Maximize Your Retail


Many owners of adventure parks and other outdoor activities do not plan ahead when it comes to retail merchandise, often assuming they can always add some t-shirts and carabiners later. While this is certainly true, retail can play an important role in the success of your business—not just from direct revenue, but also the overall impression your business leaves on the public—so it deserves some attention. A little forethought and strategic planning can make all the difference in the success of your retail endeavor.

When I first started installing and stocking retail stores at adventure parks, I met all kinds of resistance. Even if the owner was all-in with adding a store, the manager often fought it tooth and nail. The climbing purists often seemed to feel that selling merchandise (that was not actual climbing equipment) was a travesty.

This perspective has slowly shifted over the past 12 years or so, and aerial adventure operators have increasingly embraced retail as part of their business. However, I still encounter busy operations that have a couple of t-shirts tacked on the wall and maybe a bumper sticker on the counter. My reaction to these owners is always the same: You are flushing money down the toilet and missing a huge opportunity to promote your business and brand.


In general, our industry is blessed with happy customers who are proud of their accomplishments and who really want something to take home as a reward. Adventure business owners are also in the unique position to be able to “open” a store without paying rent, utilities, or even labor—all of that is already in place and paid for in order to operate the adventure outfit.

Not all locations are the same, of course. Small, local parks that rely on repeat business have a different clientele than large parks at destination ski or beach resorts. The larger operations often have a purpose-built space for retail and can generally carry more expensive merchandise—a family’s vacation budget is not the same as their weekend entertainment budget. Local parks often do better with lower price points and impulse items.

Still, even the smallest parks can bring in $75,000 to $150,000 a year from added segments like retail and food and beverage, and larger operations can easily bring in more than $500,000. The added revenue per customer starts at $2/head for not particularly well-done merchandise to $15+/head when parks start really working at it. You do not need to dedicate a large area to retail. A remarkably small footprint can still produce big rewards.


So, how do you fully optimize your retail? Start by avoiding the following common misconceptions I often see when working with adventure business owners.

You know your customers and what they will buy.

Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean others won’t like it. Case in point: I think the t-shirt design (facing page)—a cartoon squirrel on a bright yellow background—is downright ugly, but it’s a bestseller year after year. Of course, if we all had the same taste, the world would be mighty boring.

Retail can be unpredictable. Case in point: this popular t-shirt design.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for taking personal taste out of the purchasing equation. It’s not enough to

vary colors and styles; you need to be open-minded. No matter how well you think you know your customers, you may not know their tastes, so try and have a little something for everyone, even if you don’t like it.

Buying something that absolutely bombs means you failed.

On the contrary, if you haven’t stocked any items that didn’t sell, then you are not trying very hard. The strangest things will often become a great seller, but you will never find those products if you only stick with the basics.

The most unexpected great seller to date? Fifty-two-inch-long stuffed exotic snakes (below). I can’t keep them in stores, and I originally only added them for the visual effect of the bright colors.

Exotic stuffed snakes have been
another unlikely best-seller.

When it comes to diversifying your lineup, having a variety of price points is a great start. Have plenty of inexpensive impulse items like stickers, mid-priced items like t-shirts, and then also experiment with some more expensive items like higher-end athletic quarter-zips. Drinkware comes in every imaginable price range, so that’s also a great place to experiment with your customers’ spending limits. You must try new and different things because you never know what will take off.

The appearance of your retail area is not important.

You don’t need a large store, nor do you need to add expensive fixtures, but you do need to put some time and care into your merchandise displays.

An unappealing presentation will wreck your sales. Designate the task of arranging your retail space to someone who has an eye for design. Let’s face it, some people are good at this, and others are not. You should also rearrange the merchandise in your store at least twice a season.

The examples below are both actual stores added after the fact in storage sheds. You can probably guess which one is more successful (it’s the top one). 

Top and above: Appearance matters. Guests are more likely to buy when displays showcase your goods well, as in the top photo, vs. the uninspired display above.

Good presentation includes having a critical mass of merchandise to attract shoppers and allow them to browse. Half-empty shelves that look picked over and a rack with two t-shirts on it are off-putting to would-be buyers. Your rack of shirts must not only be full, but must have all the sizes. If you do not have a complete range of sizes, either get more or clear out the item. A poorly stocked shop leaves an overall bad impression of your operation on your customers. 

Think of it like a salad bar: the offerings look appetizing when every container of food is full and fresh looking, but if the containers are mostly empty and the area is a mess, you’re likely to go find lunch elsewhere.

You do not need to “keystone” your merchandise.

Keystone pricing is the practice of doubling the wholesale price you pay for an item to determine the retail price. So, if you bought t-shirts for $12 wholesale, you should sell them for at least $23.99.

Many new retailers make the mistake of marking items up less than the keystoned price, because they will still make money. However, you will always have a certain degree of waste in retail: damaged or stolen merchandise, items that just did not sell, leftover odd sizes, out-of-season or tired designs. By keystoning (or even charging a higher mark-up), you mitigate those unavoidable losses.

If something sells well, you should always keep that item in stock.

While this seems like a logical conclusion, it is a fallacy. You should always rotate your stock. Even if a design is a great seller, retire it for a season or two and then bring it back fresh again. No matter the size of your business, you will have repeat customers, and they will buy a new t-shirt year after year if you have new designs.

And definitely do not leave a poorly selling product out to gather dust for two years. It’s OK to cut your losses and clear out old items.

Everything you sell should relate to zip lining (or climbing or jeep touring).

Your store should have a nice variety of items that relate to your business, but do not be afraid to branch out.

People are often happy to buy something completely unrelated to your business (remember that snake). You should have a healthy quantity and variety of branded items with your logo on them, of course, plus some non-branded items. Unusual stuffed animals, amusing stickers that do not include the business name, cool outdoor gadgets (fire starters, compasses, carabiners, emergency foil blankets), string bracelets, and funny or custom socks can all sell well. Again, there’s just no accounting for the large variety of tastes, so be creative and have some fun.

Any image in any file format can be slapped on a t-shirt.

One last tip for retail newbies and wizened professionals: When it comes to designing and purchasing branded items, have your art ready and in the proper format. You need to have your logo or any custom art and graphics in “vector form” for most personalized items. This is not as necessary if you are buying someone else’s design, because it should already be formatted properly.

The image on the left shows the vectorized divisions of the art in the right image. Art in vector format can be accurately scaled to any size without losing integrity while non-vectorized art cannot.

Vector format breaks art down into individual color segments. Without this format (.ai or .eps), most printers will refuse the job, so save yourself the headache and added expense by having it ready to go. If you have very specific needs for matching your business’ colors, you also need to have the PMS (Pantone Matching System) codes for those colors. PMS colors remain the same across platforms no matter how they appear on your computer. Provide those codes to your wholesaler upfront.


The most important advice I can give any adventure park owner is do not overlook the possibilities of this revenue stream. The sooner you put time and effort into your retail section, the faster you will see profits, happy customers, and your business name showing up all over town.

If you do not have the time or inclination to do this yourself, consider hiring or designating someone else to handle the retail aspect of your business. If they are halfway decent at it, you will see immediate returns.


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Partner, Adventure Suppliers, LLC, [email protected],

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