Word and Photos by Tim Frenneaux/ Gather Outdoors
My first car was half a campervan. Specifically, three hundred quids worth of mint green 1972 Devon crossover, a proper 80’s throwback. Even back then £600 was proper cheap for a camper, and it was a rusty pile of crap that had sat on a salty roadside advertising a surf store. My best mate Chris and I bought it between us, planning to travel round Europe. We soon realised that it couldn’t handle hills, never mind actual mountains. So our grand tour was trimmed to a trip round the Low Countries: we started out in Amsterdam, and never got anywhere else thanks to its soporific charms.
Looking back, I realised I had always been into sharing and being social, the founding principles of my latest venture Gather Outdoors. We help folk enjoy good times with good people in the great outdoors. We do this in a few different ways, including our online shop, which has a unique way of making outdoor equipment affordable: we call it Crew Buy. This lets you buy equipment to share with your Crew, saving a minimum of 50% up to about 90%. You never use your kit all the time, so why pay for the downtime. Its the real sharing economy: you actually share stuff!
I came up with Crew Buy when I realised that there were no online services to help folk buy stuff together to share. Equipment like the Oru Kayak, a proper solid kayak which folds down to the size of a suitcase, doesn’t come cheap. But I knew that great kit like this could help more people enjoy the outdoors.
I started Gather when the day-job wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Sure it paid the bills, but offered no wider satisfaction and a whole stack of frustrations that I was increasingly unable to deal with. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the seed for Gather was planted in 2012, during a very wet weekend in West Wales at the Do Lectures. The Do brings together an outstanding roster of speakers from around the world. You could describe it as a festival of ideas, but its more than that, it’s a festival of inspiration, designed to make folk go away and DO stuff. Everyone pitches in and spends the entire weekend outdoors eating, sleeping and drinking together. You don’t realise you are kicking back with the founder of Vimeo until they excuse themselves from the three am fireside fun with polite apologies about having to present the following day.
I didn’t go there looking to start my own business. I didn’t even leave looking to start my own business. I left smelling of wood-smoke with a new network of friends and a stack of new tricks I could use to be outstanding in the day-job. I didn’t realise I’d also been infected with the crazy idea that I could do my own thing. But I had.
David, the founder of Do Lectures, along with Howies and Hiut Denim, tells a mythical story that gets in your head: imagine that, on your death bed, you are shown two films, one shows your life as lived, the other shows life as it could have been, if only you had been a bit braver, taken a few more chances, chosen the hard road more often.
When I hit my fortieth year, and my dad died, and work pissed me off, I knew what to do. I had to start down the hard road. So I made some changes. I sold my pride and joy, the award winning 1969 Deluxe Earlybay I’d owned for about 15 years. The keeper. That wasn’t. I started Gather Outdoors with the cash I made and a few of guiding principles: Be Social, Be Mindful, Be Bold.
As I waved goodbye to my beloved Earlybay, I knew it was the right time. Watching it drive away I realised the rasping Vintage Speed exhaust sounded just as noisy on the outside as it always had from the cab, much to my wife and kid’s annoyance. The truth was that the van no longer fitted with my young family. Despite overhauling the entire running gear with a 1776, freeway flier, disc brakes, dropped spindles and the rest, we never quite had total confidence in it following several catastrophic engine deaths. Eventually I realised that I was sitting on a massive asset that could still help me live the dream, only the dream was a bit different now.
So I sold my pride and joy: the keeper, that wasn’t. I started Gather Outdoors with the cash I made and a few of guiding principles: Be Social, Be Mindful, Be Bold.
Gather is still in it’s infancy. I’m testing how to make a dent in the outdoor scene and inject some of the vibrancy from the surf, skate and VW scenes, but it’s going well. The only feedback I get is that folk love it, especially the sharing. That’s probably because sharing has a value way beyond just saving cash. It can create better friendships, which is why we offer stuff like Coleman Shelters via Crew Buy. They are perfect for sharing with your mates at a festival so you can hang out between tents or vans without getting sunburnt. Or your pitch turning into a mudbath more likely! Crew Buy makes it easy to buy together, without one person having to cough all the cost up front.
In 2016 we’ll push our social principles to the next level and help folk share outdoor kit they already own. Airbnb for actual airbeds! Or surfboards, snowboards, tents, bikes, canoes… We’re currently asking folk to tell us what kit they have lurking in their sheds lofts outhouses and garages by taking our #SLOGChallenge, posting pictuers on instagram and uploading info to our website. The ultimate aim is to help people make money from stuff they already own, and of course to help more people enjoy the outdoors.
We’re also looking at how we can help folk buy woodlands together, following a request from the community. We think this is a top idea. Who hasn’t seen those ‘Woodlands for sale’ signs and thought “I could do a bit of that.” But of course you dont because it’s massively expensive. But what about it you got a Crew together and shared it? Exciting huh? New possibilities in the outdoors are totally our thing.
So we find social ways for folk to make or save money. We figure that allows a bit more disposable income so folk can buy better too. Better kit lasts longer and is a major way we can move away from uncaring consumption. For us that’s a big thing, not because we get to sell more expensive gear. Actually we make much less on stuff that’s better made, and folk are less likely to buy a replacement from us. But that’s all good. Gather isn’t about short term money making. It’s a community of folk who get a helping hand to enjoy the outdoors.
To give that community a boost we are planning popup events which will help kick off Gather Chapters in towns and cities across the country. We’ll be pushing past virtual connections and making them real by bringing folk together for some camping, kayaking, slacklining, fire lighting, campfire cooking, forestry and all that outdoor jazz. Proper microadventures to enjoy with interesting folk like you. That’s why we promise better friendships and memories, not just great products at great prices.