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Adventure Publications is renowned for its nature-themed products. Perhaps best known for its field guides to birds, mammals, trees, wildflowers, rocks, fish, and other topics of interest, the publishing imprint also specializes in travel guides, regional histories, cookbooks, children’s books, and more. Adventure features a unique product line—including books, playing cards, puzzles, journals, and pocket guides—built around astonishingly beautiful photography and informative yet accessible text. These products are sold everywhere from gift shops in national parks and museums to traditional bookstores.

The secret to Adventure’s success lies within its unique and charming history. In 1988, the company was owned by a small group called Nordell Graphics in Staples, Minnesota. Gordon Slabaugh, a commission sales representative for book publishers since the late 1960s, took a special interest in a few of Adventure’s Scandinavian titles. He and his wife, Gerri, purchased the name, logo, and about a dozen titles from Nordell.

The operation moved to the Slabaughs’ garage outside Cambridge, Minnesota. There, Gordon began billing and shipping inventory, after his regular workday. The company grew so much in two years that Gerri, a former special education administrator for a three-county area, joined the company full-time in 1990, becoming essential to the management of the business.

Gordon’s approach to publishing was based on his extensive sales experience: simply stated, “I know what I can sell.” Gordon was a champion of small accounts, and he cultivated them as carefully as he did major accounts. He also loved to pursue alternative markets for books. Adventure began attending the Upper Midwest Gift Association Show, while other publishers only attended book trade shows. This created a diversified account base, which remains an important strategy for the company to this day.

That strategy yielded immediate results, and the Slabaughs saw their company grow almost too quickly to manage. More books meant a need for more staff, and both required the Slabaughs to find more room. The business moved to a pole shed. When that filled up, a new addition was built. After that, a semi trailer was brought onsite to serve as a warehouse. When that space wasn’t enough, many books were moved to offsite storage facilities and even to employees’ homes.

Business at the Slabaughs’ was anything but ordinary. Staff members dealt with everything from acorns falling into customers’ boxes and a roaming emu that stole people’s belongings to fighting a backwoods fire—not to mention the daily ordeal of carting books up a hill to get them loaded onto the shipping trucks.

In 1998, Adventure vaulted into the bird-watching market with its first field guide: Birds of Minnesota. The top-selling book went into multiple reprints within a couple of years. This success was repeated with Birds of Wisconsin, Birds of Michigan, and many others. It became readily apparent that the format for these field guides met a market demand. Consumers wanted to

  1. look up a bird by its color, not by a name they didn’t know
  2. see full-color photos, not illustrations
  3. browse through birds found in their state, not pages of birds they’d never see
  4. learn interesting facts but not the entire natural history of a bird

By 2001, the company’s continued success was apparent. Gordon and Gerri moved Adventure Publications into Cambridge, to a new building designed specifically for the business. Not surprisingly, they outgrew even that space within six years. To maintain enough room for more than 20 employees and hundreds of titles, they added a large warehouse to the back of their building.

In 2015, AdventureKEEN (a dedicated group of 35 employees based around the country) acquired the publishing house from Gordon and Gerri. Most of Adventure’s staff stayed on, happily sharing tales of the imprint’s colorful past. Adventure Publications remains a vibrant resource for readers who are curious about nature’s countless wonders.