Granite Gear expands in Two Harbors
You can stuff a lot of things into a Granite Gear pack.
But thanks to continued growth, the Two Harbors-based outdoor gear company found it couldn't stuff any more of its expanding operations into its existing facilities. So the company doubled its space this month by leasing a new, 7,200-square-foot distribution center near its headquarters.
"We've just been overflowing in (our existing) facility," chief operating officer Dan Cruikshank said. The additional location "gives us a chance to spread out and be more efficient."
Granite Gear is leasing the new space, about half of a former Bernick's distribution location on County Highway 2 on the north side of town, with the option to buy the whole building next year. It will provide room for more efficient shipping to customers, retailers in North America and distributors in countries around the globe. It also will free up space in existing facilities to use for research and design, production and materials storage.
That's especially important now, because sales of the company's "tactical" products -- items made for the U.S. military, for example -- now have pulled about even with sales of its consumer outdoors gear, Cruikshank said.
While some of Granite Gear's consumer products are made overseas, there are rules mandating that products for the U.S. military be made in America. Granite Gear contracts with other U.S. plants --in Ashland, Chicago and Puerto Rico -- to do sewing for the tactical products, said sales manager Dave Johnson. But "they don't have the computer-operated cutting machinery, so we're doing all the cutting of materials (in Two Harbors) and shipping them to be put together. That means storing a lot of materials" in Two Harbors.
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The company was founded by Cruikshank and Jeff Knight in 1986, and its roots are in manufacturing and selling outdoors gear for consumers -- items such as canoe packs and compression sacks you might use while paddling in the Boundary Waters or hiking on Isle Royale.
But in recent years, Granite Gear also has expanded into the tactical and military markets. Granite Gear landed its first military contract in 2008 with its CHIEF Patrol Pack, now used by Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets. The company has adapted many of the designs and components of its outdoor gear into its tactical products.
After a long, complex bidding process, Granite Gear landed another major military contract last year and delivered the first of those products earlier this year. In that case, it's a subcontractor to another firm, called Tribalco, that is assembling kits of field rescue and medical gear. The kits will provide what's called "tactical combat casualty care," and will be carried by teams of soldiers to wherever they're needed.
"We do all of the nylon -- all of the bags and pouches for this tactical combat casualty care" equipment, Cruikshank said -- some 120 pieces in all, for each set. It's a five-year contract with no cap on how many sets can be ordered.
Most of what Granite Gear makes for the military is used by SEALs, Rangers and Green Berets -- specialized forces whose role and importance to the U.S. military are increasing, even as troops are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That bodes well for the company's continued growth in the future, Cruikshank said. Right now Granite Gear has about 40 people on its payroll in Two Harbors.
"This is serious business, and we take our responsibility seriously, to deliver products that work," Cruikshank said of the company's tactical gear. "We're in a good position to grow."
"We're committed to the community and maintaining our presence here," said Johnson, who's been with the company for 11 years. "We're all living and working here. This new building, in the long run, is probably going to increase the number of people we employ ... and spur sales growth."