Are You Ignoring Your Best Customers?

If you’re not targeting millennial parents and their kids, you’re marginalizing a huge consumer segment and a ton of potential profit—today’s and tomorrow’s.  

By Courtney Holden October 5, 2017

This story originally ran in January 2016

Getting outdoors is hard enough for working adults. Add infants, toddlers or adolescents to the mix, and parents (even those with the best intentions and deepest desires) are easily overwhelmed by barriers that make heading outside difficult. The prospect proves especially daunting for parents who weren’t particularly outdoorsy during their own childhoods and might not know how to get themselves started, let alone their kids.

Download the ConsumerVue Outdoor Families infographic

Download the ConsumerVue Outdoor Families infographic

But it’s not for lack of desire. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s ConsumerVue report, 45 percent of parents are interested in trying new outdoor activities with their kids. “Depending on the parent segment, they are either looking to get their kids outdoors so they (the parents) can be active without having to find a sitter, to introduce their kids to the outdoors through a fun and common outlet, or they may just want to make the most of the time they’re outdoors watching their kids play at the park or in a team sport,” said Samantha Searles, OIA’s director of consumer insights.

Recent studies suggest that children who regularly play in natural environments show advanced motor fitness, get sick less often and display less anti-social behavior like bullying and vandalism than their non-outdoorsy peers. Nature helps develop powers of observation and creativity, and it buffers the impact of stress. And those are just a few of the benefits.

If you’re not already targeting millennial parents and their kids, you’re ignoring a consumer segment that is desperate for your help, attention, expertise, products and services.

Easy Does It
The outdoor industry glorifies extraordinary, limit-pushing endeavors. But the flipside of inspiration is intimidation. That’s why a handful of players in the outdoor space are working to make the outdoors seem more accessible, less intense. They’re showing parents how easy it is to enjoy nature with their little ones and that it’s ok to keep it easy.

Take the National Park Service for example, which is pushing the “get outside” agenda on a grand scale with its “Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque” campaign, in partnership with the National Park Foundation. Launched in honor of the NPS’s 100th anniversary in 2016, the movement aims to inspire all people to connect with, enjoy and support parks of all kinds.

“It’s not ‘Find your national park’ because it’s intended to be broader and more inclusive—helping people to find the park that resonates with them, whether [that means] finding a nearby state park, checking off a bucket-list trip across the country [to a national park] or biking on a local urban trail,” said Estee Rivera Murdock, partnerships specialist with the NPS Centennial Office.

Find out what Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Foundation are doing to help you help 4th graders in your local community get to their nearest park.

A few business-savvy brands saw the NPS campaign as a promotional opportunity. Coleman, which joined on as a national sponsor, is licensing the NPS Centennial logo and touting products such as the “Official Camp Stove” of the National Park Foundation. REI, a premier sponsor, is celebrating with in-store events and will have its traveling REI Village out visiting various parks. Celestron is cobranding its merchandise and promoting family-friendly activities such as stargazing. By perpetuating the idea that getting outside is as easy as visiting your local park and by providing products that are helpful once parents reach their destination, these brands are capitalizing on the momentum and enthusiasm around the Centennial celebration, while also driving sales of their products.

5-kids-programs-we-love (3)

Download Kids Programs We Love

It’s Not About Going Big; It’s About Going
Baby accessory manufacturer Joovy also encourages parents to get outside, but reassures them it’s OK to start small. The brand operates under the mantra that “parents who were active before kids shouldn’t stop being active just because kids come along,” said Joovy Marketing Manager Pam Cosgrove. Joovy’s blog highlights that belief. More than an avenue for product promotion, the blog doubles as a resource for parents as well as a source of inspiration. Check out the Lifestyle, Fitness & Travel section of the blog, and you’ll find photos and articles that promote active family outings.

New outdoor retailer, Globetot, also has this mission at the forefront. Set to make its public debut in 2016, the brand will soft launch with a website that doubles as a community resource. There, visitors will find success stories, advice from experts and all sorts of other ideas for getting outdoors with kids. “People can come and pick up tips, but more important, they can contribute with their own experience of how they’ve made it work,” said Liz Seelye, co-founder of Globetot. “More than anything (the website) will be about being a partner in what they would want to do and providing that encouragement and some helpful tips to break free of what weighs them down.”

Finally, Hike It Baby is a community of active moms and dads hitting the trail with their little ones. The movement got started in 2013 when founder Shanti Hodges started hiking with her 3-week-old. Nervous to go out alone, she would check in with friends to see if they were available to join in on the fun. Soon, so many people were texting her to ask about the next outing that Hodges built a website to help hikers coordinate schedules. Within a year, 1,000 Portland families had signed up. Now, a year and a half later, Hike It Baby meet-up groups have spread to 197 cities with 70,000 members. Outdoor brands Keen and Deuter have also joined in on the movement, recognizing that “they’re engaging the whole family by engaging with us,” Hodges said. “Brands who partner with Hike It Baby or organizations like us have the opportunity to not only support movements getting families into nature, but they can also have an impact on a whole family’s experience and future connection with the outdoors.” Not to mention the fact that the brands are getting customers in the process.

“Brands who partner with Hike it Baby or organizations like us have the opportunity to not only support movements getting families into nature, but they can also have an impact on a whole family’s experience and future connection with the outdoors.”—Shanti Hodges, Founder, Hike It Baby

Across the board, these evangelists promote the message of simplicity: Getting outside doesn’t have to be a major ordeal. “The message should be ‘get off the sofa and take a walk. Go to the park.’ It doesn’t have to be a great big investment,” Joovy’s Cosgrove said. “It can be going outside and doing cartwheels in the backyard—basic stuff, like somersaults or getting on the swing. It’s being active.”

A Penny Saved
Brands and retailers should also highlight that cost doesn’t have to be a prohibiting factor in getting kids outdoors. The gear may be expensive—especially since Junior is likely to grow out of it in a year—but there are rental and borrowing options out there.

Cozey 7, a children’s performance-layer manufacturer and newcomer to the outdoor industry, addresses the cost issue with its buy-back program. “When your little one grows out of [a jacket], there’s nothing wrong with that garment. It’s just not the right size,” said Cozey 7 co-founder Jake Winckler. “If you send it back to us, we’ll buy it back for a $20 discount on any other size.” After addressing any small repair issues, Cozey 7 donates the piece to a local child in need. “It’s a pay-it-forward solution,” Winckler said.

If You Tweet It, They Will Come
So how can brands engage with this powerful market segment of parents? Get social, recommends Heather Mundt, contributing editor for Outdoor Families Magazine and creator of Momfari, a travel advice blog for parents. She suggests using avenues like Twitter and Instagram to generate conversation and post photos. Enlist the help of “mommy bloggers,” who hold significant sway over their peers thanks to the power of word-of-mouth recommendations and advice.

Throughout your messaging though, avoid sugarcoating reality. “You need to depict normal families and normal moms. It’s also important to be really honest that it’s not easy. You’re not going to end up with a Pottery Barn scene,” Mundt said. “It’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be stressful, and it does take effort.”

Ultimately, brands and retailers need to show parents that getting outside with their kids is in the child’s best interest, noted Alyssa Ravasio, founder of Hipcamp, a website that helps campers find a campsite.

“Every parent wants to do what’s best for their kid, and the more the industry can show that this isn’t just about having fun—although that’s important—but that there’s all these other benefits, the more people we will reach and the more people it will be relevant to,” she said.