We as people will go through an evolution of changes in our lives ranging from relationships, professions, cars, interests and more. The one thing we can maintain as a constant is never forgetting where we came from. Along the way, at this interesting thing we call life, we strive to become better and stronger over time. It's the amazing aspect of human life, hard times make us stronger, breaking bones and healing makes us stronger, and we need to reflect on these times and appreciate the growth and change. Never forget where you come from and how one started.
I remember vividly in the 90's, CTV news broadcaster Barb Higgins, was giving a speech at a friend's high school graduation. With the lights dimmed down, she walked out to the stage in the flesh. Somewhat surreal experience for an 11 year old seeing the very person who was on the nightly news standing no more than a few tables away. She had started the speech in the usual fashion of congratulating the graduating class, however what had echoed through my head for so long was a simple idea. It went like this... "There will be jobs created which we cannot fathom by the time this class graduates University and each of you will most likely have 3-5 different professions throughout your lifetime." This being the 90's with parents with the same profession for their entire lifetime made this notion almost unfathomable.
Barb Higgins announcing her retirement (youtube)
Three to five different professions throughout one's lifetime?! Sure enough around 1997, the internet started to appear in my parent's mailbox, the real one outside the house, in the form of an AOL CD which was useless to our family because our Apple Mac SE didn't even have a CD drive! That's a whole n'other story. The internet... it changed everything! And now Ms. Higgins words, alongside the internet boom, started to gain traction in my mind. The internet changed everything and with this spurred an entire sector of jobs.
In 2009, I had started a group called CT4WD.com which was a responsible and family oriented 4WD community which was passionate about responsible 4WD travel, self propelled activites, 4WD education, breaking stereotypes, and treading lightly. The way it had gained traction was by means of the internet and more specifically... internet forums. Forums have grown since the late 90s into something which can accelerate a persons knowledge and have the ability to share knowledge by interacting with other people through the computer.
CT4WD.com Members in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, Canada (2010)
Top Left to Right, uknown, Meghan (motochick), Vicchi (ricefarmer), Brett, Addison (rickashay24), Ryan (reeeno403), Frank (littlebluetaco)
Bottom Left to Right, Shayne, David (fjtent), Bette, Nathan (freeze)
Education was the pinnacle of CT4WD.com as motorized backcountry use at the time consisted of burning cars, mud bogging in sensitive wetlands, driving up and down streams and rivers, and leaving garbage behind. This had to change and the best way is to change through education. The courses were designed for 4WD owner's who have been doing it for a long time and new comers wanting to get started. I had ensured the courses be improved by becoming proper 4WD instructors and certified Tread Lightly Tread Trainers. With the initial cash investment into CT4WD it sent a fellow named David Wakely (DocMcCoy) and myself to get trained up by Bill Burke of a week long intensive train the trainer in Moab. Through the website, local events, photos, and videos we had educated over 100 driver's, ran guided 4WD trips through Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, Moab Utah, Rubicon California, and Dusy Ershim California.
The combination of education and trail runs led to driver's needing better upgrades for their 4WD's to handle more difficult terrain as their skills grew and their want to go further increased. Skid plates, rock sliders, suspension, bumpers, self recovery, wheels, tires, and lighting needs started to increase and the high quality gear needed was not available locally. Everything had to be ordered through the internet which ran shipping costs through the roof. So one day, while taking a shower which is where most of these thoughts come from, I could lower these costs for everyone if I group together a pallet, take care of all the math, the shipping, the importation, the ordering and the distribution to help everyone out build their ultimate adventure vehicle for a lot less.
At the time I had won All-Pro's 2" wider long travel kit through a competition they were holding on TTORA.com in 2009 and the conversation opened up with them to see if they could help CT4WD to put together pallets for a group order. Sarah Caller, who worked at All-Pro at the time, was extremely supportive and agreed to help provide a slight discount and palletize orders. Sure enough it started to grow and by the third group order, it was two oversize pallets which barely fit in a single car garage. This is when things were getting a little out of hand and I would drive to strange places like Wal-Mart parking lots at 9PM to give a CT4WD members their order. It was starting to feel like a part time job.
