In today’s specialty retail industry, we often find ourselves being tugged by opposing forces, most of which can be divided into two camps: modern or traditional. Online shopping versus brick and mortar. Quick service versus old-fashioned customer care. The flashing, neon-hued draw of technology versus the dignified humbleness of the outdoors and our passions.
This last battle may seem the most inequitable, but the outdoors has on its side a benefactor (and our own industries a mentor) of matchless proportions in the form of Florence Williams.
The environmental journalist (you’ll find her work in such prominent publications as National Geographic, the New York Times, and Outside Magazine) came to this same crossroads—the forked divergence of new and old—when she moved to Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always felt drawn to nature and the outdoors, and I spent two decades in the Rocky Mountains doing lots of hiking, paddling and skiing,” she remembers. “I moved to D.C. a few years ago for my husband’s job, and it felt like my head exploded in a lot of ways. It got me really thinking about what I had lost and how to regain that connection to nature in an urban environment.”
Williams had heard of Nature Deficit Disorder in the past, and with her urban ordeal underway, she decided to investigate its legitimacy. Armed with assignments for National Geographic and Outside Magazine, Williams found that nature isn’t just important to our health—it is integral. Social bonding, stress relief, increases in productivity and happiness; the benefits are innumerable and easily accessible via a brisk walk out a door.
Of course, this is no surprise to us; we know the hearty tug and unfathomable freedom found outside, whether in the smoke of a campfire, on the curve of a trail or in the brisk breeze of a bike cruise. But you know who might be surprised by this? Your customers.
Think back to GEAR. Every time you interact with a customer, you should be following those steps of genuine engagement and discussion of their wants and needs, developing a relationship that will last. Now imagine that you can offer them the ultimate antidote to the blues, promise the success of their children, alleviate anxiety and promote their health tenfold. These are the benefits of the outdoors—the benefits of our own sports and passions. Armed with science, it’s one heck of a sales pitch, but more than that, we owe it to our customers to give them this gift.
Williams’ concept is one that’s being capitalized on and dived into by a variety of organizations, not just because it’s a winning marketing strategy, but because it matters—especially right now. “I’ve been contacted by pharmaceutical companies, a major bank, a number of conservation groups, botanical gardens, natural history museums, state zoos,” Williams ticks off. “There are so many organizations and institutions that are recognizing that we’re living in this digital age where people are missing connection to natural works and to each other. There’s something about taking breaks in nature that can make us more productive and happier.”
In the harried, digital world in which we live, it’s a seemingly easy solution to a series of big problems, but “easy” it isn’t. That flashy, modern technology and the plush comfort of the indoors is constantly pulling at our already strained attention spans; it takes an intentional effort to break free of those distractions and return to the staid but stunning outdoors.
“We’re at a really critical moment in time,” Williams says. “The trends are that people are actually spending less time outside with our children, but we’re at this moment where we recognize this disconnection and we’re questioning it. We’re at a crossroads—either we recognize it and change, or spend even more time inside.”
So what can we specialty retailers do to help sway the crowds down the path traditionally traveled? “Through social media campaigns, through great photographs, and through good gear—all those things help with the temptation of staying indoors,” she says. “You have to compete with video games and computers, but once you’re outside and in the wilderness, there’s no competition. We just have to help people across the threshold.”
In her new book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Williams explores the whys and whats of the benefits of the outdoors. Follow her steps on this long trail and carve a new path for your customers. They’ll be happier, healthier—and probably return for more.