Spring 2018 Board Report
We're excited to share two things with you: a look back at 2017 and plans for the future. In addition, we're starting to think about our 2018 board meeting and will be in touch once we know more.
After the seemingly effortless boom of NPS100 in 2016, we knew we had to define the factors that lead to its success in order to continue the project and grow in the best direction. We had three main questions that needed to be answered:
- How much of the interest in the project was tied to the NPS centennial in August?
- What are the main factors that motivate someone to buy a print?
- Would other products do better than prints?
We formatted Shores and Alphabeast to test these questions. Based on customer interactions and sales analytics, we guessed that whether or not a person had previously visited a park was the primary reason for purchasing (or not purchasing) a print. Using NPS visitor data, we structured Shores to include the most-visited sites in the country, many of which are even more popular than the most loved National Parks. For example, in 2015 roughly 5 million people visited Yellowstone, the most popular park, but Golden Gate NRA had 15 million visitors in the same year. Despite this strategic approach the response to Shores was much less enthusiastic than we hoped. This lead us to assume that much of the interest in our project was due to the general spike surrounding the NPS centennial.
With Alphabeast we tested the questions in a different way. We wanted to see what would happen if we removed the "have I been there" factor and just provided beautiful work focused on an important cause. We hoped to remove a barrier to purchase but also risked losing some of the motivation as well. In the end, Alphabeast sales weren't terrible yet still didn't reach the levels we hoped for.
Finally, after our summer board meeting we were really excited about the idea of branching into other products besides prints. The assumption was that prints had a low recurring purchase limit, so by introducing other items, we would be able to leverage our audience's enthusiasm for the project by giving them other options to buy. In general, we believe this worked well with the products we had time to try during the holiday season: Topo Designs patches, Alphabeast wall tiles and the TH retrospective book. We're excited to continue exploring this approach with future projects.
2017 was also a big year for figuring out production logistics and investing in inventory. We netted $41.1k in sales and ended the year with $9.4k in the bank - one goal for 2018 that we'll discuss later is increasing our profit margin and exploring new income opportunities so that we can be more effective at generating income and, therefore, donations.
In summary, we would describe 2017 as unsurprisingly disappointing. We guessed that much of the easy love we received early on was not going to last and indeed found it much more difficult to generate interest and excitement about our second and third series. However we are not going to rest in that moment of disappointment. Instead we're going to use the lessons we've learned to inspire the next round of projects, and we're really excited for 2018.
We have three projects coming this year:
M A R S
Last week we kicked off an exploration of Mars! If you haven't already, check out the project page for details. It's going to be a quick burn project with two goals. The first is to give James and David the chance to do something creative for Type Hike again - it's about time. The second is to test a new format for product sales: Gear Tubes (name TBD). Rather than offering 10,000 unique products and spending resources packing customized orders, we're going to produce a tightly curated group of items and pack them into one consistent tube. This approach will greatly reduce shipping logistics. The Mars tube will contain a 12x18" print, shirt, enamel pin, astronaut ice cream and two stickers. We're excited to see how these do - our hope is that this new model will allow us to continue to offer awesome products in a more streamlined format.
Alphabeast Poetry Book
Last August we started working with Jazzy Danziger, Senior Copywriter at Atomic Dust/Poetry Anthology Editor/Friend of the Walkers, to curate a book of poems in response to the 26 Alphabeast designs. She has been working for the past eight months to gather an amazing group of poets and collect their work. Once the last poem is submitted, we'll design the book and decide between pitching the book to publishers or self publishing. If you have experience with either options or connections to publishers, we'd love your input! Our goal is to have the book ready for sale in the fall before the holidays.
We've been gathering designers for this project since last Spring and are figuring out how we want to structure the project. We know the series will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Trails and Rivers Act, which established many of our country's long-distance trails and riverways. Our goal is to get this going in the coming months so it can pick up steam as Mars in winding down.
The Way Forward
The last thing we want to share is large, slow shift in mindset that we've been experiencing over the past few months. Last year left us both burned out and unsure of where to take the project next, so we decided to hibernate for the winter to rest and consider the future. That time was very restorative and inspiring. A combination of number crunching, casual talks with board members, and dreamtime visions lead us to an unexpected conclusion: we're never going to fully realize the project's potential by continuing to curate beautiful work and sell high-quality merch. Our previous model placed all the value on the quality of a printed product - a combination of the design and physical quality - which made success dependent on consumers' perception of that value aligning enough to motivate a purchase. Even when that worked well, we were limited by how many products we could sell, which for a new company with a small audience, was not many. We have shifted that mindset to place the value where it really lies - on the design. We have created and will continue to create some of the most unique and beautiful content out there and our commitment to exploring the intersection of design and nature is an unending source of inspiration. The work is what people really love - the products are what they sometimes buy. In the coming year we're going to be restructuring the project to make use of our most valuable assets. We're going to be much more intentional with our digital space - using social media to drive traffic to the site and structuring the site to use that audience to generate income. We have a few ideas for how to accomplish this without abusing the high standard of design we've created, including sponsorships and traditional ad placements. We would also continue to sell products, but would not be relying on merch sales to drive the project forward. We'll share more specific plans as they take shape.
Forever & Always,
Jim & David