The outdoors is calling Aaron Matkowski and Keri Franklin.
The husband and wife last year stumbled onto their growing niche business, Artemis Overland Hardware, when they couldn’t find the right accessories for an outdoor adventure with their kids.
It turns out, the right product was a rooftop tent, which now makes up 50% of their company’s sales. Artemis Overland Hardware, which opened in March 2018, is a retail shop designed to equip people with the tools they need for an outdoor adventure. They call it overlanding.
The term refers to vehicle-supported, self-reliant travel to remote destinations where the primary goal is the journey, according to the Overland Journal, a niche magazine centered on the activity.
Traditionally, overlanding is associated with safaris in Africa or off-the-grid expeditions in Australia. People who overland typically drive off-roading or four-wheel drive vehicles, Matkowski says. They’ll also for a night under the stars and sleeping atop their car versus a campsite, he says.
“This isn’t like regular camping at a campground,” Matkowski says. “A lot of people go to a national forest and find their own campsite.”
For the vehicle-supported trips, Artemis Overland Hardware also sells small refrigerators that run off a car’s battery and accessories, including tables and chairs, cooking utensils, solar panels, suspension for off-roading vehicles, axes and survival tools.
“You want to be prepared for obstacles,” Matkowski says, pointing to products that provide tire traction when a vehicle gets stuck in sand, mud or snow. “You don’t want anything to stop you. You want to go on your journey and see things.”
Artemis Overland Hardware started as an e-commerce company, and Matkowski says he didn’t make a sale for nine months. His first client was from Australia, and it’s not uncommon for him to hear from international buyers.
The company generated $4,000 in its first year, but in 2019, Matkowski says sales are on pace to reach a $400,000 revenue goal. Matkowski credits the jump in revenue to connecting with clientele through social media groups and a growing interest in the activity.
The store carries over 40 brands from 25 suppliers. The main product, rooftop tents, range from $800 to $4,000. The car battery-powered refrigerators, priced at $650-$1,700, generate 25% of sales. The remainder comes from accessories.
Big fish, small pond
Since the first sale in November 2018, Matkowski says Artemis Overland Hardware has built a national presence in the overlanding industry.
“I have people call me from all over the United States because, in the Midwest, I’m the only person who has these tents on display. If they’re getting ready to drop $1,500 to $4,000 on a tent, they want to see it first,” he says.
Artemis Overland Hardware moved in August from its first retail space on Olive Street to 616 W. Tampa St., where the lease is month to month with landlord Joe Costello Co. The 1,500-square-foot showroom is filled with overlanding equipment and several brands of rooftop tents, like iKamper and 23Zero. The showroom at any given time is filled with $30,000 of product, Matkowski says.
Franklin, who also works as director of assessment at Missouri State University, says most customers aren’t from Missouri. She remembers a day in July when customers came in from Indiana, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas and Michigan.
“Being on I-44 and near Route 66, people are on their way to Colorado and back and forth,” she says. “This is a natural place for people to stop and come in.”
Local clientele are typically venturing down to Arkansas – an up-and-coming place for overlanding in the Midwest, he says.
A sense of community
The budding industry is beginning to spread.
Matkowski says he’s seen it while attending the annual Overland Expo conventions in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Arlington, Virginia.
Jessica Kirchner, communications director for Overland Expo, says the 10-year-old event has grown steadily, and in May, the Arizona-based event recorded 22,000 attendees – a 30% increase from 2018. She says they’re anticipating a crowd between 10,000 and 15,000 at the October expo in Virginia.
“It’s hot, hot, hot. There’s a ton of interest,” Kirchner says. “Overlanding is also becoming a little more mainstream.”
Kirchner says attendees range from millennials who have quit their corporate jobs to live out of their cars to retirees seeking adventure.
Overlanding also is booming because more employers are allowing employees to work off-site, according to an article by Trucks.com, a news site covering the trucking industry.
Franklin and Matkowski say they first found the overlanding community through social media. Overlanders from all over the world are connected through Facebook groups and by following Instagram accounts, Franklin says.
Now, Artemis Overland Hardware hosts events to meet with local overlanders face to face.
Matkowski says over 100 people typically come to the events. A lot like a car show, he says the attendees park their off-roading vehicles and display their overlanding equipment.
“We really appreciate the local people who come to events,” Franklin says. “We were in it to make friends, and I think we’ve done that.”