But the tent haunted her and she would pull it out from time to time and think about how she could make it better. It wasn’t until she and her husband moved from Houston to Asheville in 2008 to be closer to the mountains that the dream began to take shape.
While Gross had at first considered opening a sewing school where she would teach, the onset of the Great Recession and the collapse of the economy gave her pause. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Who can pay for sewing lessons?’” she says. “We said let’s make tents instead.”
After going through several prototypes, Gross eventually sold her first tents, which use trekking poles for support and weigh less than two pounds, at the Hiker’s Festival held in Franklin. Today, five years later, she sells three types of tents all of which she now makes at the location of her second business, Excelsior Sewing. That business, which is based in Arden, also does contract sewing work for other small gear makers around the country to help keep products “Made in America,” says Gross.
Blue Ridge Chair Works
Where it’s based: Asheville
What it makes: Outdoor furniture
Year founded: 2000
As far back as he can remember, Alan Davis has enjoyed being outside—especially when he could be in the mountains or on the water. While that hasn’t changed, his career has shifted from guiding whitewater rafting trips to making high-quality furniture that will last a lifetime.
“There is no resume on file for me anywhere because I’ve never formally applied for a job in my life,” says Davis, who runs his business out of his home in the Riceville area of Asheville. “I am as free-spirited an entrepreneur as you will ever find.”
The idea for making chairs hit Davis back around 2000, when he was on a rafting trip in Idaho. He immediately noticed that one of his fellow rafters had a chair with a cool design. But, just two days into the trip, the chair broke. However, the design of the chair stuck with Davis who, once he got home, began tinkering in his workshop to not just replicate the design of that chair, but make it durable as well. “I knew I wanted to make something better than the $8 antenna-looking stuff that ends up in a landfill after you use it twice,” he says.
The resulting chairs—which now have names like “The Caravan Chair” and “The Outer Banks Chair”—as well as other furniture like stools and tables are made by contractors here in North Carolina like Liberty Wood Products in Franklin and have attracted an almost cult-like following from customers as far away as Japan who buy them directly from Davis’ website. “I am a virtual company but I’m indirectly responsible for creating about 50 jobs,” he says, noting that he was nominated for North Carolina Small Business of the Year in 2011. “Subcontracting out the manufacturing frees me up to focus on design and marketing. God put me on Earth to run rivers and fly-fish. And being an entrepreneur allows me the freedom to live the lifestyle I want.”
Outdoor Gear Guilders
Below are the members of The Outdoor Gear Builders (OGB) of Western North Carolina (as of March), a network of outdoor gear manufacturers and outdoor retailers organized to stimulate communication, share ideas, and generate crossover opportunities among these companies. If you want to know more, email them at email@example.com.[twocol_one]American Backcountry
Blue Ridge Chair Works
(Eagles Nest Outfitters, Inc.)
Harmony House Foods
SimpleShot Shooting Sports
(see March 2012 edition of Capital at Play)
TerraForma Outdoor Solutions
(see January 2012 edition of Capital at Play)[/twocol_one_last]