Why giving away free outdoor adventures makes business sense

Giving away free stuff may not sound like a very good business model - but a Wellington entrepreneur swears it is.

Like most Kiwi kids, I’ve got lots of pretty rad memories of growing up in the beautiful New Zealand outdoors. Sure, most of the time I was pretty reluctantly getting dragged round by my parents without taking my nose out of the book I was reading, and we did get rained out - over a 10-year period - of basically every camping ground in the upper North Island. But now I’m old enough to be less of a brat and stop taking those wonderful experiences for granted, I realise what an incredible, formative time it was. My parents met as young Scout leaders. They walked the Milford Track for their honeymoon. And they wanted to give my sister and I the same experiences they’d had. In some ways, it’s got to be among the world’s luckiest childhoods.

Most of you reading this probably have similar stories. But for a lot of Kiwi families, the chance to have adventures outdoors is out of reach. While, yes, most people can put on shoes and go and spend some time outside - providing it’s safe and they have access to wild areas - many adventures cost money, and sometimes a bit of proper gear can help you enjoy our oceans and trails in a way you wouldn’t have otherwise.

So, what if we could make outdoor adventures available to people who might not otherwise have them - while keeping the businesses that provide them sustainable in the process? That’s the question that’s driven Everyone’s Adventure, a collective of Wellington businesses that aim to make outdoor adventures free to anyone who wants them, by the end of this summer.

Corporate salesperson-turned-social entrepreneur and adventurer Dave Woulfe is the owner of The Boatshed Days Bay, which rents out kayaks and standup paddleboards and sells ice creams, drinks and snacks; The Bike Shed Pencarrow, which hires bikes for 2-4 hour trail rides; and Cycle Rimutaka, which provides packaged half or full day trips, including bike, shuttles, and food. He’s worked out how much the businesses need to bring in to cover their operating costs for the summer. It’s $300,000, including staff wages, gear maintenance, overheads, and health and safety considerations. The running total is available publically on the Everyone’s Adventure website. Once it’s reached, gear hire is free, for anyone to use, for the rest of summer - until Easter weekend 2017.

Why? Well, because Dave - who’s run The Boatshed for five years - had those Kiwi childhood adventures growing up too, and he wants to make sure everyone gets a go. He’s run smaller versions of the campaign in the past: free days for customers as a reward for hitting summer milestones, and “koha kayak” promotions which resulted in paddlers often paying more than the usual gear hire rate - appreciating that others might not be able to afford it. This year, Dave wanted to take the social good component wider.

David Woulfe.

He considered a number of business models to do so, taking into account both sustainability and the ability to explain the concept to the public. While he thought about crowdfunding or more complex social enterprise models, he decided that with a short window of time open over summer, the easier the model was to understand, the better. That’s how he eventually settled on “buy an adventure now to make adventures free for everyone later in the season.” However, Dave says the model also makes business sense: once gear hire becomes free, he’ll still be selling gelatos, snacks, and cold drinks from The Boatshed and The Bike Shed, to what he hopes will be a higher than usual number of customers. He’s also chosen to partner with local Wellington businesses for his food and drink sales - including Kaffee Eis and Harpoon Cold Brew Coffee - in the hope that getting them on board with the campaign will help to tell the story to their audiences too. Everyone’s Adventure is also running a fundraiser for Women’s Refuge in the lead-up to Christmas, aimed at maximising the social good the campaign can have, as well as letting more people know about it.

Dave is also playing with the business model as a way to account for Wellington’s variable and capricious weather - in future years, he’d loved to cover the operating costs over a longer time throughout the year, and make gear hire free for the whole of summer. That way, he could pay staff to be at the businesses every day, rain or shine, and supplement takings with drinks, snacks, and ice cream sales. But that’s all for the future - this year, Everyone’s Adventure just aims to get to that $300K made so they can start giving gear hire away for free.

Charlotte Graham is a Wellington-based journalist who is also working on the Everyone’s Adventure campaign.