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Tired Of Easily Broken Trekking Poles, This Serial Innovator Decided He Could Make Them Better

In early 2016, on a hiking trip in Scotland, Gilad Nachmani broke a carbon fiber trekking pole near Cnoc na-Gareig (cnoc – roughly pronounced knuk – is a Gaelic word for a rounded hill). That was the final straw for him. He was tired of repeatedly buying expensive imported poles that failed too easily, and frustrated that they couldn’t be repaired. So he decided he could do better making them himself. The whole situation is part of what prompted him to launch his Portland-based company Cnoc, a private business he’s supported so far by bootstrapping and with crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter. A new one starts today to support the launch of the trekking pole, a newly-designed telescoping carbon fiber product.

It’s led to some growing pains along the way. “I never intended to have a manufacturing company,” Nachmani said. “I intended not to – I was going to outsource.” But a few things happened that changed that plan. As trial production began in China on the trekking poles, he had also launched a separate outdoors-oriented product – a water container, the Vecto, which was designed for ease of use and to work with popular portable water filters. He saw an opportunity to gain critical mass by bringing the production of both items in-house. It was the early success of the Vecto, in fact, that encouraged Nachmani to seek a better solution for production of his poles.

“I started by trying to source complete trekking poles from China,” he explained. “But I had a small brand and I was looking for a lot of spec changes – and they weren’t too keen on that. I tried some other sources, but I wasn’t happy with them either.”

Quality of the finished product was a central concern, and Nachmani decided he wouldn’t be able to monitor that effectively with an overseas producer, a final strike against outsourcing. So he decided to make his trekking poles himself. “We ended up with a whole supply chain – eight different factories making components,” he said. His carbon fiber tube manufacturer and his plastics injection molder are both just up the road in the state of Washington, and his aluminum parts are made in China by a Detroit-based company. The rest of his parts makers are spread around the globe. “I wanted all local suppliers,” said Nachmani. “But I had to go to China for some things, and the only company producing cork grips is in Taiwan.”

Final manufacturing is all done in Portland, as are all the other parts of the business. Nachmani is still working on the trekking pole production process – he’s currently searching for a production manager to finalize the production systems. He’s gotten this far by tapping into the expertise of others. “We’re next door to Ruckus Composites, where they repair carbon fiber bicycle frames,” he said. “I offered the owner a beer, and got advice from him on working with carbon fiber. It’s been that kind of learning process at each step.”

He’s using that learning in his work with his carbon fiber tube supplier. “They’ve been very accommodating,” he said. “The timing just worked, and we were able to give them a big order that allowed them to scale. We’re continuing to work with them to get the costs down – carbon fiber is our highest-cost part.”

His positive results from his Vecto water container have convinced him the same opportunity is out there for his trekking poles. “We have a very strong following – it’s almost cult-like,” Nachmani said. “I think people will want to buy our poles. They’re very simple compared to our competitors’ – for example, we use raw, uncoated carbon fiber. They’re fully repairable – a cable connects the segments together, and those segments are replaceable. Other poles are considered disposable. We offer people the parts, and they can keep fixing them as long as they want to keep them.”

He sees a couple of key advantages with his repairable poles. “There’s a sustainability story there, yes,” he said. “But it also solves a huge frustration.” Nachmani is looking into a re-purchase program to buy components back from customers for potential re-use, adding another element to his sustainability selling point.

A key recent difficulty has been the trade war and tariffs. “We’re seeing some major cost impacts from the tariffs – for example, a huge increase in the cost of our imported aluminum parts,” he said. “We’ve also had manufacturing delays, which also increases our costs.”

Unlike many start-up owners, though, Nachmani is in this for the long haul. “I’m not running my company to look for an exit,” he said. “I want to ‘grow my child’ into what I want.” He intends to keep it small, private and closely held. “I favor small companies – they’re more agile,” he explained. “And I’ve experienced the troubles you can run into with investors – they have opinions, for one thing! And most of the time they want their money back in the short term. I prefer to take my time, and figure all this out for myself.”

That’s been one of his favorite aspects of his business. “It’s just been so interesting – all the learning we’ve had,” he said. “Manufacturing is great and terrible all at the same time! Every single thing we use, every single thing we do is amazingly more complicated than we think it is. It’s been interesting learning what’s possible in manufacturing.”

The company is still tiny, and sales figures are private. But the Vecto water container gets rave reviews from hardcore outdoors sites like Hikin’ Jim’s Blog and Garage Grown Gear. Word – both good and bad – travels fast in the tight-knit outdoors community. If the new trekking poles garner similar support, Cnoc may not be small for long.

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