Nature Outfitters Owner Tim McMannis knows about blazing trails through unfamiliar territory, whether it’s on a wilderness hike or in a business venture.

When McMannis first earned a degree in natural resources from Wilmington College, he had firm plans to become a naturalist or park ranger. Soon, however, he found himself drawn to the recreational side of nature and took a part-time job as manager of Wilderness Trace Outfitters.
The thought to open his own business evolved over time, McMannis says. When Wilderness Trace Outfitters closed in 1988, McMannis became inspired. At only 30 years old, with almost no collateral and no formal business education, he found it impossible to get a bank loan. McMannis perservered, maxing out his credit cards for the down payment on the store. In 1989, “with two or three tents and a couple kayaks in the door,” Nature Outfitters was born.The retailer “began very humbly and survived on a shoestring,” McMannis remembers.
The humble Milford retailer has grown a great deal since then, especially in the 1990s. Some of this success was due to Bernie Steinkamp, who McMannis met in 1994. Steinkamp bought a 30 percent share in the business and brought a dedication to customer service and hard work along with him. Shortly after the partnership began, the store moved to the highly visible 106 Main St. in Milford. This location allowed Nature Outfitters to gain a local and regional reputation. In 1998, McMannis moved again, this time to 211 Garfield Ave., which tripled the store’s square footage.

The company currently brings in about $500,000 in annual revenue. With a location so close to the Little Miami River, kayaks and canoes are, no surprise, the biggest sellers.
McMannis prides himself on customer service, which he insists is the reason his store is able to stay competitive against large national chains. Nature Outfitters employees take the time to learn customers’ first names and about the trips they are planning. “This allows us to make sure they have the right fit and the right equipment for their trips,” explains McMannis.
Nature Outfitters is active in the Milford community as well. The store hosts a number of local events and slide shows given by people who have recently taken trips. “We’re going to have a few guys we sponsored to do the Appalachian Trail come in soon,” says McMannis. These events usually draw 20-30 visitors. Customers can participate in “demo days,” as well, where they have the opportunity to test the equipment, especially the canoes and kayaks.

McMannis’s advice to any “self-starter”? Read. “Read everything you can get your hands on about starting your own business.” More importantly, McMannis recommends some self-examination to make sure you will be self-motivated and an independent worker.
When it comes to his own self-examination, McMannis insists that he wouldn’t do anything differently. “It’s good to know you created a lifestyle of your own.”