Off Road Tents is an online retailer selling overlanding equipment since 2017.
Founded by two avid travelers and off-roaders, it was born thanks to a road trip of a lifetime, when both my business partner, Karsten and myself discovered roof top tents.
We have both always been adventurous, exploring new countries, new routes, paths, places. I’ve lost count of how many hikes we’ve done, or how many times we went off roading on a muddy road.
We were driving around the Australian East Coast, and later in New Zealand’s southern island, when we started seeing quite a few cars with tents on top. They looked interesting; they awakened our curiosity.
Later, after the trip, we both decided we wanted to dig into these tents, perhaps purchase them for our vehicles. Why not? I mean, we had always enjoyed traveling and camping, this seemed to be the perfect fit for us.
After some research Karsten purchased one, used it and loved it. At the time, I lived abroad, in Thailand, where many freelancers tried their luck with online businesses. I had a background in marketing, and adventures have always caught my eye, whether that’s traveling or another kind of journey.
We both gave it some thought, and why not try to sell them. Karsten already had one, we had a true and genuine passion for the outdoors, vehicles and traveling. This seemed like a match made in heaven.
As a result, we decided we wanted to start selling them.
Long story short, in 2017 we decided to go ahead and start shipping them. We opened up Off Road Tents, and that’s when the business started.
There were numerous obstacles along the way: shipping costs, advertising such expensive and large objects online, etc.
Fast forward 4 and a half years later, we have managed to grow the business, stock tents, racks, and other off-road accessories, expand to other countries such as Australia and Costa Rica, as well as creating our overlanding gear brand called Guana Equipment.
Now, it’s never been easy or a smooth ride, this has been a very, very challenging part of our lives for both Karsten and myself. We’ve had to learn all sorts of things, from different marketing strategies on google, Facebook, Youtube, email marketing, and pretty much any platform you can think of, to product design, R&D, and even management.
Our team has grown and we are now nine people. Suddenly, our jobs went from being marketeers and sales persons, to managers and dealing with human resources situations.
We also have to deal with logistics, and shipping from China to the USA, Australia and Costa Rica. Sometimes we even source products from South Africa.
I can confidently say this has been a tough, yet rewarding journey.
Taking a look at our present challenges as a business, I’ll mention two very important ones: a ridiculous increase in the logistics industry which has impacted the cost of all our products, as well as very little supply of everything we sell.
Throughout all of 2021, we’ve had to cancel orders that would have raised our total revenue by 28% more than we have grown this year. The orders have been cancelled because items won’t make it on time, our suppliers have to delay the estimated arrival of some products, we don’t get stock on time, or worse, some products just cannot be manufactured at the time being.
We have seen literally hundreds of customers pulling out from backorders, or unwilling to wait for two or three more weeks.
And these are only the orders we have cancelled due to delays from items at the port of Los Angeles, we are not counting all those sales we can’t make because the items aren’t in stock. Which are probably hundreds. We have seen one of our best-selling brands struggle so much with supply, that sales dropped by 67% this year compared to 2020.
The other major struggle comes by the increase in the cost of bringing items from overseas, whether that’s China or South Africa. Back in early 2020, we used to pay around $4,000 to $6,000 for a 40 feet container from China. Our most recent container we paid $25,000 back in October.
This has happened all across the board in the automotive industry, leading to a huge increase in the prices of the products we sell, meaning that the end consumer is being affected. Not everyone wants to buy at such a high price, so we have to reduce our company’s margins to keep on selling.
However, it’s not all a bad thing. We’ve seen opportunities: we have since started exploring new products and brands. We keep selling off road and overlanding equipment, but we have slowly started introducing USA made products and brands.
As a result, these new products don’t have to deal with such high prices. They do still deal with some delays, caused by a lack of raw materials, but they tend to have fair prices and a flexibility that’s uncommon with bigger brands.
Another great opportunity has been to explore new marketing channels. Since our budget has been adjusted due to lower margins caused by increased logistics costs, we started looking for alternative ways to bring traffic into our site.
For example, YouTube reviews to inform our customers of what they should get, and make sure we provide value in exchange for them visiting our site. We started a TikTok channel, and more importantly, we’ve doubled down on SEO by providing better quality content.
Traffic has grown as compared to last year, and we therefore get more inquiries, leads and information that can be valuable for the upcoming years.
We have also expanded to new countries and markets. For example, we had opened Off Road Tents Australia by the end of 2020, but it wasn’t until this year that we were able to truly dedicate time and effort to it. Given that shipping costs from China to Australia aren’t as expensive, we have been able to maintain a good profit margin over there.
Sure, the Aussie market is also experiencing delays and trouble from Covid-19 as well as from the lack of raw materials due to the current crisis going on, but we keep moving forward.
Overall, it’s been a year of growth for our company, but mostly a personal and professional growth.
The lessons we have learned from dealing with delays, cancelled orders, and supply chain costs going through the roof are the most valuable things we can think of as of today.
My advice to other businesses starting out is to stay focused. Discipline is key, you might not see results for quite a while, but don’t let the frustration get a hold of you. When we first started out, it seemed like we needed to climb Mount Everest. I saw this huge mountain that represented building a site, marketing campaigns, doing customer service and even figuring out how to ship a 200 lbs tent the size of a bed.
We had never done any of this. Today, I still get thoughts like that one with a new challenge: training an employee, dealing with cash flow, paying taxes, so on and so forth. When it gets tough, I sit back, take a deep breath, and start climbing that mountain. Slowly, but safely, putting in the work and the hours.
Another piece of advice is to always invest in your business, and that sometimes means investing in yourself. If you have made more profits than expected, reinvest the money into courses to learn more, into stock from other brands, into a larger marketing budget, or improving your website/app/place of business.
Your company is never perfect, far from it. There are always improvements to be made, but most of the time they require money. Reinvest it. There will be time for you to take some money out and use it to buy a nice thing or have a nice holiday. At the beginning, investing back into your company is key. That’s what has allowed us to grow, build a team, explore new markets, and as a result increase our profits considerably year after year.
Finally, if you can surround yourself with other entrepreneurs or even a mentor, that’ll help you a lot. Brainstorming ideas or business experiences with other people that own businesses always gives you something valuable: advice or lessons on what you can do to improve your own business.
Even better, if you can get a mentor in your field, it’ll save you countless hours of work. How to get one can be tricky, but start looking for someone by engaging in conversations, forums, blogs, or groups that are related to your field and business. Attend shows or conferences, do some networking and eventually you’ll be able to build these relationships.
As a whole, we are happy to say Off Road Tents has been a beautiful story of hard work, enthusiasm, passion and positive results. We might not be huge, but we like what we do, we’ve grown, we’ve seen our effort pay off, and more than anything, we truly like helping our customers and helping them build the vehicle of their dreams.