At least one small business, among the growing ranks of Made in the USA businesses being seen in the new economy, has made it to this year’s Winter Olympics in a partnership with Team USA athletes in Sochi.
Kurt Walchle, the small business owner behind Survival Straps bracelets is enjoying his second round with an Olympic partnership. This year’s bracelet may be seen on Team USA athletes competing in Sochi, Russia.
“Just a few years back, we were creating this product at our kitchen table, and now we’re partnered with Team USA and they’re wearing it on the world stage. It’s an incredible deal,” says Walchle. His firm also enjoyed a partnership with the United States Olympic Committee at the Beijing games.
“We mentioned our idea to a couple of people, and they said, ‘That’s Ralph Lauren and Nike. They only partner with big companies, you’ve got to be crazy,’” says Walchle, who makes the bracelets in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Walchle ignored the doubters and contacted the Committee, which brought him on. He shipped 2,400 bracelets and gear tags off for Olympic athletes to wear at the Sochi games.
Walchle got his idea for Survival Straps when searching for a watchband that would stand up to his outdoor, rugged life. “I used Paracord, which is great cordage that I always carried in outdoor packs and hunting packs. It’s the duct tape of the outdoors,” says Walchle. The material, generally used by military, was easy to weave and create a watchband. “I got three comments the first week,” says Walchle.
Soon, he opened up an eBay shop and began to see sales in 2007. He left his real estate career and focused on Survival Straps full-time. “I’d go on to military forums and outdoor forums and place little ads in the classified section,” says Walchle. He says his key strategy was so-called “guerrilla marketing.”
He saw some success with watchbands created in hunter green and black, which are the traditional military-grade Paracord colors. He then looked into getting Paracord in an array of colors.
Survival Straps watchbands and bracelets are sold online, in Bass Pro Shops, and in Harley Davidson dealers nationwide and, today, in a broad range of colors. Walchle began attaching dog tags to the bracelets in 2011, which led to Harley Davidson- and collegiate-themed bracelets, as well as other themed lines. In fact, a version themed for Wounded Warriors has enabled Survival Straps to donate almost $1 million to that cause.
“They sell anywhere from $30 to $50,” says Walchle, which brings in about $5 million in yearly sales. The product is made entirely in Florida and Walchle now has a 50-person team.
A colorful and trendy bracelet and watchband accessory, the bracelets serve other functions. Walchle urges people to write him about their own “survival” stories that discuss the ways in which they may have been unraveled and used. Send Walchle your story and he will replace your bracelet. “We get five stories a week now,” says Walchle. “During the Boston Marathon bombing, a customer who was about 25 yards from the blast site rushed in to help, unraveled his and made a tourniquet for a woman’s thigh—that’s a good one.”
Walchle donated the Olympic bracelets to the athletes at no cost, however, consumers may buy their own versions online for $33. He anticipates $1 million in sales of the Olympic bracelets; some of that will go to Team USA. He says he saw some Survival Bracelets on athletes during the Beijing Games and now hopes to see his bracelets in Sochi. “It is an awesome [feeling]—really, really cool,” says Walchle. “We’re a small Florida company, and most people who get licensing deals are giant corporations.”
Fox Small Business; Made-in-USA Small Business Gets Olympic-Sized Boost; Gabrielle Karol; February 7, 2014.