Made in Colorado 2014: Sports, agriculture
Crescent Moon Snowshoes
Jake Thamm and Tamara Laug went snowshoeing in 1997 and the experience led the husband-and-wife team to start a snowshoe company.
“It was really and truly one of those sitting at a bar, thinking about our snowshoeing day,” says Thamm. “We said, ‘We can make a better binding than what we saw today.’ It was an opportunity to extend our passion into a vocation.”
Making their snowshoes outside of Colorado was never an option. “We made the decision from the beginning to make our products here – not just in the U.S., but here in Colorado – because it was the right thing to do.”
Crescent Moon sold $20,000 worth of snowshoes in 1997, then $400,000 in 1998, and a cumulative total of “150,000 to 200,000 pairs” to date, Thamm estimates. Sales grew at an average annual clip of 10 percent until the snow-challenged winter of 2011-12.
Thamm says Crescent Moon responded with a shift toward customized snowshoes and direct sales, something overseas manufacturers and Amazon cannot offer.
“It’s a big challenge,” says Thamm. “We have a unique opportunity to interact with our customers and retailers on a one-to-one basis.”
Mike Mahoney started making skateboards long before he bought a press and went pro in 2005.
The former woodworking teacher saw an opportunity to make classic longboards – as opposed to smaller street skateboards, largely disposable and produced overseas – with an artful wood veneer and has been riding the wave of the longboard boom for most of the last decade.
Mahoney attributes it to nostalgia of 30- to 50-somethings. “Those guys are now coming back to it for various reasons,” he says. “We’ve also seen [the longboard demographic] creep down. When we first started, we couldn’t get a kid to ride a longboard at all. Now you see them ride to school.”
Each longboard takes about two weeks in production, as Mahoney and company meticulously match the wood veneer on both sides. “The big challenge was transferring the quality into a production setting,” he says. “That’s not always easy to do and attain the same look and not have compromises.”
Mountain bikes / ridegg.com / Denver
Guerrilla Gravity is reinventing the mountain bike with a rider-direct model, according Will Montague, president and co-founder.
When you buy a bike from Guerrilla Gravity, you get discounts at its brick and mortar shop in west Denver, access to tools, and other perks. “It’s really a holistic model,” he says. “It’s not just going to a bike shop and buying a bike. Each customer leaves with a bike that’s unique to them.”
Guerrilla Gravity frames start at $1,925 and complete bikes at $3,600. Montague says the custom, on-demand model allows for flexibility and lower overhead.
“Manufacturing here obviously costs more,” he adds. “But because we’re rider-direct we don’t have to have those high margins.”
Montague started the company in 2011 with Kristy Anderson and Matt Giaraffa. They spent two years honing the design before shipping the first downhill bike last year. A trail model is due by mid-2014.
“We take pride in manufacturing in Colorado,” says Montague. “It’s really resonated with people.”
Food safety products
Kelly Green’s grandparents, Florence and Ward Smith, started Birko with an alkaline tripe wash in a garage in Ogden, Utah, in 1953.
The Smiths relocated to the Front Range with Birko a decade later. “They found a lot of their customer base was in Colorado,” says third-generation owner Green of the move. Six decades later, the state remains Birko’s base of operations. “We don’t manufacture anywhere else but here,” says Green.
Today Birko makes more than 250 products that clean and sanitize food and food-processing facilities, but the market is no longer concentrated in Colorado. “Being centrally located is a good thing for Birko,” says Green. “We have customers from coast to coast, and from north to south, too.”
The majority of North American meatpackers are Birko customers, and the company also supplies a who’s-who of the Colorado craft-brewing industry with tank- and keg-cleaning formulations.
With 100 employees and annual growth in the double digits, Green says Birko is at a high-water mark in 2014. “Highest revenue, highest growth, and highest employee count,” she touts.
Compost and soil products / wastefarmers.com / Denver
After selling their composting business, the brains behind Waste Farmers went into manufacturing packaged compost and soil products in 2012. After initially using a small cement mixer and bagging it by hand, the company boomed and sold 30,000 bags in 2013.
Waste Farmers has a consumer brand in Maxfield’s and a professional-oriented product in Batch 64. Both are made at the company’s “microbe brewery” in unincorporated Jefferson County, and the company also maintains an office at Galvanize, the incubator-meets-shared-workspace-meets-tech-school, in Denver.
“We’re continuing to grow and expand,’ says John-Paul Maxfield, Waste Farmers’ founder and CEO. “We’re looking to add another facility to launch new products.”
Maxfield calls the company “the antithesis of Monsanto” and Big Ag. “We want to focus on small agriculture and partnering with small farmers,” he explains.
A recent three-day strategic planning session with a consultant “really solidified our quest to continue to empower farmers in the 21st century with tools to grow sustainably,” says Maxfield. “For us, 2014 is the year of nutrition. That’s what’s missing in the soil.”
After one session, Maxfield walked outside and watched the sun set over the Rockies. “Looking at that sunset made me so grateful to be doing what I’m doing and working with who I’m working with and doing it here in Colorado,” he says.