By Chris Meehan | Jun 17, 2017
Grand Junction, Colorado
Backpacks, tents, and wood stoves
Grand Junction, Colorado
Industry: Lifestyle & Consumer
Products: Backpacks, tents, and camping stoves
"We started it because we weren't happy with the outdoor backpacking and hunting gear available at the time," Kevin explains. "It really started as Angie and I backpacking with our kids, and realizing that we carried a lot of weight for shelter with the children and didn't have a whole lot of space. So we started messing around on our own."
The pursuit soon evolved into manufacturing with Seek Outside. Since the launch in 2010, the company has branched out into lightweight but sturdy camping and hunting backpacks, and stoves for camping that can be used inside tents.
Kevin says Seek Outside doesn't have too much competition for high-end hunting backpacks. "There are probably four to six other other manufacturers that build truly capable, high-end hunting backpacks," he says. "Just because a pack's made out of camo doesn't mean it's a good, high-quality pack. That isn't meant to criticize the rest, but there are only a handful that are truly, truly good long-term packs meant for spending a week or two weeks that you're carrying your livelihood on your back."
Kevin offers the story of hunters outfitted with Seek Outside packs. "They had a lot of grizzlies around their camp and had a couple of elk down on an island somewhere around Kodiak and they decided they needed to pick up and move and get going. They did 150- or 160-pound loads to get everything to a safer spot."
The company's Western Slope location has provided a baseline workforce for the company. "Marmot used be based in Grand Junction so there are quite a few seamstresses that knew how to sew outdoor gear very well," Kevin says. "We do almost all manufacturing in-house. We might outsource a few things to other U.S. manufacturers at certain times, but we do all the manufacturing of our sewn goods near Grand Junction, or almost all of it." The company maintains stock on most everything and expects to be able to fulfill orders more quickly in the future.
The company is largely self-funded. "We have relatively good relationships with suppliers and our bank if we desire capital, but we try to stay as self-funded and are growing as organically as possible," says Kevin.
Like many small manufacturers, particularly those in the outdoor and recreation industries, he says the company does mostly direct-to-consumer business. "We do probably 96 percent direct-to-consumer and about 4 percent retail."
Growth has been largely based on word of mouth. "We did a survey a few months ago about our sales and it was really surprising how much was simply word of mouth instead of mass media," Kevin says. "There are a few things that we're heavily involved in because we're passionate. One is public land conservation issues. That ends up helping."
Seek Outside does advertise, however. "We serve both recreation and hunting verticals and expeditions and rafting and all that stuff in between. On the hunting verticals we get relatively good exposure," Kevin explains. "The recreational ones, like Backpacker, they don't have as much competition in the magazine format and they cater to bigger companies that are commonly available at REI and stuff like that."
As the company's reputation has soared, so have its sales. Its sales are consistent throughout most of the year. "Our only challenging times are in the window from Thanksgiving to New Year's," says Kevin.
When the company launched, the U.S. was just beginning to recover from the deepest part of the Great Recession, says Kevin. "We came to the conclusion that there is no absolute perfect time to launch a business, and if we could launch a business in the recession and navigate our way through that, then we'd be stronger."
Challenges: "The size of our current place and managing growth," Kevin says. "With growth comes more structure, but [it's key] being very lean and fast, having that built into your structure."
Opportunities: A focus on quality, says Kevin. "I think we can still grow pretty well by manufacturing and designing really compelling high-performance, lightweight products. I think we can open up into a few more retail channels, once we've solidified things a bit more."
Needs: "As far as needs, our place of business is getting a little small," says Kevin. "It's a bit of a challenge, we've had a tendency to outgrow our spaces before our leases are up."