There are a lot of great reasons to start a business. Working wherever you’d like, making more time for fitness, spending more time with family, and working on something you’re truly passionate about all come to mind as enviable examples.
For Carl and Kathryn Martens, the married founders of Aventuron, a business that sells bikes, camping, and overlanding gear, their reason for building a business boiled down to “all of the above."
They run Aventuron from wherever they find themselves, which might be out on the trails one day, and on-site scouting new equipment the next.
That’s how they ended up chatting with us about mountain biking, their journey from hobby to full-time business, and the power of selling on eBay all from the comfort of a laptop in the cab of their truck. Carl and Kathryn were at an outdoor gear show, and taking a call while on the road is exactly what they’ve designed their business for. Jumping on a video call was just as smooth as if they’d been sitting at a desk somewhere.
“It was a hobby”: Moving from full-time jobs to a full-time business
Getting into the outdoor-gear market wasn’t an overnight process for Carl, who ran a review site covering mountain bikes for years before he and Kathryn ever considered selling bikes themselves.
“Honestly, it was a hobby,” says Kathryn about how this all got started. “Carl had a full-time sales job, and I was still in school, taking online classes and working full-time. Carl was looking for something more fulfilling than the office hustle and grind for us both.”
And crucially, Carl adds with a grin, “Something that allowed me to grow out a beard.”
Luckily, Carl’s long-standing interest and involvement in the biking community provided the perfect opportunity, but it took time.
“I've always liked boutique brands,” says Carl of his taste in bike gear and equipment. “There's a lot of things that you can buy, but it's always neat when you have something other people don't have. Whether it's the same price or more, it's just cool to be unique.”
“So years ago when I reviewed gear, I reviewed a Singular Swift bike from the U.K. I responded to a guy out in Colorado who was selling one, but he also had a Stooge bike available. I was like, "Well I've had a Swift before, I'm gonna get the Stooge now."”
After trying and loving the Stooge bike, and sharing his candid thoughts on it far and wide, Carl’s mother and father bought one each, as did Kathryn and a few of their friends. Sensing an opportunity, they worked with Andrew Stevenson, the owner of Stooge for about a year, but it wasn’t the right fit for a distributorship at the time.
Now that the seed of becoming distributors was planted, they recognized the opportunity when they connected with Orange Bikes, and they jumped at the chance to become Orange’s US distributors. Kathryn and Carl were ready to make the leap—even though they didn’t quite have all the pieces in place.
“When we got the deal with Orange, we didn't even have a company name,” says Kathryn with a laugh. “I remember sitting in our office at our house being like, "What do we call it? We need to have something so we can get this started.””
“We were really stressing out over that,” Carl chimes in. “I eventually Googled something about putting two words together and it was "adventure" and "on”.”
“That's kind of where our name came from,” says Kathryn. “Take your adventure on to wherever that may be, whether it's biking or camping or exploring.”
And as they continued to share their story from the front seat of their truck, dialling in to our meeting by phone and WiFi, that’s exactly what they’ve managed to build at Aventuron: a business that lets them take their adventure on to wherever they want to go.
Scaling the business intentionally, with a focus on service
Once they had a name, it was off to the races for the Aventuron team. It wasn’t long after they started selling that they noticed opportunities to expand.
“With Orange Bikes, you can only get them through us, so we were traveling all over the country and going to demo events,” says Kathryn. “We were trying to find good setups for ourselves for being out on these mountaintops, and that's what brought us into the camping-type stuff, instead of just biking, and we grew from there.”
But alongside noticing opportunities to expand their product offerings, both Kathryn and Carl were thinking long-term about the kind of business they wanted to build.
“I think the biggest thing for us was always to be an online company, but you've got the same service or better than if you walked into a physical shop,” says Carl.
Delivering on that promise is something they both cite as a priority, and they walk the talk—Carl even hopped onto live chat to help a customer during our call.
“Shopify really allows us to have a very professional looking site and link it to other sales channels,” says Carl once he’s handled the live chat. “Especially eBay, where we absolutely crushed it right around Thanksgiving up until March. And then, we went from being an online company out of our house to opening up a store this year, while still trying to travel and maintain the same level of customer service.”
