Behind every great brand, there is a great story and this one is no different. Badlands is a company founded over twenty years ago that was, and always will be, based on the pursuit of unconditional perfection and quality.
A lot of ideas and a lot less money…Often times, extreme passion can cloud one’s judgment to the extreme and thank God we were no different. Had we taken the time to really calculate what obstacles and trials we would encounter in pursuit of our love, there most likely would never have been a Badlands. Luckily our desire to see our ideas come to fruition completely eliminated any chance of cognitive reasoning. Apparently we weren’t that good at math either, because the realities behind starting a company with $2,500 never occurred to us. Armed with two sewing machines, a fabric cutter and the giddiness of a bunch of school girls, we slapped down a first and last month’s deposit on a 10’X20’ storage shed. It was a lovely place in one of THOSE parts of town where, let’s just say, you don’t leave your car unlocked.
Presses consisting of 2x4s and old car jacks to squish and manipulate foam into ergonomic shapes, vacuum forming devices, modified ovens for molding plastics (and cooking lunch) were all rigged and set up. In the end, the space either resembled the studio of some mad scientist or a storage shed piled to the top with a lot of junk. It all depended on your perspective and how much light was coming through the front door. To this day we’re not sure if we were running on sheer adrenalin or the constant toxins wafting from the ovens. Regardless of all our hurdles, the next six months turned out to be some of the most innovative and creative times we had ever experienced. Concepts were developed that changed the way packs were made and used, while also setting standards that altered the industry and shaped our future competition. Many of the things you see as standard on most brands of hunting packs today carry the DNA of what was developed back at the “Tinder Box” (the name we affectionately called our plant, our shed, our facility, our….whatever).
Through our charade, we had managed to upgrade from the storage shed to an old furniture warehouse. Along the way we accumulated twenty not-so-new sewing machines, twelve foam presses (some even made of metal and hydraulics), a fabric cutter and 20 mouths to feed.
Once again, our trusted companion ‘fate’ stepped in. With the smell of spray paint wafting through the entire warehouse, we quickly went to investigate the source. We all welcomed any activity that didn’t involve looking at the bank balance during those times… Waving our hands to try and grasp a gulp of nontoxic air, we found one of our trusted team spray painting. Not the wall or his bike- but his pack -in a menagerie of earth tone colors. After witnessing this, we now take full credit for coining the acronym ‘WTF’. With a strange sort of grin and some dilated pupils, our esteemed colleague explained his fascination with single handedly destroying the ozone. “Look,” he said (with a tone that was slightly complimentary and condescending at the same time). “After using the equipment we make here, it just seemed stupid to go hunting with the crap you have to buy at the store.” We had come home. After demonstrating to us some of the modifications he had made and the obvious color change, it was safe to say nobody would sleep a single minute that night.
Excited about refocusing on the original reason we got into business in the first place – we headed out to ‘show off’ our products and start writing orders. If you don’t take into account that the buyer at first shop we visited was laughing so hard he almost fell over, not to mention he didn’t buy a single thing, our first meeting went very well. The sleepless nights continued but for all the wrong reasons. We had bet the farm on this new possibility to finally make equipment for the industry we loved.
Returning from the familiar ritual of pleading with our banker for leniency was a dark-haired guy gazing over our products hanging on the wall. Some of you in the industry may know the guy. He introduced himself as Web Adams. Web explained he was a local hunting rep who had heard that we made some pretty cool stuff. As each of the products’ attributes was half-heartedly demonstrated, Web responded in a way (which outside of our walls) we had never heard. “Quality cost money and this is the best stuff I have ever seen.” The encounter ended with Web asking “if he could take the samples to show some people.” Web returned a few days later and what he had in hand was exactly what we had been looking for, (and what we needed if we were to stay in business much longer) Orders! He had real orders for Badlands hunting packs and promises of more to come. We had hit the proverbial and literal jackpot with some jingle in the bank and some orders in hand. Damn, life was good.
From there we couldn’t move fast enough. We crafted a make-shift tradeshow booth and hit the road. Our first stop was no less than the very first Archery Trade Association Show also known as “The ATA.” If our memory serves us adequately, it was at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in a building used for some sort cattle storage or auction house.
Most of the aisles seemed quiet, as many show goers had gone to the food court for some lunch. From out of nowhere, we looked up at a stranger moving down the aisle, his gait somewhere between a man on a mission or someone in search of the restroom. A soul kindred to us; not through the love of packs or hunting but drawn together by a seemingly insignificant pinch of smokeless tobacco. As he got closer, the realization that we all shared the same disgustingly lovely habit became apparent. We mutually smirked at each other in amusement as he passed by. About two booths past ours he stopped, paused, and then turned around. (Hello fate!) As we stood together in our 10×10 experiment-gone-bad, he introduced himself as David Westmoreland. He told us that he worked for a sales rep agency called Hudalla and Associates. After some initial salutations, he mentioned he was going on a hunting trip and asked if we might have a pack that would work for him. Did we ever! By the second day of the show, word was starting to spread about this little company with incredible products. The rest of the show was a whirlwind of telling our story and writing paper. It seemed a lot like heaven.
Fast forward 20 years to the present and take a look back. Any regrets? Not a one. We did what we loved to do, exactly how we wanted to do it. We sold some product along the way and created a brand that is known for innovation and is well respected for its quality and integrity. Where could one find regret on that list? Most important of all, we have made tons of friends and had some great experiences along the way. Many of our business relationships have spanned two decades and we continue to work with people we love and respect.