by Stefan Archuticz
Your friendly neighbourhood journalist covering local news, business reviews and opinions!
Barefoot Bushcraft is an outdoor education business specializing in archery, axe throwing and children's camps. It operates year-round. In the winter months when the snow falls, there are cross country ski programs and dog sled programs.
Wolf Starchild, the owner, started Barefoot Bushcraft in 2012. Wolf has a formal education in teaching. During his schooling, he took an outdoor education course and fell in love with it. He started working in the outdoor industry running children's camps (YMCA and leadership camps). At the time he graduated, there weren't many teaching jobs available. Since outdoor education was his true passion, he decided to dive into business with it. Archery was popular at the time so he started with that in his own backyard.
The toughest thing Wolf went through when he first opened was finding the appropriate space for his business. Outdoor education is a unique business and requires a unique space. In his early years, he was at the mercy of landlords and had to move several times while developing his operation. Then, a couple years in, he decided to attempt a brand name change and the experiment failed. The name Barefoot Bushcraft had become so well known in the Niagara region and beyond, due to Wolf's unique YouTube content creation. Wolf learned that brand recognition is important and when you have a name that's been established for many years and try to change it, it hurts -- a lot.
Another challenge Wolf faces on a regular basis is the seasonality of his business. He operates year-round, but each winter presents a unique situation with the amount of snowfall. When it doesn't snow, it's tough for business. The challenge is to stay motivated during the downtimes and keep innovating. Keep finding new ways to generate income. Wolf's most recent new idea is launching a fry truck this spring and summer season. With a fry truck on-site at his location, he'll be able to offer his guests delicious hand-cut fries and cold beverages while they enjoy their archery or axe throwing lessons.
If Wolf had to start over today, he would put a greater focus on finding his own permanent space as early as possible. The stress of the moves and not having a space to do business made things tough in the beginning. For example, he'd find a suitable space, make an agreement with the landlord to use the space for a year, and then out of nowhere the landlord would renege on the agreement and sell the property out from under him, resulting in eviction from the space he was using for his livelihood. Greater permanence is what he would have liked to achieve.
Wolf also recommends finding a mentor that operates in the business niche you want to start in. He advises to try and befriend an expert in your field because it will help you immensely. Wolf had such a mentor and he considered it a priceless resource. The attitude his mentor had was critical. The mentor believed that if he could turn his student into "competition" then the mentor had done his job.
The main thing Wolf enjoys about running his own business is the fact that every day is different and presents a unique challenge. He thrives on this type of working life. In his words, each day is a blessing and a curse. It's appealing that every day is different and there is a significant amount of variety, but the negative aspect is what happens if no customers show up. What happens if he gets no bookings? It's a very real danger that drives him to work hard every day.
The number one way Wolf brings in new customers is via advertising on Groupon and WagJag. This type of marketing is a good fit for his training business. Groupon creates new customers, who have an excellent experience at Barefoot Bushcraft and typically return again at a later date with friends and family to experience it for the first time. Wolf is also active on social media, specifically YouTube. He puts out quality videos that took years to master and are now paying off in brand awareness and authority on his craft. However, he does advise that one should be prepared to face the harsh reality of negative comments on YouTube. Wolf experiences many negative comments but he does not let that bother him or slow him down.
To the question, "If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates, " Wolf answers, "I hope God would say that my dogs are waiting for me on the other side." There are a couple of places you can learn archery and axe throwing these days, but there is truly only one Wolf Starchild, a master at his craft. Learning from him is a unique and memorable experience.