By Chris Meehan | Nov 03, 2020
"Jack Kirkham Sr. bought AAA Tent & Awning Company, a little sew shop in Salt Lake City, in the '40s," says Measom. "As camping got popular, basically in '61, he invented the Springbar tent and that became their flagship product. They really grew into a big outdoor shop that did all kinds of stuff during the golden age of outdoor retail shops."
"The retail side of that business really struggled over the last 20 years with the rise of e-commerce, and just like every specialty mom-and-pop shop out there. But the manufacturing always stayed pretty strong and that was kind of their special thing."
However, the company was never able to keep up with demand for the tents. Measom explains that people would go to the store to buy a tent and be told it could take months before they could get it. "That didn't work for a lot of customers, obviously, and it kind of opened the door for some copycat competitor products out there."
Measom and his company, Dwell Outdoors, began working with Jack Kirkham Jr., son of the company's founder, in 2015 to develop the Highline tents built overseas to complement its U.S.-made glamping tents. In 2019, Dwell acquired business from Kirkham, who remains its tent designer.
Following the acquisition, the company moved to a new facility with a larger warehouse. "We're just set up to do direct-to-consumer business and do our own fulfillment," Measom says. "We've kind of eliminated that retail store component. We do have a small retail shop here that's attached to the factory where people can come and see how we make a tent."
They also launched a line called the Classic Jack series, which includes a setup that allows the tent to include an indoor stove to keep it warm and cook on. The overseas models are made in China and less expensive than their U.S.-made counterparts. Measom says the main goal is to make sure the company has more tents available at all times.
At the same time, "I've just really been working hard to breathe life into that U.S.-made line and tell that story over the last couple of years," Measom says. "Obviously, it costs more to make something here in the States and we really go to pains to pull out all the stops on the U.S. product."
The Springbar is "for a customer who wants a special, U.S.-made, traditional craft product," he continues. "Almost every component is sourced from a U.S. manufacturer. The poles are machined here by a local company that does a really nice job, and the canvas is finished in Georgia with a proprietary treatment, and they just have a really special kind of handmade look and feel the way we make the tents here."
Measom says he envisioned 2020 would be a good year for the company under the new management. "We were expecting to have a lot of demand and see a good response just from a ton of effort into telling the Springbar story, a new website -- new everything. It was just a big rebranding effort and we were excited to really see spring 2020. It would have been the first real camp season where all that would have been out there," Measom explains. "When the COVID thing hit, nobody really knew what it was going to do."
The company kept people out of the cut-and-sew operation during the early outbreak, and pivoted to making medical gowns for the state with people working from home. "As soon as we got back in demand for tents just kind of went through the roof," Measom says. As of mid-October, the company was sold out of all tents, domestic and manufactured overseas.
Springbar usually releases its U.S.-made tents in batches of about 20, according to Measom. The international orders come in batches of several hundred at a time. Interested buyers can sign up to learn when the tents are in and they're sold on a first-come first-serve basis.
Measom is working to expand the brand's reach as well. "It really has been a regional brand in the Mountain West for most of its life. I grew up here in Utah and was in Boy Scouts, and we camped in Springbar tents," he says. "I kind of thought that that was a ubiquitous thing and everybody had Springbar tents."
He found that's not the case, which translates to potential. "We've talked to people from out of state and ask, 'Have you ever heard of a Springbar tent?' And they'd say no. So we kind of started to realize that it really was a local business and so we saw a great opportunity to take this great heritage product and share it with a bigger audience in the rest of the United States and then internationally, too."
Challenges: "How do you build a team of skilled craftspeople to make, to make a great tent right here in Salt Lake City. And how do you keep doing that?" Measom says. "Building that team and doing it at a cost-effective price."
Opportunities: "We just feel like we are at the tip of the iceberg of sharing this kind of product and story with a bigger audience," Measom notes. "As more people discover the tent . . . in terms of a great car-camping tent, there's just very little out there like a Springbar tent that really gives you that kind of glamping experience."
The road map for growing outside Utah includes an export strategy: Springbar has a wholesale distributor for international sales, and the tent is selling well in Japan and South Korea.
Adds Measom: "I hope, from what we're kind of seeing, there will be a bigger, longer-lasting trend to the outdoors where it's kind of a pronounced enough event that all these folks who are not going on cruises or to Disneyland and who are trying out camping or some of these outdoor activities . . . that hopefully that there will be more of a permanent shift."
Needs: A bigger space. "That's in the works," says Measom, "Whether it is for the warehouse or manufacturing, that is a problem we're working on right now."
"The other one is we always need talented sewers and craftspeople, because that's really the key to our production and growing that U.S.-made side of the business," he adds.