Another shower... and the idea of leasing a small warehouse came to mind. If the price was low enough I could build it into the pallet orders and subsidize the remaining amount. So in 2010 the hunt for a small warehouse on the cheap was on. After looking at numerous locations, one came up which worked to hold pallets in the back, it was central so people could come pick up, and it had a nice front space. One issue right off the bat is it was bright purple inside and thankfully when you lease a space the landlord can provide a little tenant improvement fund to fix things before moving in. The purple needed to be fixed! Next issue was needing to incorporate to lease the space... what to call such a place?! The core of what was being done to a vehicle was gearing them up for adventure and being in the rocky mountains, we also use gear for our adventures. So the name was simple... The Gear Shop. A name that would allow us to retail and distribute almost anything that I was passionate about... So a deal was made, The Gear Shop Inc. become an incorporation, nice clean eggshell white was laid on and the shower idea became reality.
The beginnings to The Gear Shop.
Phone, internet, computer and some lighting from Ikea thanks to Ryan Evans (reeeno403) for his sparky abilities went in. Not long after, the word must have gotten out beyond CT4WD that this little place was able to order in automotive upgrades not widely found in Canada. I had used a company called 99designs.com to create the initial logo which was a neat process. All online, you can create a profile with a description of what you're doing, set a budget and some guidelines and it goes out to thousands of artists around the world. If they like the project they will create the logo and you can pick which one is best and critique it to make it better. So within a few days the initial logo was born from a person I've never met from the other side of the world through a web browser.
The Gear Shop Humble Beginnings Circa 2012
CT4WD had a forum which allowed members and non members to talk to each other, be updated on courses, trail runs and events. This is where the other side of forums come out. We had strict forum rules to keep it respectful to each other and people of all ages. There were a few who felt it was "their right" to bring in a host of negativity which was enough to take the passion out of running the organization right down to the team volunteering their time to make it work. It was time to lay it to rest. The time, the money, and the sweat that went into it was worth it as we made a little impact on the 4WD world in terms of long distance travel, vehicle builds, and what people call today... overlanding with newer 4WD's. The focus was now on The Gear Shop and to make it into a world class store for the automotive lifestyle.
A Typical Crowd Sitting Outside The Gear Shop.
The empty front store slowly filled with products which evolved into showroom showcasing the best products in the industry. The warehouse started to fill with racking and eventually products filled the racks for stock. It was a learning process on how to run a retail business, quoting, margins, logistics, inventory and providing a service. There's a whole other side of balancing books, accounting, GST, etc that I had to take a literal crash course in. I had an idea of what I had to go through working with the local 4WD and automotive shops and I knew what The Gear Shop shouldn't be. The trick was to make it what it should be. I've heard through the years it takes at least 5 years to make a lasting business and 10 years to make it a profitable business. Almost every day I was here in the morning to late at night getting the business into hyper speed to keep evolving.
Growth is Small and Steady Circa Late 2012
During the first few years I had hired a young lady name Crista who helped with the day to day and eventually doing sales. She had come at a perfect time when we needed a little more muscle to keep moving forwards. In my personal life at the time, there was news there was going to a stork coming by with a little addition. The complexities of life reached new heights which soon later showed how far I could balance life. Near the time Crista was retiring, I had a little baby boy pop into my life which is incredible. I made my office into nursery so I could look after him during the day while answering phones and looking after clients. Some of you may remember when my son was with me at the shop playing or sleeping next to me in his hi-chair. This was as family owned business as you could get. Not long after we hired Alex to take on Crista's role as his first foray was installing a baby gate voluntarily showing his mechanical skills along with a "little" plan on re-organizing the warehouse into something more functional.
My Son... The Shop Kid
The gap between Crista and Alex was about 2 months and Richard, my father, would ask if I needed help answering phones while I looked after my son. I stubbornly said I could handle it all... well a few days a week answering phones turned into Richard volunteering full time to this day. He's retired and it's a place he enjoys coming to every morning with the team. This was a huge help as he was able to manage the back end of the business. My son spent almost 2 years of his life growing up at the shop where he learned sign language for please and thank you all the way to shaking hands which Alex taught him along with high fives and pound it! During this time the requests for us to install the products we were retailing started to increase to the point where one of our clients didn't make it an option! It was either we were doing the install or it wasn't going to get done at all. We had been working with a few shops to help us with the installs at the time, however for this one client it wasn't going to happen unless "Nathan" installed it.
