A Company That Provides Outdoor Games For Those Who Love To Get Out And Hike, Paddle, Climb, Camp, Ski, Bike, Hunt, And Fish
“We are outdoor people and when you start to have children, you want them to be able to experience that with you,” explains Dave Smrtka, co-owner and co-founder of Outside Inside Gifts. Outside Inside is a company, as it says on the website, that provides gifts “for those among us who love to get out and hike, paddle, climb, camp, ski, bike, hunt, and fish”.
Beyond the products it offers, the company’s goal is to provide games for the whole family. “When you start playing games, you are instant friends with others playing and it gives everyone something to connect with,” explains Smrtka. It is with this idea that the company continues to grow and the seed was planted in Smrtka’s own family. “My wife and I both worked in retail – we owned several outdoor stores,” he explains. When his three daughters started to get older, they both decided to get out of retail and get involved with things they love – the outdoors and their family. Originally making gifts, they transitioned more into mobile games – not for a smartphone, but games like checkers and backgammon to pick up and take outdoors. “We take timeless games and modify them to be lighter and more compact,” Smrtka says. Other examples of these games are mancala, table tennis, barrel toss, and more.
They realized they struck a nook and grew their products into three tiers of mobility. There are the Backpack games that are super mobile and fit in a bag. The Freestyle games are a little bigger, ideal for moderate to light camping/outdoor excursions. Last there are the Basecamp games, which are good for backyard family time or to keep in the RV. All products are made with “good materials and good quality as they have to withstand the constant abuse of the outdoors,” Smrtka says.
For product development, Smrtka and his wife use experiences, as well as their knowledge of the outdoors in personal and professional life. He gives the example of their backpack bocce ball product. “First we start with the idea. Anyone can play bocce ball and any number of people can play,” Smrtka explains, “which makes it an ideal product for us.” He says the problem is the weight for the balls, so they developed Backpack bocce at 1/16 of the original size. “The problem with this, though, is that the balls are so small that they bounce too much when they are thrown,” Smrtka states, “so we needed to find a material that would react similarly to full-size bocce.” They ended up using a special kind of rubber that works well and Backpack bocce has become one of their best selling products.
What makes their products special beyond their size is their adherence to the name of company – Outside Inside. “These games can be played outdoors in the middle of nowhere or in college dorms,” Smrtka explains. In fact, his daughters, who are all around college age are great supporters of their products and bring them to school with them and play with their friends. “Our 21 year old always uses the games at parties and events,” he says. With experiences like these, Smrtka and his wife are able to get real feedback from others and also adjust their marketing accordingly.
Though originally motivated by providing entertainment for children, the focus has never really been, “Just on children, but on the family.” As the years progress, they realized the market can be for families as well as college students who like to play games with their classmates. “Although we primarily appeal to the active market, we also have our products in college bookstores,” Smrtka says. Smrtka and his wife are based in Canada, but the focus of Outside Inside is the United States and their distribution center and warehouse is in Spokane, Washington. They also have retail stores in Japan and a select few in Europe. “In Japan there is more and more interest, as they like compact things there,” he explains.
The geographic region also plays a role in product popularity. “Obviously the north is colder, so there is a greater interest in indoor games and the south is warmer so traditionally outdoor games are popular,” Smrtka says. He also says the flatlands of the Midwest, for example, popularize the Basecamp games as the RV culture is really strong.
As the years go by, people are increasingly becoming dependent on digital technology. Even camping, an activity devoted to the outdoors, one observes many adults and children glued to phones and tablets. This is the present world. The challenge for families is to balance these digital tendencies with activities that provide time to connect and develop relationships. The outdoors provides opportunities for this to happen and Outside Inside Gifts provides compact, convenient means to achieve it.
A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan. He enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.
More on Outside Inside:
Outside Inside Gifts, a gift collection designed by outdoor enthusiasts for the hikers, paddlers and sportsmen of the world. Available at specialty outdoor and gift retailers all over the world.