by Chris Meehan
Employees: 7 (plus 7 contract sewers)
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Camping equipment
Brandon Waddy says camping hammocks are increasingly popular alternatives to tents thanks to comfort and compactness.
After graduating from college with a "less than ideal degree" in environmental studies, Waddy had an epiphany. "I came to the realization that if I was going to have a good job, I was going to have to create one myself," he says. "I was into hammocks at the time and it seemed like a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a fledgling industry while it was still small, so I gave it a shot."
Waddy's been building the business ever since. In the process, he's patented technology and designs incorporated into the company's hammocks and other products. Warbonnet's Blackbird hammock, which has a utility patent for its unique storage shelf, also received Editor's Choice awards from Outdoor Gear Lab and other publications.
Camping hammocks are used by an increasing number of backpackers, hunters, Boy Scouts, motorcycle and bicycle tourists -- or "anyone in the market for a lightweight tent," Waddy contends. The cushioned suspension system can be bolstered with a sleeping pad in a built-in sleeve, he notes, and campers can self-level in a hammock, whereas tent campers have to find a suitably flat surface. Since most camping hammocks don't need poles, they're also lighter, more compact and easier to pack than a traditional tent.
When he launched the company during the Great Recession he was able to use credit cards to finance its growth. "Back then you could get credit cards with no interest for 12 to 18 months. I just got a bunch of those ran them up," Waddy explains. "The 12 months would come around, I'd pay off what I could and roll the rest into another no-interest-rate credit card. . . . I don't think I ended up paying any interest at all on that stuff. You can't get anything like that now financing-wise."
The company is primarily operating on a direct-to-consumer basis, according to Waddy. But its products are available in a few retailers in the U.S. and Europe.
While word of mouth, forums, and organic growth helped the company launch and is maintaining its growth, Warbonnet is "just getting our feet wet in advertising," Waddy says. The company has advertised in some niche publications magazine, and will advertise in Backpacker for the first time in September 2017. "You realize how big Backpacker is when you see the cost, but they have a huge audience," Waddy says.
While Warbonnet is first and foremost a camping hammock company, it's starting to branch out with other lightweight sleeping options. "We have a ground tarp called the GT. It's not meant to be used as a hammock," says, Waddy, noting that he's facing a more crowded market there.
As the company has grown, it's changed its manufacturing model slightly, which has allowed Warbonnet more flexibility in using its Evergreen shop. Explains Waddy: "We kind of ran out of space, so we took over the sewing area and most of our sewers are sewing from home now. It's still cramped but we make it work. We do everything in-house -- cutting fabric, assembly, quality control, everything else other than sewing."
Challenges: "There's a lot more direct competition in terms of hammock-camping manufacturers," says Waddy. "It seems every time I turn around there's a new startup coming out and a lot of them have good products and we have to step up our game to keep our market share."
Opportunities: "Trying to increase our market share and hang on as the recreational hammock industry or hammock camping is growing every year," Waddy explains. "We're trying to increase our production to handle greater demands."
Needs: Two things: space and sewers. "More space would be nice," says Waddy. "We committed to staying where we're at for at least a while. We did some remodeling and tore down some interior walls to open things up."
Finding good sewers has gotten increasingly difficult, he adds. "So many sewing jobs have been outsourced in the last few decades that it's kind of becoming a lost art. There are still sewers, but not as many and a lot aren't as skilled as you'd like them to be."