Matt and Stephanie Nelson beside the sign on the old
story, which is now the manufacturing facility for
By David Callister, University of Idaho
Extension Educator in Butte County
Extension Educator in Butte County
Have you ever had an idea for a product and wondered if you could turn it into a business in Arco, Idaho? High school teachers Matt and Stephanie Nelson did exactly that with hard work, help from the Arco Butte Business Incubation Center, Butte County Economic Development and educational support from University of Idaho Extension and Idaho State University. The business that started in their basement is now a property tax paying business on West Grand, employing five people besides Matt and Stephanie.
Have you driven down Grand Avenue and seen the “Dragonfly Tarp” sign on the old drug store? Have you wondered what is Dragonfly Tarp? I recently talked to the owners Matt and Stephanie Nelson about their company.
Dragonfly tarps manufactures high quality custom tarps for outdoor enthusiasts and others. When asked how they got started Nelson’s answer, “It all started with a damaged tarp.”
Matt’s family enjoys white water rafting. When one of his father’s tarps had reached the end of its useful life, he took the well-worn tarp to a canvas shop and had a replacement made. He was not happy with the results. After looking it over Matt thought he could do a better job. At the time, Matt was a student at Idaho State University and was able to use their craft shop.
The family liked the resulting tarp and several family members requested tarps for themselves. In fact, every time Matt would make a tarp for himself, he would end up selling it to someone else. By word of mouth Matt was manufacturing five to eight tarps a year.
He started purchasing equipment to manufacture the tarps in his basement. As demand for the tarps kept increasing, Matt and Stephanie realized they either needed to quit making tarps or hire some help.
After hiring their first employee they continued manufacturing the tarps in their basement. It soon became clear that the basement was too small. After meeting with the Arco / Butte County Business Incubation Center Board of Directors, the business was moved into the Arco Butte Business Incubation Center (BIC). The BIC was able to accomplish their mission by providing Dragonfly a suitable manufacturing space at a subsidized cost while the business was getting on its feet. Business continued to grow by word of mouth with twenty-five tarps the first year in the BIC and sixty tarps the next.At this point they were out growing the space in the BIC and looked at renting an additional space in the BIC. About this time the old, recently upgraded, Lost River Drug building became available. Last year they manufactured 120 tarps, including international orders, and now employ 5 individuals.
Nelsons reported that some of the keys to their success included the following: First, having the help of the BIC during the switch from a hobby to a business provided a transitional space where the business could grow. Second, having a product that meets the needs of a specialized market with strong word of mouth marketing. Third, having a product that sells beyond the immediate community helps bring outside dollars to Arco and provides a better opportunity for growth. Another key to Dragonfly’s success is having a high-quality product that sells itself. Both for bigger customers who want additional tarps and for small customers who want a product as good as their friends.
Dragonfly Tarps has become the tarp of choice of white-water tour operators. Stephanie reported, “They are bigger, lighter and easier to set up than competitor tarps.” Matt added “Dragonfly Tarps also do better at withstanding the wind.” The Nelsons no longer rely only on word of mouth for their tarps to sell. One of their marketing strategies is to attend trade shows where they demonstrate their products. They also market their tarps on their website: dragonflytarps.com. Building a presence on social media is their next step in their marketing plan.
Their product line has grown as well. They started out making free standing tarps for white-water companies. Now some of their freestanding tarps are meeting the needs of other groups, such as shelters for track and cross-country teams while not running. In addition to free standing tarps, they now sell overland rig tarps which fasten to the sides of a campers, trucks, or vans. Dragonfly also produces custom products to meet the specialized needs of customers.
Looking toward the future, an opportunity of growth, the Nelsons are considering is the need for tarp repair. They are frequently asked to repair boat and pickup bed covers. It is looking like they could keep an additional employee busy just with the repairs that are requested from the community.
When asked “What advice do you have for someone else who thinks they have a product to sell?” First, do your market research and make sure others will want your product. Marketing is important, a good salesman can sell junk, but a good product without any marketing will not sell. Second, high-quality products are important if you want to keep customers. Third, social media is becoming the new marketplace where you can show off your product in action and testimonials are instantaneous. Then look; do you have the space to do the manufacturing? Would the Arco Butte Business Incubation Center help in the transition or startup of your business?
Dragonfly Tarps employees: (left to right) Jennifer Schafer,
Jarrie Schafer, Sandy Paz and JoAnn Schafer
The Nelsons also commented that as more of the textile industry moves offshore there is a need for skilled technicians to do repair work and build custom products here at home. Knowing how to build and fix things can provide a career for those willing to do the work.
So, the next time you drive down Grand Avenue and you see the sign “Dragonfly Tarps” you will now know what they do. Hopefully, you have learned it is possible for a company to start and grow in Arco, Idaho.
For help with initiating a business in Butte County, one can contact the Arco Butte Business Incubation Center at 208-527-3060 (http://arcobuttebusinesscenter.blogspot.com/) and Butte County Economic Development at 208-680-1938,