By Jim Dyar
Yates Gear Inc. in Redding
Those hoping for success in the independent business world would do well to listen to Redding’s John Yates. Yates has been expanding and evolving his successful venture in the North State for more than 30 years.
Yates Gear Inc. started as a manufacturer of rock climbing and mountaineering equipment, but today produces an array of products for everything from fire rescue to industrial rigging to tactical military usage.
“We listen to the comments from the end user as far as what works and what doesn’t,” says Yates. “Equipment evolves. It isn’t just created. We listen to users and take it to heart. Because it’s a small community, they’re willing to come to you and say ‘this is great,’ or ‘I’m having an issue with this.’”
Over the past decade, sales have increased by 10 to 20 percent each year for Yates Gear. In its production warehouse off Hartnell Avenue in east Redding, the company employs about 60 workers who construct all manner of harnesses, rigging systems, belts, bags and much more. In addition to its many designs, the company has developed a number of proprietary materials, including straps, hardware, adjusters, clamps, webbing and foam laminates.
The market for Yates’ products includes fire departments, law enforcement agencies, search and rescue teams, power companies, military suppliers and climbing supply distributors. It’s common to see Yates gear on ropes and zip lining courses as well as climbing gyms.
“We’re pretty diversified, so if one area goes down it doesn’t affect us too badly,” Yates says.
The longevity and experience in the rock climbing industry has translated well to people who work from ropes, including those who repair and inspect wind turbines, dams, bridges, buildings and more.
“We know how to make something comfortable and something you can climb in,” Yates says. “We’re dealing with a niche market where everybody knows everybody. It’s a small company and it’s grown pretty much by word of mouth. We go to about half a dozen trade shows a year.”
The company started in 1982 when John and his brother James fused their love of big wall rock climbing with a knack for making equipment. A black and white photo in the front of the warehouse shows the two brothers smiling and standing atop Mt. Shasta after a wintertime ascent of the mountain.
During college, John Yates worked as a seasonal ranger in Yosemite doing high-angle rescue and law enforcement. Over the years, he has pursued other dynamic outdoor sports such as paragliding and kayaking. His wife Karen is a co-owner and office manager in the business.
James Yates stayed with the business for 10 years before going into chiropractic care. He now resides in New Zealand.
Vice president and co-owner Blaine Stidham is the company’s production manager. Stidham began working for Yates out of high school to support his passion for rock climbing and mountaineering. He worked off and on for Yates for years until becoming a partner in the company about 10 years ago.
“When I started, there were two or three employees,” Stidham says. “I was working for my ropes and my climbing equipment.”
Because the company makes products that people literally depend on with their lives, Yates has become certified to the rigorous standards of the ISO Quality Management System. Much of the company’s equipment is also tested by a third-party agency, Underwriters Laboratory.
Yates also tests its designs in-house with machines and drop towers that reveal the true limits of what the equipment can withstand.
“We use the best material that money can buy. We don’t skimp on materials,” Stidham says. “If we see something that’s better than what we’re using, we’re going to switch to it. We’re always trying to make something stronger and lighter.”