By Chris Meehan | May 13, 2014
Headquarters: Montrose, CO
Ownership: Privately owned, LLC
Employees: about 30 employees
“Genghis Khan conquered the entire known world in a yurt at about 1100 AD,” says Colorado Yurt Co-Founder Dan Kigar.
When yurts started to conquer the U.S. in the 1960s they were largely introduced by the counterculture, which was revolting against violence. Dan and his wife and co-founder Emma, jumped on the wagon train when they founded the company in 1976 as a “what was then a typical mail-order company,” he says. “Sometimes we’d get a check in the mail and no phone call.” They’ve been building, redesigning and redefining yurts, teepees and tents ever since.
“We make engineered Yurts,” Kigar says. “The yurt is a traditional nomadic structure of the Asian plateau. The Mongolians and a lot of the tribal people have used yurts for centuries,” he explains. Since being introduced in the U.S. they’ve been drastically modernized with state-of-the art polymer fabrics, Kigar says. “We have a yurt that will handle up to 150 pounds per square foot that we market to ski areas and high-altitude situations and even high wind situations.” They can handle winds of up to 140 miles an hour.
The modern yurt, while still a relatively mobile structure—it can be set up in about two days—also includes insulation, a wooden lattice frame around which the fabrics are wrapped, windows—all the other features people value in a home. “We can insulate a yurt to R40,” Kigar says. “Anything you can do in a home you can do in a yurt, wire it, plumb it.” They can be divided into kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, lofts and more.
Colorado Yurt’s yurts start at 200 square feet and go up to 700 square feet. The prices start at about $7,000 for a basic, small yurt and go up to about $30,000 for a yurt with a snow deck and other additional features, Kigar says. Owners can also combine yurts together with a water-tight seal to make a yurt colony.
While the yurts are designed as movable shelter, some customers use them as a permanent structure. They’re resilient. “The first yurts we made almost 40 years ago are still around, they’ve been re-skinnned so to speak with a new membrane,” Kigar explains.
The company, which Kigar values at about $5 million, manufactures in Montrose, using mostly domestic materials—although the cotton fabrics it uses come from outside the U.S. It installs about a tenth of the yurts, tents and teepees it makes. These include some pretty amazing projects. For instance, Colorado Yurt installed 24 yurts in the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées. “Each yurt was its own theater, soundproofed, with a continuous video,” Kigar explains. Each yurt showed a different documentary by Yann Artus-Betrand, who documented 1,200 life stories from people across the world for the project.
A more recent example was a yurt the company installed for University of Utah on remote land near the Delores River. “It was 45 minutes on a dirt road,” he says. One of the challenges there, according to Kigar, was leaving the surrounding land unblemished.
About half of Colorado Yurt’s clients are institutional, from as far away as Australia. Among Colorado Yurt’s institutional clients are Colorado State Parks, Canada’s provincial parks (which has about 70 of them already), and the Cochella music festival (for which the company built more than 300 tents and teepees) and a host of others.
Challenges: Finding recyclable and environmentally friendly fabrics – and workforce. “We’re always looking for more talent; we’re involved in Montrose with the education system training people,” Kigar adds.
Opportunities: “We see a lot of opportunities for expansion with popularity of the yurts and the new uses for them in ecotravel around the world,” Kigar says. He mentions they’re also popular for yoga studios and “glamping” – glamor, or luxury camping.
Needs: More space and more capital to expand. “We’re looking for designers and engineers to expand our product line,” Kigar explains.