If you’re wondering how a team of two, who only recently hired Carl’s father as their operations manager and first employee, manages to do all of this and deliver on their customer service goals, you’re not alone.
Refocusing on what matters: building relationships
Since making time for relationships was something that drove Carl and Kathryn to build Aventuron in the first place, it’s no surprise that building strong relationships with their customers has been a core part of their business strategy. That’s what makes eBay such a great sales channel for them.
“eBay cares about both sellers and buyers, which is how business should be,” shares Carl. “There’s always going to be people and businesses that, for lack of a better term, suck, but they're few and far between. I think the majority of people want to do right by others, and they want to do good and provide a great shopping experience. eBay allows us to do that: even though it's another platform, we can provide the same level of customer service that we do on our website.”
“eBay allows us to provide the same level of customer service that we do on our website.”
Carl and Kathryn are able to dedicate the amount of time and effort to customer service that they do in part because so much of listing process is handled for them.
“It's so easy to link products from Shopify onto eBay, where with other platforms it's a lot more work,” says Kathryn. “We just click one button and we're good to go. We know that people are shopping on eBay, so we know that we have to be present there, and eBay has been the easiest for us to add products to.”
It’s not just ease of use that drives Aventuron’s success with eBay. Their results using eBay, especially during the busy holiday shopping season, are underpinned by a solid strategy and clear communication with the brands they carry.
Kathryn and Carl don’t list every bike or every product on eBay. They use it in specific ways, featuring products that they might not be able to sell as easily elsewhere.
“We do get a number of returned products, and sometimes it’s just an opened box, or someone ordered the wrong size,” shares Carl. “There’s nothing wrong with the bike, but we need to sell it as-is. When we get returned product, we post it to Craigslist, we use Pinkbike which is specific to bikes, and Facebook Marketplace, too. But really, the best way for us to clear out product quickly has been through eBay and Shopify.”
What makes eBay such a potent sales channel, they note, is that so many people go to eBay intent on finding the right product, like a specific piece of gear, or a specific bike. Carl even remembers doing so himself, which is how he knew eBay would be a great way to build their audience and connect with people looking for their bikes.
Beyond that, listing products on eBay is also a helpful way to keep their pricing strategy in line with their goals.
“We're able to provide a few cheaper options for people who aren't wanting to buy full-price when we go through eBay,” says Kathryn. “It’s easier than doing it on our website, because we can post lower-priced items without having them side-by-side with the full-priced bikes.”
Building a business to build a life
Aventuron has given Carl and Kathryn the opportunity to experience growing a business from the ground up. The couple was quick to share that while each week brought its own unique twists and turns, the overall reason they built it has always been to build a life they love.
“I didn’t want to do the corporate grind anymore,” said Carl. “I wanted my life back. I wanted to have fun.”
Kathryn shared that they’ve intentionally built the business with a view to the future in mind. “We wanted a lifestyle where mom and dad can be working while the kids are running around at a campsite or by the lake, or biking, and it’s a healthy, active lifestyle for all of us.”
Their business has also been the root of new relationships and connections as well.
“Some of our best friends now are our customers,” says Carl. “We see them when we travel around the country, since we don't hide behind our table or at an office. We’re on the road talking to people or handling sales and we can do it all from a phone using Shopify’s mobile app.”
Whether they’re sharing stories about the friends they’ve made, or the injuries they’ve sustained on the mountain bike trails—a badge of honor in the sport—in talking to them one thing is made unmistakably clear. Kathryn and Carl both love running Aventuron and the life it’s helped them build, and they want to make sure other people know it’s possible for them, too.
“We never thought we'd be where we are, doing what we’re doing.”
“We were just talking about going against the mold,” Kathryn shares. “The mold of what we should be doing. We really want to show people that these things are possible: You can have a family-owned business, reach everyone, and still love what you're doing.”
“The way that Shopify is set up, you don't have to struggle because it's just so easy,” Carl jumps in. “You don't have to invest a lot of money, and anyone can do it. We were blessed, we had income before we started, but really anyone could do it. I almost want to start up another store selling something else. It's like, why not?”
Why not indeed.