The media has called her the “Martha Stewart of Camping” and it is a title she proudly wears. Dawn Bitz, founder and majority owner of Grasshaven Outdoor is in business to bring sophistication, style and comfort into our time outdoors through stylish outdoor camping equipment, unique RV housewares and general outdoor fun products. Grasshaven Outdoor also strives to deliver a wealth of great ideas and outdoor recipes. Dawn got her inspiration when, as a busy corporate executive, she set out on a weekend family camping trip and found that she could not find the gear she needed for a family friendly adventure all in one spot. “There I was, situated in the middle of camping mecca, and what I realized was that REI has gear for the super technical (you want to climb in Nepal then REI is your spot), Cabela’s and Bass ProShops had gear for the avid sportsman (and were a little too ‘Duck Dynasty’ for me) and the other sporting goods stores, along with Walmart, had limited selections,” says Bitz. “I figured there had to be more people like me struggling to find outdoor gear with a little style and functionality.” This opened her eyes to $30B US camping and RV housewares marketspace and a growing $220B RV industry marketplace. In 2012, she quit her executive corporate job and less than a year later Grasshaven Outdoor was born.
“The very first thing I did was come to the SBDC for resources to build my ecommerce site. I got great advice and help. Not only did I get my SEO and website questions answered but I ended up hiring an SBDC consultant to build my website and ecommerce platform,” says Dawn. “I also attended the day long Colorado Emerging Ventures event and was able to network with a lot of other people who were in the same stage and place with their business. It was very motivating and helped push me forward,” says Dawn.
For the first six months, she focused on doing extensive industry and market research across the country to understand her target market, the importance of brand to her target, tested company names and different market strategies. She developed her business plan, hired help, and on January 9, 2013, www.grasshavenoutdoor.com was officially launched. The company’s commercial debut was at the Denver Colorado RV and Camping show. “Grasshaven Outdoor was the only company at the show, (and in the nation) that focused on stylish RV housewares and we were inundated,” Dawn recounts. With her e-commerce and information website launched, they continued to attend and participate in other RV and Camping shows across the country testing their concept and they listened intently to their customers. The company network of suppliers, inventory and revenues grew. “I knew I was on to something when 10 weeks post commercial launch, I had the first acquisition offer,” says Bitz. “That just spurred me forward.”
By May 2013, Grasshaven Outdoor had been featured in several national publications including Sunset magazine and the first alliance opportunity with RVC Outdoor Resorts presented itself. Grasshaven Outdoor opened a retail outlet in the RVC Garden of the Gods campground in Colorado Springs. By the end of their first year in business they were collaborating with Winnebago outfitting campers for the big trade shows and helping Transwest with their big grand opening. Grasshaven Outdoor received endorsement by Grand Designs RV, developed an affiliate marketing program with AmeriGO RV, made over 25 appearances on TV programs around the country. They opened a retail store in Gunbarrel, CO, and began selling product through a network of RV and camper dealers in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma with on-site retail kiosks and camping ready kits. They increased their revenues by 120% over 2013.
Dawn’s advice for other business owners is to not dwell on mistakes, failures or money wasted on some marketing investment that didn’t pan out. “You are going to make a mistake or fail in some area and that is a lesson learned. You need to just move on. You will hit those dips but you will be better on the other side.” She advises fellow business owners to be flexible and agile. “We planted a lot of seeds in the beginning, watched them and reacted quickly to those that grew,” Dawn says. “We went for a strictly ecommerce play but now that is now a lessor, though very important side of our businesses plan.” When asked where she sees the company in five years she replied, “We want to continue to make the customer experience #1, to make Grasshaven Outdoor a company that is a great place to work and to give back. We’ve committed a share of our profits to getting kids unplugged and into the outdoors.” Grasshaven Outdoor will no doubt do this “in great style!”