A familiar theme emerged when we talked to eight of the people at the reins of the premier family-owned-and-run outdoor gear companies in America. "It all began as a hobby," says Hal Stephens, speaking of his father’s interest in scuba diving, the ignition for a business that early on sold a single diving flashlight – and over 35 years became now a multi-million dollar tactical lighting company the younger Stephens now runs. "It wasn't overnight, of course. there were quite a few hard knocks on the way."
In fact, each of these companies, from a bootmaker whose wares last for decades, to a paddle-crafter working in high-tech carbon fiber, in some part spun out of a free-time pursuit. These families aren’t making widgets to fill some blank space in the product universe; they’re making the gear they’d want to use go to out and explore the world in the open air on Saturday and Sunday. We talked to each of these leaders about their company’s heritage, and one product which evinces it best.
Peter Limmer: Peter Limmer & Sons Custom Boots
The village of Intervale, New Hampshire hosts one of the premier hiking boot makers in the world, a fourth-generation family business with two employees that creates just two hundred and twenty five pairs of custom boots a year. "I like to say what Nike gets done by coffee break, we get done in a year," says Peter S. Limmer, whose great-grandfather started the business. The current wait for a pair is 18 months, a backlog that dates 40 years. Too long? Peter's cousin imports a stock model of the boot without the custom fit. "If you can't wait, I always say try the stock model first. But custom-made has always been where my heart is," says Limmer. "Give me people with toes missing, that excites me."
Credit: Bill Lee Imaging