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Article: Road Trip: Kifaru's Future

Patrick Smith

Road Trip: Kifaru's Future


I established Kifaru International in 1997 with the intention of its being an ongoing multi-generational family company. My girls, a grandchild and two sons-in-law work there. They have signed on to the multi-generational Plan and fully intend to carry it forward. I am now a very fit 72 year old. But, the actuary experts say that I’m more and more vulnerable to being felled by non-cardiovascular health issues. Or, by the dangers of wandering the wilderness alone, which I’ve dodged so far in a very long career of being Out There. 

None of my beloved girls, or sons-in-law, have turned out to possess the craziness to be hard-core backpackers/backpack hunters/solitary ramblers like the Old Man. Nor do they have whatever gene it is that turned the Old Man into a Designer of the gear he uses to do what he loves out-of-doors. I won’t live forever, and something may get me yet. So. What would my beloved company do without its spear-tip of field authenticity and pivotal designs? I’ve worried about that Succession problem for years. 

About four years ago a young fellow by the name of Aron Snyder contacted me about testing Kifaru packs. He was a very popular tester of backpack hunting gear, posting his test findings of company’s products across the Net. His pack testing was refreshingly hard-core. Far from being a backyard or day-trip tester the man beat hell out of his test subjects, carrying very, very heavy loads over very long distances in bad-ass terrain. He was the real-deal, and scrupulously honest in his Reports. He flat-out broke most tested packs. He told me that Kifaru loyalists on the various message boards challenged him to test Kifaru packs. Hence the contact with me. My kind of guy as a tester, and so I handed him some Kifaru sample packs and he headed out. He returned a Kifaru convert! Of all the packs he had wrung out Kifaru was THE ONE that stood above all. (We agreed on that, to be non-bragging honest.)

And so began a relationship that bloomed, with Aron eventually joining the company. I had searched for years for a truly hard-core, field designer/marketer replacement to myself for the company. Someone who conceived gear afield and tested relentlessly till perfection before turning it over to all-important Kifaru Users. Aron does all that, and certainly knows intimately the workings of world-class gear. He gets it. So. World class designer/user/very well-known bowhunter, AND marketer; Aron wholeheartedly subscribes to his own versions of the “Dirt Clinics” method of promotion and feedback I pioneered with Mountainsmith. His Kifaru Mountain Warrior Training Camp, backpacking trips with Users, and the HUB program (teaming with non-competing industry-leader firms) testify to his marketing prowess. He is also thoroughly up to date with all aspects of Social Media as the newest method for getting the word out about our gear. He is a very capable manager too, and is functioning as our COO along with a consortium of the Kids that function as a Council that works quite well. I am very proud of Aron. He is the son I never had, sharing my outdoor passions and fully capable of replacing me in this career I love so much. He is a stake holder in the company. He is Family.

Sarah and I have a Financial Advisor. Most successful business owners need one nowadays, what with the complexities of operating in a massive and complicated Government environment. We have had many Succession discussions with Andy, our Advisor. He counsels that the single biggest mistake passionate business founders make is holding on too tightly and for too long. I have come to realize that I do the Family Kifaru a disservice by not allowing them to get used to running the show. So I have semi-retired myself. There’s bittersweetness in that. But there is genuine sweetness in being even more foot-loose. I always devoted a great deal of nights afield, but now those outings can be much longer because I don’t have to get back to the Shop and deal with administrivia. This Road Trip is an example; expect more of the same. 

In conclusion, the company is in fine shape. Design-wise, we have Aron as well as our very fine professional designer Eric Bender, and myself. Yes, I’m still involved. We three are behind the continuing updating of my original suspension systems…the very things that brought Aron to us in the first place. A great many folks hold them as the world’s Gold Standard. Aron and Eric are bringing world-class new and /or revised bags along at a good clip. And I will continue investigating seminal new stuff…which I can’t talk about, sorry. Kifaru customers win and so do we. We have an amazingly talented sewing, assembly and customer service staff. These folks are dedicated Kifaru-ites as well; we have an extremely low staff turnover. I am very proud of our team, and would match them against any staff group on earth. We are well managed. We husband our resources and can move very quickly. The Ultimate Big Hairy Decisions are still mine.

All of which makes me a happy aging mountain man. I’ve had a long and extremely gratifying career earning our living doing what I’d do without pay. I have a very tight and loving family and fifty two years of marriage to my high school sweetheart. God has been very, very good to me. I’m sometimes reminded of the famous refrain from the Grateful Dead’s song, Truckin’: “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been”. But a GOOD one when it’s all said and done. And it is by no means finished. 

Next: Continuing the Big Bend exploration.

Note: I’m heading out again after I post this, for some scouting. We will resume upon my return....

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