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North Shore outdoor equipment firm expanding rapidly

ERICK STUDENICKA

For the employees of outdoor equipment manufacturer Quest, being located in the North Shore area provides more than just a pleasant environment in which to work – the area is also a practical place to test the company’s products such as backpacks and tents.

“Our location is a real advantage for us,” said Quest in-house sales representative Peter Werbel. “Being located in an area like Tahoe allows us to work on a design and then test it before it reaches production. Other companies often lack the proximity to an area where they can test their products.”

Werbel, who has lived in Truckee for 26 years and was the owner of The Second Crossing Store in the Gateway at Donner Pass Shopping Center before it became Sugar Bowl Ski and Sports, said that the eight Quest employees who work at the company’s Tahoe City office can often be seen “demoing” the products on weekend excursions.

“We encourage all of our employees to check-out our own products,” said Werbel. “We want to validate the quality of our own brand.”

The Quest office in Tahoe City, located at 2690 Lake Forest Rd., serves as the company’s headquarters and research, development, design and testing center. (Until last year, the design center was located at Donner Lake in Truckee.) The actual manufacturing of the company’s line of products occurs at factories in China and Sri Lanka. Currently, Quest’s line of products includes more than 20 different types of tents, 22 different kinds of backpacks and daypacks and eight hydration systems. Other products manufactured include gaiters and duffel bags.

According to operations manager Mary Henningsen, Quest began in 1990 as a division of Jinwoong, a Korean tent manufacturer. The company was purchased last fall by Outdoor Industry Group, an organization which also includes Moonstone Mountaineering and Wild Roses Women’s Clothing. Since its inception seven years ago, sales have risen from 500 tents per year to more than 10,000 tents and 40,000 backpacks per year.

“We are one of the few companies whose target market includes everyone from high-end, technical gear to family camping,” Henningsen said. “We carry everything from a two-man expedition tent to a six-man car camping tent.”

Werbel said that while tents and backpacks are experiencing slow growth in the outdoor equipment market, the growth in the sales of hydration systems (containers of water which can be worn while exercising) is “exploding.” A number of Quest backpacks already come equipped with a hydration system, allowing hikers to continuously intake water while walking without removing their pack.

“This is our first year of producing hydration systems; we’re completely sold out,” Werbel said. “The ‘camelback’ started the craze and now the hydration system market is growing rapidly.”

Werbel said Quest’s goal is to provide outdoor enthusiasts with high-quality products at a lower price than other outdoor equipment manufacturers.

“We try to build top-quality products at a lesser price,” Werbel said. “We aim to be equal to – and in some cases better – than companies such as Marmot and North Face in terms of quality.”

Quest also attempts to differentiate itself from other manufacturers by producing products which are lighter and more durable than other companies’ goods.

“If light-weight products are the way to go, then we will increase our market share,” Werbel said. “Our tents also have several features like ‘load toads’ (triangular pole clip fabric patches) and tent hubs which make them very strong and durable.”

Werbel said Quest is enjoying “an incredibly busy summertime” and the company is likely to reach $5.5 million in equipment sales this year. In comparison, North Face annually does about $12 in tent and backpack sales.

“There is the possibility that we might one day match Sierra Design’s or Marmot’s sales in tents and backpacks,” Werbel said. “There’s also the possibility that we may start manufacturing apparel to increase sales year round.”

Locally, Quest products can be found at Sugar Bowl Ski and Sports, Porter’s and Thousand Mile Outdoor Wear in Truckee and The Back Country, Porter’s and Village Sports in Tahoe City, as well as Royal Gorge, Tahoe Donner and Lakeview cross-country centers.

For information on Quest products, call 581-6752.


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