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NEMO Equipment continues to innovate, grow staff during pandemic

Feb. 6—Like most companies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, NEMO Equipment had to cut back to survive.

No employees were furloughed or let go, but everyone took a pay cut. Everyone knew the days ahead were uncertain.

Then, the outdoor industry took off.

NEMO Equipment of Dover makes tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and other outdoor equipment. Its products are sold at outdoor stores like REI Co-op and Eastern Mountain Sports. Cam Brensinger and friend Sanjay Madan founded the company in 2002 after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design with $35,000.

"NEMO has been a COVID winner," said Darren Josey, vice president of marketing. "NEMO was already on a steady growth trajectory."

He said the outdoors industry in the U.S. saw more than 7 million new participants from 2019 to 2020. COVID-19 related restrictions sent many people looking for new activities to do with their families and friends in a safe way, and being outdoors fit the bill.

"NEMO has ridden that wave," Josey said. "We see this as a really important moment to hold onto these new consumers."

The company has doubled its staff in the past two years for a total of about 45 employees.

Things changed quickly for NEMO in March 2020 when the entire world seemed to shut down. A new business plan had to be crafted. The company decided not to put the brakes on product development, which further positioned the company to succeed when sales started to spike.

NEMO's OSMO fabric, a proprietary composite weave made from 100% recycled fabric, will be released in the spring. It has been named one of the greatest innovations of 2021 by Popular Science.

"The way we talk about our products is improved performance for people and planet," Josey said.

It also upgraded the design to its popular sleeping pad, TENSOR, making it warmer and lighter.

The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm, named NEMO the fastest-growing camping brand in March of last year.

The company saw sales increase both in stores across the country and online.

As a private company, NEMO does not disclose sales figures, Josey said.

The company paid all of its employees back wages by the end of 2020. The company strives to address climate change and advocate for social justice, equity, diversity and inclusivity.

Growth in the industry

In 2020, New Hampshire saw $2.3 billion in consumer spending providing 26,583 jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"The outdoor industry participation numbers for 2021 saw dramatic increases, which is no surprise," said Tyler Ray, executive director of the Granite Outdoor Alliance. "We've been seeing during the entire pandemic."

Consumer spending went down in 2020, but a lot of it has to do with industries forced to shut down such as amusement parks, according to the statistics.

Ray said many could see the increases just by seeing the number of cars near local trailheads.

"People are in the outdoors and it is not going away," he said.

Overcrowding and challenges with a seasonal workforce are part of the reason the alliance formed.

The alliance seeks to attract younger workers and outdoor companies, create public-private partnerships, retain local wealth, promote healthy communities and above all cultivate a healthy passion and trail-based lifestyle.

"It is a top-five industry in New Hampshire, and it has the potential to take a strong leading role," Ray said. The way of life is already here, he said.

Continued challenges

NEMO — which stands for New England Mountain Equipment — is looking to hire at least six more people in 2022.

Once the pandemic starts to look more like an endemic, the company expects to have workers return at least three days a week. One challenge could be convincing strong candidates to move to the Granite State, Josey said.

"We could really use partnerships from chambers of commerce and elected officials to get the appeal of coming to New England," he said. "We have great educational opportunities, high vaccination rates. I think we are really set up well for the future of climate change."

Ray said another issue is workers unable to find housing.

Other challenges include supply chain disruptions, which has affected almost every industry. There are delays on every aspect from raw materials, getting shipments from overseas and trucking.

"We have so many customers looking to buy outdoor gear. We have so many retailers looking to stock it," Josey said. "The supply chain is going to be the biggest hurdle."