Monday, March 4, 2013

Ozark Hang reflections

February came and went in an unceremonious way. I had always thought the first year of legitimate "doing business" would be cause for celebration, but between coming off the Christmas rush, gearing up for spring (which comes a little early in the Memphis area) and upcoming hangs and meeting the demand for the renamed and highly discounted "Hiker Lite" hammock (after starting off calling it the Campus Lounger which resulted in no one taking it seriously), February went quickly.

In looking back over the last year at the products we launched, the ideas we had, the products we dreamed up but didn't get on the shelves for sale, the revenue we generated and, (eeeks!) the money we spent, the friends we made, the people we bonded with, the hangs we attended, the products we sent to those we couldn't attend that were raffled to raise money for good causes, the late nights, the families, the day jobs, the back aches from hours at the machine, the strained eyes, my wife asking me to stop sewing and come on to bed, good investments (like nano noseeum bug netting), bad investments (T-shirts... don't ask), product transitions and more, the year was like none other I've had in 42 years. It had a lot of very high highs and a few aggravating lows, but man, it was a hell of a first year.

And so it seems fitting, as we enter our second year of business that we, in a way, go back to where we largely started... the Ozark Hang.

Hosted by Hammock Forum member Smokehouse, the event brought out great people. I'd love to name them all, but I can't. I'd like to name a few, but I don't dare for leaving someone out. But I will mention Old Gringo -- Dave -- just for the hell of it and because I like him a lot. I enjoyed our paddle down the Buffalo River last year and our conversations ranging from literature to Southern culture and politics. Smokehouse -- Mike -- had some great insights, too, that really shaped a change in direction for us.

I first paddled the Buffalo in (roughly) 1979. I was knee high to a grasshopper then, but I loved it. I went back over and over from the mid 1990s into the early 2000s as it had proximity to my Mississippi Delta home base. As I got older, I moved around the South a bit, but I still made trips to the Buffalo annually until about 2004 when I turned my spirit for adventure in for a spirit for fishing. And I found other waters to travel and cast into, but those cliffs along the Buffalo are very much etched into my memory.

I look forward to seeing our friends again this year and living and learning a little more. I look forward to seeing Shawn there, a supporter and friend who's always been willing to talk hammocks, throw us some feedback and give us some of his wisdom learned -- and earned -- on the trail.

It's not the anniversary of our one year mark, but it's close enough. And it's a nice break from the thread injector after that February Hiker Lite sale. Most of all, it's a celebration of camping, hammocks, kayaking, hiking, campfire cooking and story telling with old and new friends and it's a fitting way for us to move into our second year of hammock building. It's a great place to share a drink and a campfire and celebrate the first whispers of spring.

We learned a lot in year one and I know Shane and I are eager for what year two will bring. Man, what a ride.

If we don't see you there, maybe we'll catch you on the trail somewhere.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Keeping it Simple

When we started making gear, like everyone else, we did it for ourselves. We wanted what we wanted and we wanted to pay, obviously, less.

Plus it was our goal to have fun, experiment, try new things and learn what we could along the way.

Hammocking is evolving fast. Many new innovations are coming into the mainstream every day and it's every maker's goal to keep up with those innovations and incorporate them, where appropriate, into the product line.

Two years ago, 11 foot hammocks were not "common" but now most cottage vendors are either using this size or are offering this size for hammocks. Materials also cause innovation. Cuben fiber has taken the hammock world by storm (or maybe you'd call it the "tarp world") particularly among the ultralight crowd. Older innovations in materials created change. Very few quality gear makers don't use cordage made of the Dyneema fiber these days, from Dynaglide (TM) whoopies and ridgelines to AmSteel Blue (TM) channel loops, dog bones and whoopies to our Zing It ridgelines.

We love innovation and are open to change, either as a result of ideas we come up with, ideas we see others incorporate or innovations in materials.

But there's something refreshing about a simple product done well. And that's where we focus most of our attention. We have friends and family members ask us how we make hammocks and Shane said it best. "Make a shower curtain with a sleeve for the curtain rod on both ends. Then reinforce it with extra stitching."

There's a little more to it than that including fabric selection, color selection (did you know studies have shown that most bugs are more attracted to darker colors than lighter ones, so think twice before ordering that black hammock!), overall design in single layer and double layer versions, where to insert the pad opening and taking advantage of other ideas, like the ingenious "gathered side hammock mod" that was invented by Hammock Forum member knotty. Forever forward, the mod took on the name "knotty mod" and rightly so as it gives credit to its creator. So back to the topic at hand...

We've seen some fabulous hammock designs and we've even made a few custom hammocks that had their own unique features, but we keep going back to the idea of keeping it simple. Good cloth, stitched well with a simple suspension system and bug net keeps the tinker factor low, the comfort factor high and the cost factor down and the weight works for gram counters. It saves us time and you money.

As we continue to try to grow our business, more ideas will take root and grow. In the fall (2013), we hope to launch a new hammock sock with a new design to add a little warmth to the experience. Tarps may be in our future. We've looked toward hammock chairs, bridge hammocks, hammock hardware and even stove and pot stand designs.

Time and the marketplace will sort all of that out as to what is -- and what is not -- to be part of the product line, but our mission will remain to take a simple thing and do it well. This is what will keep your pack light and your wallet thick.

-- Brian