The warehouse was similar to a cave... it was dark.. which led to using a headlamp, work lamp and floor stands. After three full long travel builds, two Tacoma re-gears, three full suspension installs, and too many skid plates and sliders done on the floor in the dark it was time to think about proper hoists and lighting. The warehouse got a lighting upgrade with modern ballasts and hi-powered florescent which was installed by Tyler Allen, even then I think he was tired of seeing me on the floor in the dark at 11PM installing kits! Thankfully in 2013 the bay next to us was up for lease and with a walk though showed it was going to work out for at least one hoist and additional retail. The expanded side was operational after two months of having to have the floor engineered to carry the weight of a two post hoist... learning is fun and education I have found is normally a tad expensive.
First hoist in place with our first project on the hoist. 2" Wider long travel, Hutchinson beadlocks, Fender clearance, Re-gear, Lockers, and 35" tires.
Once the hoist was in and the garage was starting to flow, a fellow named Nick came to help with installations and welding. Later a second four post hoist was installed to be able to correct the geometry of the vehicles after the suspension upgrades came through. The learning curve for a shop and pushing our limits of what we could do was very steep and the goal was to do it the best in the city. We pulled in Christian to come help work the front desk as orders were coming in more than I was able to handle on my own. He was a quite young man with a massive aspiration to learn and grow with the perfect personality of doing anything in his power to help the client. With the front desk working with more clients, the shop was at full steam. Wiring was well thought out, tidy and clean. Gear patterns were done over and over again until it was perfect wether it be an old Toyota, a newer Ford Raptor, full size, or performance car. We started to gain a reputation for quality work, maybe sometimes on the higher price range, but it was done right. After Nick had retired in 2015, we were fortunate to bring in Vicchi, a journeyman technician from Toyota of ten years, as our technician with a goal to progress The Gear Shop. Now we needed a welder. She was quite the sight with long brown hair flowing out behind the welding mask. Lindsey, a journeyman welder, did our welding, cutting and fabricating ensuring clean welds and strong upgrades. When a vehicle leaves the shop, it works and works extremely well. Excellent handling in all of the conditions, on tight curvy road, on gravel, on rocks or in snow is our goal.
Tamarack Media Co. taking us to a video contest.
Our brand has strengthened immensely which thankfully Jamie Calon from 54blue has supported us tremendously over the years in putting us in the right direction. We've always loved cars and all of us at the shop started tuning cars. It was natural for us to open up to our dirty little secret of cars and turbos. 54blue branded our main divisions into PERFORM, EXPLORE and MECHANICAL. PERFORM is our auto tuning, EXPLORE is our 4WD tuning and MECHANICAL is our automotive service. Our mission is offer the very best service, gear, and vehicle upgrades in the world. The current logo combination is the work of Henry of Hank White Designs and the finishing work was done by 54blue. Simple, clean and states who we are by the iconic window box to your adventure.
So when someone asks, is this something you thought you'd be doing the answer is... absolutely not! I love cars, I love 4WD's, I love motorcycles, I love gravity sports and I love helping people. The Gear Shop has evolved over time to incorporate all of the things I love and the funny thing is there is a solid amount of people out there who love the same things which becomes the things we love! Today we are a staff of 6, two hoists, we build both performance cars, exploring 4WD's, we retail high quality apparel and gear, and we service vehicles. Our team consists of Vic Nguyen our journeyman auto technician, Rhys Simon our automotive apprentice, Genny Wilson our current journeyman welder and fabricator, Christian Ortiz our product advisor, John Martin our apparel and gear product advisor, Rey who keeps our shop tidy, Richard Hayashi who gives us old man wisdom and keeps the cheques flowing, and myself.
The evolution of The Gear Shop is never ending, we are in our 5th year of business and our next step is a big one. We're thankful for our clients who've worked with us over the years and have stuck with us through the most difficult of times and through our growing pains, family and friends who have supported this crazy endeavour and The Gear Shop Team. Without the team and our clients there would be no Gear Shop. Through this little shop we've had the opportunity to create some of the most iconic vehicles ranging from the Super White 2007 Tacoma TRD Off-Road which most are blueprinted from today, Biglines.com #BLRavenOne Tundra, George's around the #World4Runner, the Oakley Canada vehicle fleet, and Shota Matsuda's #TokyoTruck.
Tundra build for Shota Matsuda for his adventures in North America.
We will never forget how we started as it's the basis for where we are today. Ms. Higgins had some impressive foresight and how true she was that The Gear Shop exists today. Now we reflect on the growth of The Gear Shop over the last five years, we reflect on the challenges, we reflect on the processes and the experiences. 2017 is going to be an exciting year for all of us as we break from our cocoon with everything we learned over the past 5 years into a new breath of The Gear Shop.
- Nathan Hayashi