Every fly fisherman, at one time or another, has parked alongside a river, looked out at a perfect riffle, and then found himself fussing with a tangled leader or a snagged hook when he should be fishing. Minutes pass. Fish rise. No torture quite compares to those agonizing moments when the fisherman is ready but the rod is not.
This dilemma, though, will soon become a thing of the past thanks to Denver Outfitters. Their Rod Vault Pro holds three fully assembled fly rods on top of a vehicle in an aluminum "vault." No more broken rods, damaged reels, or wasted time on the riverbank rigging up gear. It’s not unusual for us to get excited about gear, particularly fishing gear. After all, we love drifting flies on freestone rivers, and gear is part and parcel of who we are.
The Rod Vault, though, has us stoked for reasons that go well beyond our usual gear-induced fervor. Here’s why: When you buy a Rod Vault, you’re not just investing in a killer American-made travel setup for your fly rods, you’re also investing in a project called “Dream Lab.”
Our first encounter with Dream Lab occurred when we were (you guessed it) looking for new gear. We landed on Denver Outfitters' website where two images piqued our interest. The first, of course, was a picture of the Rod Vault Pro—the exact accessory we needed for the overlanding rack on our Dodge Ram; the second picture, however, was a bit, well, surprising—a smiling boy in safety glasses.
Who was this kid? Did kids build the Rod Vault? Questions needed to be answered. We dug a little deeper. We did some reading. We even called up Joel Weinhold, Denver Outfitters' COO and resident wise sage.
It took a while, but we finally we sleuthed our way to understanding. Here’s what we learned: That boy, it turns out, was part of Denver Outfitters' Dream Lab, a business school for kids and young adults taught by the staff at Denver Outfitters. According to Weinhold, the Dream Lab idea has been a key part of the company’s plan since its inception.
“We wanted to give kids hands-on experience,” Weinhold told us, “give them a chance to work on 3-D printers and lathes” and “learn how a business actually works.” Weinhold explained that the traditional school system wasn’t doing enough when it came to teaching real world business skills like “marketing, accounting, invention, and design.” The Denver Outfitters team set out to change that.
But Dream Lab, Weinhold told us, had to remain a dream without a “Lab” until a successful business could provide a brick-and-mortar location for the school. So about a year ago, armed with the dream and backed by a few investors, a group of like-minded friends set out to buy and build a business that could be the foundation for the school.
They landed on Titan Rod Vault, which Weinhold described as “a company with a great product but a failing business model.” After buying the beleaguered company, they rebranded it as Denver Outfitters and began rebuilding. It wasn’t easy. In Weinhold’s words, the business was practically “circling the drain” when they stepped in. In less than a year, though, Denver Outfitters grew out of its office space twice and could hardly keep up with orders. Weinhold credits hard work, a business model focused on customer support, and—most importantly—a quality product.
One of the most difficult challenges, according to Weinhold, was retooling the Rod Vault so that it was primarily made in the US rather than China. In the end, bringing production back to the US was, in Weinhold’s words, “good for people” and “good for business.”
Now, with the first year nearly behind them, Denver Outfitters has much to be proud of: At present, around twenty students are studying in the Dream Lab (Weinhold expects the number to grow as the company expands); they’ve nearly completed moving the production from overseas to the US; and—most importantly—they will soon be shipping out the newly-redesigned Rod Vault Pro. “We found that fly fishermen, as a whole, are a good bunch of people,” Weinhold told us, “who are incredibly appreciative and supportive.” Customers love the Rod Vault, but they also appreciated the company’s community-minded mission.
Weinhold should know—he’s personally contacted everyone who has pre-ordered the Rod Vault Pro, just to check in and thank them for their business. In the end, Weinhold answered our questions and a few more to boot.
Our takeaway was simple: We ordered a Rod Vault. Like Weinhold, we are proud that it represents more than just the sum total of its parts. Who knows? Maybe the next time you’re driving alongside a river you’ll see our GetLostLife truck (After all, a river is good place to find us). And if you see our truck, you can be sure that you’ll see a Rod Vault Pro on our rack. But you won’t see us. We’ll be long gone, down around the bend, casting to rising cutthroat.