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Outdoor Gear Builders

Outdoor Gear Builders is a nonprofit association of North Carolina-based companies that collaborate to share talents, encourage new ideas, and inspire one another. photo by Adam Mowery-Photography: Courtesy of Outdoor Gear Builders

Growing Nonprofit Combines Talents in Adventure Community

The business of getting people in the right gear is big and only getting bigger. The outdoor industry outranks pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, and gasoline in consumer spending each year and in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions provides 1.7 million jobs and produces over 12 billion dollars in tax revenue. 

Western North Carolina has long been a well-known hotbed of outdoor recreation and industry development. Fittingly, a coalition of gearheads and outdoor entrepreneurs have come together to form the Outdoor Gear Builders (OGB), a nonprofit association of Carolina-based companies that collaborate to share talents, encourage new ideas, and inspire one another.

“The OGB officially formed as a business association of outdoor gear manufacturers collaborating to create exceptional outdoor gear with a focus on responsible manufacturing, cutting edge innovation, and economic growth throughout the region,” says OGB board chair Matt Godfrey. “Beginning with a handful of outdoor gear designers and makers, this association was the first of its kind in the outdoor industry. Today, we have over 50 members and growing.” 

Originally, the OGB was comprised mostly of western North Carolina gear brands such as ENO, Watershed, and Astral, but has expanded to include outdoor services and retailers in the region. The common denominator among member brands? Growth. “Many of the OGB member brands have seen significant growth over the past decade,” says Amy Allison, Director of the North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Industry office and former OGB board chair. “ENO developed a strategic international growth plan that has helped them grow their presence into 40+ countries; Blue Ridge Chair Works has seen tremendous growth through international trade; SylvanSport has launched an entire new line of Adventure Gear; Big Adventure paddle sports expanded their line and added more jobs through a merger with Bonafide Kayaks; and that is just the tip of the iceberg.” 

Many of the companies that were small when they joined have grown immensely since becoming members. “Not only have several of our member companies grown into international brands, but many who joined on as early stage companies have now grown to recognizable brands regionally and/or nationally. A good example is LightHeart Gear who was recently named Small Business of the Year North Carolina,” Godfrey continues. And these are just a few of the success stories.

Judy Gross with LightHeart Gear believes that being a part of the OGB means being a part of something bigger than herself or her company. “Seeing what an organized association such as this can do and seeing other companies grow and prosper—it’s community,” Gross says. “With it comes the open exchange of information and advice on sourcing, services, techniques, processes, software, procedures, systems. We can reference what [other companies] use, what has worked well for them, and hear suggestions for unusual situations and advice for new problems.”

As Gross says, the network is about more than just growing businesses, it harbors a sense of community and collaboration amongst members of the outdoor industry. “Our community of industry leaders continues to inspire and support one another as we break boundaries and take our brands to the next level,” Allison says. 

Smaller companies that join the OGB receive mentorship from more established companies, offering a helpful team approach for those new to the industry. “Everyone wants the experience of being on a winning team. Getting to share in each other’s success, and being there for each other when we fail, is inspiring and humbling,” Godfrey says. “The larger companies in our membership openly extend their support and knowledge to the newer, smaller companies because they’ve been there and are in a position to give back.”

New OGB members benefit from the Waypoint Accelerator program, which combines an intensive startup curriculum for early-stage companies with tailored mentorship from more than 40 seasoned advisors from the region’s thriving outdoor industry network. The program also offers access to capital but, unlike some other accelerator programs, it doesn’t require participants to give up equity or take investment to participate. 

“We were able to develop a model focused on outdoor industry connections and solid business fundamentals with the goal of accelerating each company to their next stage of growth,” Godfrey says. 

For member companies that don’t attend the Waypoint program, the OGB offers year-round events to promote growth and connectivity. Members are invited to monthly meetings to network and also offered professional development workshops in marketing, finance, business law, and leadership, all geared specifically towards outdoor professionals. Additionally, each March the OGB organizes one of the largest demo showcases in the region, the Get in Gear Festival, a free event in Asheville that features live music and local food and allows outdoor companies to display and sell their gear or share information. 

Ultimately, the OGB members benefit from a base of shared knowledge, resources, and a community of dedicated outdoor industry professionals collaborating to lift each other up. Kyle Mundt, VP of New Product Development at SylvanSport, as well as OGB’s Board Vice Chair and co-founder, says it best: “The OGB was created to unify and help amplify the voice of local outdoor gear manufacturers. It has grown in ways I never could have anticipated. Having the OGB as a resource has been invaluable.”

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