From blog to store: Trailmix.Net all about kids’ adventure
Sara and Mike Barlow are one outdoorsy couple. They carved out their own trail to the fledgling store they opened in Old Sacramento, Trailmix.Net.
After falling in love in a small Idaho college town, they honeymooned in a remote cabin reached by water-taxi in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.
Both were into hiking and camping in the Pacific Northwest. But they actually had to relocate to San Francisco to get more hardcore.
"It wasn’t until we moved to California that we kind of went crazy with it," said Mike Barlow, 37. "We went though this shock of people congestion. So we would escape up into the Sierra. That was how we got our fix."
She took up backpacking with him and they both began rockclimbing. They were so into the outdoors that he started a blog, trailmix.net, to track their trips and collect information for future adventures. He worked as a quality assurance manager with biotech company Genentech. She worked as an accountant.
Then came the kids. Three, to be exact.
"We said, ‘We can’t exactly take the kids rock climbing,’ " Mike Barlow said.
They didn’t want to stop enjoying the outdoors. So they came up with adventures they could take with kids, and he began blogging about that. Trailmix.net developed quite a following among other parents. The Barlows slowly began adding kids’ outdoor recreation merchandise to the blog.
Their first product: a $12 family scavenger hunt designed for Yosemite National Park. Barlow freely admits the online business didn’t make a lot of money. They barely made enough to cover costs for a secure website. However, running the business had become a passion.
Outdoor merchandise for kids and parents began filling their living room, closets and every corner of their house.
"It took only a year before we were bursting at the seams," he said.
So last summer, they opened a store in the Mechanics Exchange, a building they fell in love with across from the California State Railroad Museum. The store, at 116B I St., carries products for adventurous kids and parents and educational toys focused on nature. The space is stocked with things like kids’ snowshoes and gaiters, insect catchers and bug bungalows, Audubon field guides and astronomical charts.
"Everything we loved to do before we had kids is now this store," said Sara Barlow, 33. "It’s all our activities, just toned down for kids."
Opening the store allowed them to add a greater range of items and to triple the merchandise, which is all in stock.
The couple schedules in-store activities including guest lectures from nature authors, musicians and artists. On Feb. 7, Trailmix.Net will host an event as part of the national Great Backyard Bird Count, which is taken each year. The Sacramento chapter of the National Audubon Society will teach a bird-counting course for kids and then lead people on a short walk to count birds in Old Sacramento.
On other days, children and their parents can sit down in the store’s workshop and build bat houses or start a rock collection. That’s a favorite space for their own kids: six-year-old Allison, 4-year-old Meghan and Noah, 2. Workshops are especially popular with stay-at-home moms and children’s playgroups, Mike Barlow said.
The store also offers prizes to anyone —kids or adults — who completes a free Old Sacramento scavenger hunt. Most prizes are plastic dinosaurs and wooden chips good for a River City Saloon sarsaparilla. But a ski lift ticket to Sugar Bowl is also buried inside the treasure chest with the other prizes.
Now the Barlows put their adventurous spirit into this entrepreneurial endeavor. They haven’t found another online business with the same combination: a publishing wing creating their own products, a retail store, an activity center for learning and a website.
Opening the brick-and-mortar store pushed Trailmix.Net to have its best online sales ever on this year’s Cyber Monday, just after Thanksgiving, he said.
That never could have happened if Sara Barlow had let her first encounter with a bear scare her out of the mountains. That was on their honeymoon, when they were hiking back from a waterfall.
Mike Barlow remembered with a laugh the way a black bear tailed them down a mountain trail after he’d promised her they wouldn’t see any bears the whole trip. The path was so steep that the bear was just about rolling down the mountain. They had to break into a light jog to stay ahead of the animal, he said.
"In her mind, it was like, ‘Why is it catching up to us?’ " he laughed. "I’m glad it didn’t scare her from wanting to continually find new places to explore. The encounter with that bear kind of set the bar for future adventures. Had that not happened, our thirst for adventures wouldn’t quite be what it is."
Photo of Allison, Meghan and Noah Barlow provided by their parents, Mike and Sara Barlow. Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.