Backpacking Store Ads

• 4.5X6″ TRIM SIZE

From 2014-2017, I worked at a prominent backpacking store in South Lake Tahoe called Lake of the Sky Outfitters. When it was busy, working at Lake of the Sky Outfitters was a blast. Our main focus was light-weight backpacking and, thanks to our location so close to the Pacific Crest Trail, we provided a lot of support service for Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hikers. This was exceptionally rewarding for me because I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail way back in 1999 and never had much of a chance to give back to the hiking community since I didn’t live on the east coast.

One of my duties while working at the store was to design a monthly advertisement that would appear in the Tahoe Mountain News. The owners of the backpacking shop were some of the nicest people to work for, but they were the first to admit that they had little to no skills in graphic design. One of the problems I faced with designing these ads, however, is something that most graphic designers have to deal with when bidding for contracts with small businesses — a non-existent marketing budget. Our store was no different. Making a go of it as a small business at Lake Tahoe is a daunting task. I always joke that this is where small businesses come to die. Yes, Lake Tahoe accommodates 3 million annual visitors each year, but it’s feast or famine up here. Essentially many small businesses need to capitalize on the three months of summer in order to carry them through the rest of the nine months of the year. This was the case with Lake of the Sky Outfitters particularly because for the first four winters they were in business, Lake Tahoe (as well as all of California) was in a drought meaning no snow = no winter = very little tourism.

As an employee working extremely part-time, I was given the chance to earn an additional two hours of pay each month for assembling the ad. Probably one of the best marketing deals they could’ve ever paid for! But it was fine with me because I respected the owners, knew the financial situation of the business, and got most of the planning done while I was actually working in the shop. I was sad to see the store permanently close at the end of January 2017, but endings are just beginnings to new adventures.

“In addition to performing design work for the company, it provided me a way to get my photographs published.”

A Streamlined Process

As I previously mentioned, I planned out the ad while working my normal shifts at the store and then I would complete the project at home. I would’ve tried to finish the ads in the store, but it’s poor customer service for the worker to be buried in their laptop while customers are trying to ask questions. Besides, it’s near impossible to perform any sort of detail work or editing while toggling back and forth between customers and the computer screen. You’re always bound to miss something.

Since I was so limited on time and pay for these monthly jobs, the first thing I did was create a design template with some appropriate fonts. Then, each month I’d write copy about a relevant aspect of our business in conjunction with the time of year the ad would print. I also would choose a background photo to accompany the text. In general I perform some minimal exposure correction to my photographs in Adobe Photoshop, and it was no different with this project. In fact, it was more imperative that I corrected the photos because they were going into a physical print product and needed some editing for that specific task. Newsprint is an unforgiving medium. Clear colors and striking contrast are a must in order to avoid producing muddy imagery. Once all of those elements were selected, I assembled the ads in Adobe Illustrator and saved the final copies for print as a hi-res .PDF (based on the publication’s specs). Pretty standard stuff, really.

In addition to performing design work for the company, it provided me a way to get my photographs published. A lot of people, including the owners (at first), didn’t realize the photos in their ads were mine. People assumed I just found stock photos for the ads. I always shy away from using stock anything if it’s in my power. Since Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains are so picturesque, there’s no point in using someone else’s work when I already have “stock” photos from all of my outdoor excursions.

Taking a selfie on my last day working at Lake of the Sky Outfitters (12/19/16). The store permanently closed its doors on January 31, 2016.

Comments (2)

  • Sheryl Ferguson . May 31, 2020 . Reply

    Hi Jared,
    I’ve been in Peter’s store – we’ve probably met. I’m also a (PCT) Trail Angel. Hope to meet you someday.

    • (Author) Jared Manninen . June 1, 2020 . Reply

      Cool. I’m sure we have crossed paths before then!

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