Saturday, August 23, 2014
Location NaturalOutdoor Retailer’s winter market trade show attracts thousands of outdoor businesses to downtown Salt Lake City each year. More representatives from cities now are going to the show to try and to recruit small manufacturers. With Steamboat in the mix, how can Ski Town USA hold on to its outdoor retailers?
Steamboat Springs Phone calls from prospective retailers in other states and red and blue bumper stickers on strangers' cars are the signs that Peter Hall's stand-up paddleboard business is riding a big wave.
In three years, Steamboat's Hala Gear has evolved from a modest garage and van operation into a growing fixture of Steamboat Springs' elite group of outdoor manufacturers.
"When I started the company, my idea was this will be easy," Hall said outside of his new office building that is steps away from Charlie's Hole on the Yampa River. "I just make one or two products and I find people to buy them. And then I realized the scale ended to make a company successful. Nothing is as easy as it looks."
When the business started, Hall had just two inflatable paddleboard designs and kept the inventory in his garage.
Today, he sells seven models in eight states and at local retailers.
The company's presence at national trade shows also has grown, and a new catalog featuring photos of the boards being used across the country helps to tell the story of Hala Gear.
"We've more than doubled our sales since last year, and our dealer network has increased substantially," Hall said.
Just a few minutes into an interview about this rapid growth of the company, Hall suddenly excuses himself and runs inside his new office.
He had to tell Pavla Mertlik, his sales and industrial design employee, about a phone call he suddenly remembered he got from a potential retailer in Kentucky.
"I'm at that point where I feel very grateful and very accomplished as to how much the brand has grown over the last three years," Hall said. "But at the same time, there's a lot more work to do, and in a good way. I can't wait. There's a lot more people out there that have never tried paddleboarding. It's the fastest growing sport in the outdoor industry right now."
Hall is the newest face in a long line of outdoor retailers who have made it big here in Steamboat.
As his stand-up paddleboards filter into more retail shops, this city's more established and larger outdoor manufacturers have continued to grow and gain more national exposure this summer.
Big Agnes again took home one of Outside Magazine's coveted gear of the show award for one of its tents.
Attendees of the International Mountain Bicycling Association summit here in Steamboat Springs are taking tours of Moots Cycles.
And Anne Wiper, the vice president of product for SmartWool, was featured earlier this month in a lengthy Wall Street Journal article that highlighted her paddleboarding workout routine.
"It's so cool in this town to have companies you can look up to like SmartWool, Big Agnes, Honey Stinger, Point6 and Moots," Hall said. "They've been able to take one thing in a booth in a trade show to marquee items in an REI, and it's great to have a town supportive of growing that business. Everyone just starts with one product, one employee, and they grow into massive success stories. That's what I'm aspiring to."
Hall describes his business as being in a sweet spot right now.
It can continue to grow organically, he said, or grow more aggressively with a substantial infusion of capital.
And he hasn't run into some of the challenges larger retailers in town face like the challenges of attracting skilled workers to Steamboat or consolidating warehouses and employees who are spread out in multiple buildings, as is the case with BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger.
"It's probably more expensive to be shipping and traveling from here, but the pros far outweigh the cons, for sure," Hall said. "I don't see any reason to leave Steamboat. Maybe I'll move somewhere sunny and warm in the winter, and go from a business that operates from six months to one that operates year round."
Riding a wave
It seems like every sport is touted at one time or another as being the fastest growing one in the industry.
But when Hall touts stand-up paddleboarding, he has some data on his side.
A 2013 study from the Outdoor Foundation found that stand-up paddleboarding had the highest number of first-time participants in 2012.
About 56 percent of paddleboarders surveyed said they were new to the sport, and their median age was 28.
How did Steamboat's other popular sports fare?
Less than 10 percent of road bikers surveyed said they were new to the sport, and less than 20 percent of skiers and snowboarders were first-timers.
That doesn't mean they aren't popular or bring people here, but rather that at that snapshot in time, there wasn't a large wave of new people to the sport.
On the paddleboarding front, Hall is finding there are many untapped markets out there in the U.S.
He said the coastal markets are more heavily saturated, but there is plenty of opportunity inland.
"I'm at this exciting stage where I've created something good and I'm trying to figure out how to make it better," he said. "Hala is in eight states now, and we're hoping to double that in a year."