet with the goal to add a new adventure vehicle. There are still some things up in the air with that, in the sense that I am unsure of what vehicle we want to add. We could certainly add another Toyota truck and keep that going, but it is tempting to mix it up a bit and outfit a 4×4 Sprinter van!
We also have the goal of opening another small rental shop located in West Yellowstone, Montana. That whole plan is very much up in the air, but we will certainly have a more definitive direction by September. This definitely depends on how strong the summer finishes and if we can find a suitable location for our seasonal needs up there.
What advice would you offer any of our fellow adventurists looking to start their own businesses?
I’ve learned that running your own business is not something to be taken lightly. You are always on call and always have something that needs attention.
On the flip side of that, with the right mindset and entrepreneurial spirit, you can shape your schedule and life around what is most important to you, and if everything goes as planned, create a career for yourself that makes you excited to get out of bed everyday.
Understand the realities of what truly committing to your business will mean, learn as much as you can from people who have come before you, and jump in head first!
Adventure is where you find it.
And you can find it just about everywhere. It can be as complex as a global expedition or downsizing the family into an RV. And it can be as simple as taking a different route to work or trying a new restaurant.
For some, the call of adventure is something they cannot leave for the weekends. Their passion for the great outdoors runs wild. When the opportunity to make a living helping others better enjoy their adventures comes around, it can be irresistible. It’s one of the reasons we started Adventurist Life. And it’s why stories like those of Patrick and the Teton Backcountry Rentals team resonate with us.