Granite Gear grows with expansion in Two HarborsWhether its destination is Sweden, Japan or the Boundary Waters Canoe and Wilderness Area, every Granite Gear item passes through Two Harbors.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
Whether its destination is Sweden, Japan or the Boundary Waters Canoe and Wilderness Area, every Granite Gear item passes through Two Harbors.
A 3,000 square foot warehouse just wasn’t enough to process all that outdoor gear.
Granite Gear, a Two Harbors-based outdoor gear company, recently expanded into a building on Highway 2.They’ll lease half of the former Bernick’s building for a year and will then have the option to buy the entire building.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” Jeff Knight, co-founder and owner, said.
The company began in 1986 in Minneapolis. Co-founders Dan Cruikshank and Knight moved the operation to an upstairs apartment in downtown Two Harbors in 1988 and the company has since maintained a strong presence in the community. Economic incentives offered after the closure of Reserve Mining Co. in Silver Bay enticed them to set up shop in the area. Another factor was Two Harbors’ proximity to the Boundary Waters—many of their products are designed for portaging and canoeing. In fact, the idea for Granite Gear was hatched by Knight and Cruikshank—self-described outdoor enthusiasts—during a trip to the BWCA.
They employ about 40 people at their Two Harbors facility. Most jobs had been in manufacturing, and while they still employ seven sewing machine operators, they began outsourcing their manufacturing and many of their employees transitioned into administrative positions.
The new building will provide the Two Harbors employees some breathing room and make space for some new employees. Knight said the expansion puts them “in a position to hire more people.”
Product development is a big part of what goes on at the Two Harbors facility and the new warehouse will free- up more room for that in their main office. Knight said innovation is at the core of Granite Gear.
“We never wanted to be a ‘me, too’ company,” he said, meaning they don’t want to offer products already available on the market. Their mission is to provide something new. This focus on innovation helped them land a new contract in 2008 with U.S. Special Operations Forces.
They won the five-year contract with Granite Gear’s CHIEF Patrol Pack. Their pack performed best in rigorous quality tests during the bid process. Knight wasn’t worried about the testing—they had already done it all in Two Harbors. The packs were dropped from a bridge and run- over with an F-350 truck in sub-zero weather.
In addition to being durable, the pack had to be comfortable and light, so they developed it to fit over body armor and adjust easily to each soldier. They improved a number of other basic functions, like having the pack open from the top and the front and switching the direction of the hydration system—basically, reinventing features that many other producers take for granted.
They’ve landed more military contracts in the past few years. Most of what they make for the military is used by SEALs, Rangers and Green Berets. These contracts bode well for the company’s growth into the future, Cruikshank said.
“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.”
Knight said the incentives that led them to outsource more than a decade ago are decreasing. Their military-contracted packs are produced in the U.S., and some additional manufacturing could move back to the U.S. in the near future, he said. Many employees have stayed at Granite Gear for decades and both owners have kids in local schools. They have no plans to leave Two Harbors anytime soon.
“We’re committed to the community and maintaining our presence here,” said sales manager Dave Johnson, who’s been with the company for 11 years. “We’re all living and working here.”