While 10 years isn’t much in the lifespan of a river, it certainly is in the raft industry, with RMR popping the Champagne on its decade of helping river runners get out on the water.
Rocky Mountain Rafts started in Crested Butte, Colorado on the banks of the Taylor River, thanks to the lightbulb of owner Denny Hugo, who got hooked on rafting in 1989. Over the next several years, Hugo, a commercial airline pilot, dabbled in designs after finding it hard to find an affordable, high-quality boat. “We wanted to give more people the opportunity to own a raft by creating a rugged product at an affordable price,” he says. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since RMR started manufacturing rafts. I must admit I never thought that after 10 years we’d be one of the top manufacturers in the country.”
Modeling the business after Southwest Airlines, his plan was to use technology, state of the art manufacturing processes and keep operating costs low. Since 2011, it’s done just that, growing into one of the top raft manufacturers in the country while staying true to its original mission, while continuing to improve its offerings every year.
“We started RMR with the mission to produce and distribute the best value rafts and inflatable products in the industry and to deliver consistent, outstanding customer service,” Hugo says. “Our goal is to give everyone the opportunity to own a quality inflatable at a price they can afford so they can enjoy the great outdoors.
Built to last
“Our boats are built with UV-resistant PVC, triple-welded seams and radio-frequency welded D-rings and handles,” he adds, adding they build them with a thicker, heavier material than most boat manufacturers. “PVC is known for its stiffness which is perfect on the water, as it inflates to a firm level and provides predictable hole-punching.”
Starting with a few simple boat models, tweaking them each year until they were perfected, their line now includes everything from big 16-foot rafts to inflatable kayaks and river tubes—pretty much everything to get people down the river.
Keeping true to its roots of building a higher quality raft for a lower price, RMR maintains all features of many higher cost boats, including overlapping, radio-frequency welded seams, laced in I-beam floors, and a 5-year warranty, but keeping it at a more affordable price. In addition to main seam overlaps, RMR also welds seam tape over both the interior and exterior side of each tube joint for better air retention.
As far as quality control, being a commercial pilot helps Hugo—a 10-year fighter and 18-year commercial pilot who graduated with an Aeronautical Engineering degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Master’s in Aeronautical Science from Embry Riddle—to easily visit the factory in China to check on production and adhere to RMR’s mission “to produce and distribute the best value rafts and inflatable products in the industry and to deliver consistent, outstanding customer service.” He still makes up to five trips a year overseas to the factory, inspecting over 75% of the rafts that are built
Julie Jones is now the general manager of RMR, replacing longtime manager Bobby Bower, who still works in sales for the company and is their all-around “boat guru.” He’s also executive director of West Virginia Professional River Outfitters and owner of Pro River Outfitters—good street cred for any raft manufacturer. She’s joined by Molly Wolff in marketing, Lila Marie Thomas in sales, Noah Jones as warehouse manager, TJ Louisos handling frames and welding, and David Carter as frame manufacturing manager. They’re all putting out a lineup that includes a complete line of rafts, catarafts, IKs, tubes and accessories like its popular Crash Pads camping mattresses—all built to last and help people get out on the water.
The company’s newest product launch is its line of raft frames and dry boxes, which just went live mid-June. “We’re building them at our newly acquired 24,000-square-foot facility in Fayette County, West Virginia,” he says. “We’re very excited about building frames designed specifically for RMR rafts but will also fit other brands.
In the end, he credits the company’s success to having an awesome team. “I have to attribute our success to the hardworking, wonderful people who I have been fortunate to hire,” he says. “They work tirelessly to provide great customer service to our dealers, outfitters,, and private boater customers. I couldn’t be prouder of the RMR team.”
Listen to the Dan Camp Podcast here: https://anchor.fm/daniel-camp7/episodes/Rocky-Mountain-Rafts-and-Bobby-Bower-Rafts-for-the-People-erd25m/a-a4qe3vg