Sierra Madre Research Before Shark Tank
Mechanical Engineer, Richard Rhett, was on a medical mission in Honduras when the wheels in his head started turning. His camping hammock wasn’t very comfortable, and he thought he could come up with a better product that included some innovative features. The ideal modular hammock tent he envisioned would not only improve on traditional hammocks but also introduce the idea of “elevated” camping to a market of inexperienced or novice campers. A more casual camper would, of course, have a familiarity with ordinary tents, but would see great value in being able to move away from the cold, hard ground while resting in a comfortable and completely protected cocoon.
During the time Richard was on his mission, he saw first-hand that clean drinking water was a precious and scarce commodity in Central America. His dream was to find a way to help bring clean water to those who needed it throughout the world. In 2010, he and his wife, Juli, created an outdoor gear and equipment company called Sierra Madre Research that would donate a portion of the business’s proceeds to fund drilling for clean water.
Sierra Madre Research is Revealed
Shark Tank Season 9 Episode 1
Before appearing on the show, Sierra Madre Research was seeing strong sales, due primarily to word-of-mouth. Customers appreciated the quality construction of the products and they liked that the company was associated with giving back. The Rhetts were prepared to ask the Sharks for $175,000 in exchange for 15% equity in the company.
Richard and Juli made a surprise entrance by emerging from the hammock tent that was already in place on the stage. Then they began their pitch by drawing a sharp contrast between camping on a cold, hard, and potentially wet ground and camping in the air. After Juli invited the Sharks to take a closer look at the hammock tent – and to essentially test-drive it – Richard described the three components of their creation: rain protection, insect protection, and a place to stash your gear. He then explained how simple it was to set it up. You could easily get it up into a tree by choosing a height that’s comfortable for you, strapping each end around a tree trunk, and attaching the components together with color-coded clips.
The Sharks wanted to know how much it costs to buy and make. Richard told them the price was $350 and that their margin was 62%. Sales were $208,000 the previous year, and they were expecting that number to increase more than two times in the current year – between $430,000 and $500,000. Word-of-mouth was the primary driver of their business, as customers were pleased with the high quality of the product and the admirable social mission that accompanied each sale.
But getting the Sharks to bite proved to be somewhat of a problem. Daymond was impressed with the product but he felt he didn’t have what it would take to help it succeed. Lori wanted to know how their product was different than others already on the market. Richard didn’t do a very good job of explaining their advantage, and Lori elected to drop out, stating that she felt the market was too crowded.
Mark thought it was only a matter of time before their product would be knocked off by competitors, so he declined to make an offer, and Robert said he just couldn’t find something to hook him in.
With only Richard Branson remaining as a potential partner, the Rhetts looked nervous. But Mr. Branson came through, pledging to give the couple what they wanted – $175,000 for 15% of the company – if 100% of his profits would go to charity. Who could say no to that offer? Not Richard and Juli! They were thrilled and accepted immediately.
Sierra Madre Research After Shark Tank
Following the episode, Sierra Madre Research experienced explosive sales growth. Given the momentum the company was experiencing, the Rhetts decided to move from Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee. According to Richard Rhett, there’s great start-up energy in Chattanooga and it’s an ideal location for outdoor adventure.
Today, Sierra Madre Research sells more than just “Hammock Shelters” – what they call their hammock tent product. Their website carries regular hammocks, blankets, camping furniture, power gear, and accessories. Once Richard Branson came on board, the Rhetts had hoped they would begin to sell their products in retail stores, but it appears they’re still only selling their products online, even though the web site’s FAQ page says they are in several retail locations.
On social media, Sierra Madre’s research is most active on Facebook. Its Page has over 14,000 followers and its Group called Nubist Colony (for owners of the company’s Nubé hammock shelter) continues to be active. Nubist Colony is also known as a program that offers free camping weekends hosted by Sierra Madre Research in locations across the U.S.
The company continues to promote its humanitarian mission, with its pledge to fund a year of clean drinking water for one person for each product sold. The website showcases some of their efforts, including wells drilled in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Haiti.
Sierra Madre Research is indeed a company that is thriving, but it’s not clear it will outpace its competitors. Hardcore camping enthusiasts say the company hasn’t demonstrated that its products are better than the competition, but that perhaps the all-in-one feature would appeal to someone who is either new to camping or isn’t the kind of geek who wants to thoroughly research their gear. A review of the best hammocks of 2019 didn’t even include any of Sierra Madre Research’s products in the article. Still, when they do appear in review articles, the products are rated highly for versatility, durability, and comfort.
Still, in a crowded space, Sierra Madre Research sets itself apart with its humanitarian message and mission. It’s certainly a way for the company to broaden its appeal to a wider community of outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s a unique selling proposition for this competitive industry.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is strictly informational; INSIGNIA SEO is not affiliated with Sierra Madre Research, SharkTank, or any of its subsidiaries.