We started Badlands with a lot of ideas and a lot less money. Luckily, our desire to see our ideas come to life eliminated any chance of rational cognitive reasoning. So, armed with two sewing machines, a fabric cutter, and the giddiness of a bunch of school girls, we slapped down a deposit on a 10’ X 20’ storage shed in the sketchiest part of town, and got to work.
Now, $2,500 (yes, really) doesn’t get you state-of-the-art equipment. We had presses consisting of 2 x 4s and old car jacks to squish and manipulate foam into ergonomic shapes. We set up vacuum forming devices and modified ovens for molding plastics (and cooking lunch). To this day we’re not sure if we were running on adrenalin or the fumes from the ovens. Either way, the next six months were some of the most innovative and creative times we’d ever experienced. Concepts were developed that changed the way packs were made and used, and we started setting standards that altered the industry and shaped our future competition. Many of the features you take for granted on hunting packs today carry the DNA of what Badlands developed back at the “Tinder Box” (the name we affectionately called our plant, our shed, our facility, our….whatever).
After the first year, we had managed to upgrade from the storage shed to an old furniture warehouse. Along the way we also acquired 20 not-so-new sewing machines, 12 foam presses (some even made of metal and hydraulics), a fabric cutter, and 20 mouths to feed.
Here’s where fate stepped in. We smelled spray paint wafting through the warehouse, and went to investigate the source. What we found changed everything: one of our trusted team members was spray painting his pack a menagerie of earth-tone colors. “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.” LIGHT BULB. After showing us all of the modifications he had made to his pack, along with the obvious color change, it was safe to say nobody would sleep a single minute that night.
We. Were. Stoked. Excited about our new-found focus — hunting packs – we headed out to show off our products and start writing orders. Our first meeting was a huge success, if you ignore the fact the guy didn’t buy anything, and he was laughing so hard he almost fell over. The sleepless nights continued, but for all the wrong reasons. We had bet the farm on this new opportunity to finally make gear for a sport we loved.
Once again: fate turned her gaze our direction. We’d just returned from pleading for leniency with our banker, and waiting for us was a guy, many people in the industry now know: Web Adams. Web explained he was a hunting rep, and he’d heard that we made some “pretty cool stuff.” We’d gotten used to disappointment, so we half-heartedly demonstrated our wares. But this time, something different happened. Web responded by saying “Quality costs money, and this is the best stuff I have ever seen.” He took some samples to show to some people he knew, and returned a few days later with exactly what we (and our banker) had been looking for: ORDERS. Honest to God orders from real customers who wanted Badlands hunting packs, with the promise of more to come. Life. Was. Good.
From there we couldn’t move fast enough. In 1995, we crafted a make-shift trade show booth and hit the road. Our first stop: 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 of cattle storage.
It was here we met another significant player in our history. As he sauntered past our booth, we both noticed our common interest in smokeless tobacco, and exchanged a smirk. But then he stopped, came back to our 10×10 experiment-gone-bad, and introduced himself as David Westmoreland, a sales rep with an agency called Hudalla and Associates. He was going on a hunting trip and asked if we might have a pack that would work for him. 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 like heaven.
Fast-forward twenty-something years to the present and take a look back. Any regrets? Not one. We did what we loved to do, exactly how we wanted to do it. We created a brand known for innovation and is well-respected for its quality and integrity. What’s to regret? Most important of all, we have made tons of friends along the way. And if you’re reading this, you’re one of them.