Housemates: Why collaborative, shared work spaces are all the rage in the outdoor industry
Outdoor businesses are harnessing the benefits of collaborative spaces to share profits, consumers, and ideas.
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The outdoor industry’s collaborative ethos is growing—and spurring a handful of groundbreaking work-space collaborations. Shared overhead, resources, consumer traffic, and synergy are all incentives for brands, retailers, and nonprofits to jump on board with the movement.
Wayfinder, a co-working and community space that is member-owned, is opening doors in Denver, Colorado, in January 2018. The workspace is specifically tailored to outdoor-inspired entrepreneurs in order to encourage long-term partnerships, an overlap and growth of networks, and shared resources. Workspace options remain flexible, as a reflection of the work-travel variable that often coincides with outdoor and active lifestyle brands.
The concept is ideal for Wayfinder’s three co-founders. Britten Ferguson’s company, Revolucion Rides, is an outfitter that provides bike trips in Central and South America. Chris Baker’s Oneseed Expeditions similarly designs guided adventure trips all over the world including treks in the Andes and Himalayas. And Joe Ewing is about to launch Desta, a technology platform that will funnel such tour operators to clients without commission.
“We wanted to find a house or shared workspace and the idea started snowballing over beers and pizza. We quickly realized that a lot more people in the area [were] interested,” said Ewing. In fact, the demand was so high that they upgraded the concept from a house to warehouse. To help businesses be nimble and cost-effective the tenant options include drop-ins, punch passes, flex desks, dedicated desks, team desks, and private offices.
“I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of this community,” says Kelley Smith, Kokopelli Packraft co-founder, who launched the company with two other co-founders out of a garage in 2012. The company members are dispersed throughout Colorado, and Smith’s current office occupies his home basement. Wayfinder will have conference rooms, and Smith looks forward to having a hub where his company can convene.
Explore Wayfinder’s cool new office space in Denver
“A lot of shared work spaces in the Denver area are tech based. Wayfinder is like our club house for outdoorsy people who are professional and entrepreneurial. And with Carabiner Coffee—which is also based in the outdoor space—foot traffic will be coming through the office from all walks of life and expose passersby to what’s going on in the outdoor work space,” says Smith.
Wayfinder’s business model sets it apart from other co-working spaces: Although the space will be open to all community members for a fee (Daily—$17 drop-in fee—or monthly: $150 for 10 days; $265 unlimited drop-ins; $440 dedicated desk), it is also a co-op. For $10 more per month ($275 unlimited drop-ins; $450 dedicated desk), co-op members get a few extra benefits and two additional desk options: private office space or a team desk, 24/7 access to the space, and involvement in the cooperative’s leadership board, which will be established to represent the members.
The number of board members and the voting guidelines are still to be determined at print, but all co-op members will have the ability to vote on the designation of profits: invested into the space, individual business owners, or a combination. It appears that there are no other co-working spaces founded on the co-op model in the U.S.
Smith plans to join the cooperative. “Wayfinder is trying to build a community that’s experiential and unique for the outdoor industry and small businesses. Their intention isn’t to scale up and it’s not a for-profit business,” says Smith. “It’s hard to be a profitable business these days. To see businesses leverage economies of scale is a really interesting model. As long as there’s a commonality of a mission and values, sharing costs, creativity, and collaboration is a really smart approach,” says Bowers.
In Bend, Oregon, Ruffwear is remodeling its 20,000-square-foot former warehouse into an office for the brand and a co-working space, which will open in 2018. The members will be connected to—though not exclusive to—the outdoor industry and ethics.
“Climbing and skiing partners help push each other’s growth and keep each other safe. We believe in a community of people who thrive on those shared outdoor experiences and will bring that “in-this-together” mindset into the office,” says Ruffwear President Will Blount.
Given that Bend is the home of the Outdoor Worx startup incubator, Venture Out Festival fundraiser, and the nation’s highest percentage of telecommuters in the workforce, a co-working space for outdoor industry businesses will fill a need. Companies are already reserving spots in Ruffwear’s co-working space, including The Conservation Alliance and Zealios.
“We’re in a co-working space right now, but the attractiveness to what Ruffwear is doing is their intentionality with the culture that they’re building, and designing a space to encourage a collision of ideas and collaboration. For us, that’s really exciting,” says Zealios co-founder Austin Britts.
Ruffwear’s building is located a half-mile from Phil’s Trail Complex with trails for biking and running. The co-working space plan includes a partnership with a local bike retailer that will provide maintenance on-site, plus covered and locked bike storage, both of which will encourage Britts to bike commute, he says. The cost of renting office space in Bend is becoming prohibitively expensive, so cohabitation is a great solution, says John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance.
Though, not all entrepreneurs need—or want—a workspace that draws daily foot traffic via floating day passes or a cafe.
Campworks is a family-owned co-working and private office space, also in Boulder, that opened doors in October. The shared space is oriented toward small businesses—no requisites of being in the outdoor industry— with private, quiet spaces and integrated wellness incentives such as partnerships with local health clubs, yoga studios, and natural foods companies.
Campworks: A cool place to work in Boulder, CO
Private office for a small business or team, overlooking South Boulder Trail and Boulder Open Space
Indoor / outdoor conference room with Boulder’s local company Weave, taken at Grand Opening on October 17th
The Campworks building on South Boulder road in Boulder, Colorado
“My parents are incredibly active outdoor people and taught me how to balance an outdoor, active life: Go to yoga during lunch and have a morning meeting on a trail before arriving at the office. We know people in Boulder want this work-life balance, and we don’t want their work to inhibit their ability to be healthy, which strengthens relationships and work,” says Amy Ontiveros, co-founder and creative director of Campworks, who lives part-time in NYC where there is a movement of rooftop co-working spaces.
Next spring, Campworks will add a 1,000-square-foot outdoor workspace adjacent to the building, with shade structures and power outlets which will overlook Boulder Open Space and trailheads. It will be the first co-working space in Boulder that features an outdoor office area.
“More than 50 percent of the companies considering or occupying Campworks are in outdoor-related businesses and missions—body work practitioners, tech companies, a vegan backpacking food businesses, and startups—which is relevant to Boulder’s landscape,” says Ontiveros.
In an innovative collaboration, Smartwool partnered with Go Far co-founders Kate King and Ken Sung to open a retail space in Boulder, Colorado.
Similar to the development of niche co-working spaces that are devoted to outdoor businesses, retail spaces are becoming more thematically focused: “We’re making retail ‘micro specialty retail’ with focused brand stories that power off of each other,” says Smartwool VP of Marketing and Sales, Scott Bowers.
Seventy-percent of the merchandising mix in Go Far is Smartwool apparel, while the other 30-percent is a handful of carefully selected brands that complement the store’s focus of providing products and a gathering space for the running and active lifestyle communities.
With so many outdoor companies jumping on board, the collaborative forecast looks promising for industry growth.
“I would imagine that just as industry-specific co-working spaces exist now, like ones for tech entrepreneurs or artists, they could very well become more common in the outdoor industry. I think the trend will particularly continue in places where stellar quality of life is a key draw, like in Bend. People will keep seeking places where they can either bring their work with them or create their own,” says Blount.