When Woosah Outfitters owner Erica Lang yearns for inner peace, she does one of two things—either heads outside or creates art inspired by the outdoors.
All of the designs featured in her Grand Rapids, Michigan, outdoor-focused boutique—whether on a T-shirt, sticker, or bag—start with a woodcut designed and created by Lang. Her shop doubles as a fully-functioning printshop, so customers can watch her create her next design. Camping gear, lifestyle apparel, and travel accessories are all adorned with scenic landscapes—mountains, trees, and waves—or positive messages, such as “Take a Hike” or “Respect, Protect.”
“For me, art and the outdoors kind of imitate each other,” Lang said. “I take an experience I have outdoors and I translate it into art. But it’s more of the feeling I experienced.”
That’s why Lang decided to bring the outdoors to her current and prospective customers, and the greater community. Studies show that we are becoming an indoor species, spending more than 90 percent of our time inside. Take a look at what Lang has done to cultivate an outdoor meeting spot that has also spiked her shop's foot traffic.
A few namesake products
Building a community with coffee
Two and a half years after opening the store, Lang moved to a new space next to an open lot. “My real passion is community and bringing people together,” she said. That extra outdoor space allowed Lang to open Outside Coffee Co. right outside her front doors.
While out meeting clients in coffee shops, Lang always wished she was outside instead. So, when it came time to open her own coffee spot, without hesitation, she wanted it to be completely outdoors. In June 2017, Lang converted a 1956 camper into a little coffee stand and parked it near trees, hammocks, and a covered community table with outlets.
“It’s really approachable for anyone,” Lang said. “You can come solo, bring your dog, bring your kids. It feels like something you can do to escape your routine. It’s a spot to get inspired by nature.”
It wasn’t an easy task to open the second business, with many 15-hour days to get things up and running. Technically, the coffee shop is considered a food truck, and the first one to operate permanently on a commercial lot in Grand Rapids. Lang applied for a special land use permit and then a food truck permit. She waited six weeks for the go-ahead.
“Once we opened Outside Coffee Co., it was clear that we underestimated how busy it would be,” Lang said. “That first week was absolute chaos behind the scenes—runs to Costco for more milk, buying an extra fridge to store it all, a freezer, and loads of ice.”
But now they’ve got plenty of storage and things are running smoothly.
Lang’s advice to other outdoor stores that want to do something similar is to keep an open mind and be patient with the process. She suggests allowing for ample time with the city to get the proper permits.
The business owner attributes much of her success to teaming up with a helpful, knowledgeable company for the venture. Lang partnered with local roaster Ferris Coffee to bring a full coffee menu with innovative options, including a honey lavender latte and a banana flavored drink, along with kombucha, nitro, and cold brew coffee.
How do you make an outdoor shop feel cozy, luxurious and a bit more like home? Offer a refreshing beer, warm food, or steaming cup of Joe. Outdoor retailers are catching on.
A peaceful—and successful—place
Coffee was just the catalyst for getting people together and excited about the outdoors. Lang recently hosted a "Stoked to Vote" event, where people registered to vote. Woosah also arranged an educational composting event and has organized a group that encourages kids to express themselves through poetry.
Outdoor stores can have a high-energy atmosphere with adventurous, intense people pumped about their next breathtaking excursion. Lang has done the opposite, creating a store and products that invoke calmness and inner peace. The store’s name itself, Woosah, is a meditative word that is meant to relax when said aloud.
Among Lang's designs, customers can peruse leather goods, books, hats, tools, and other pocket-sized products. For example, Juniper Ridge's incense and candles are made with scents extracted from tree trimmings, wildflowers, moss, and more.
“When folks walk in our door, they say it's so peaceful, so they can clearly feel the 'Woosah,'” Lang said. Her advice to storeowners looking to make their store more chill is to emit a calm energy while in the space.
“Keep conversation casual and genuine," she said. "Make sure you're open and friendly to every person that comes in...Retail is an experience, not just a means to an end. You can't fake authenticity, and people sense that. Be real, be you, be stoked."