When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in late March 2020, YakAttack, the kayak accessory business with $6 million in annual sales, lived up to its name. Owner Luther Cifers attacked the economic slowdown with a common-sense solution: his company switched production from kayak accessories to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“Quite frankly, we had a lot of orders that just dried up,” Luther says. “Knowing that we had the capability, and knowing that there was an urgent need out there, we decided it would be a shame to just sit out the shutdown. We have an engineering staff onsite, and we design products in-house. Once a product is designed and needs to go to tooling, we also build that tooling. We can go from concept to a functional, shippable product faster than most companies.”
At that point the Longwood SBDC offered its assistance. Within a matter of weeks, YakAttack switched production from kayak accessories to PPE. Luther worked really well with Michael Duncan, the SBDC’s Lead Regional Consultant. “Michael has had a lot of manufacturing experience, and he helped us navigate the whole PPE thing, Luther explains. “Michael’s input guided us through the regulatory hurdles.”
Once in production, YakAttack provided PPE at cost. “We also donated a lot of PPE with funds raised through a Go Fund Me campaign,” Luther adds. Beneficiaries included Central Southside Community Hospital, local nursing homes, area doctors and dentists, and more.
Luther, who describes himself as a “homegrown engineer,” established his successful business from the ground up. “YakAttack started in 2009 in a friend’s basement,” he recalls. “In a year’s time, what started as a hobby business netted $20,000. “It was evident that there was a market, but you have to know the right steps to be successful in a business — or you have to figure them out,” Luther says. “We’ve done a lot of figuring out.”
YakAttack’s “figuring out” has paid off. With a 250-plus product line, the company’s distribution includes all 50 states as well as Canada, Australia, and Europe. “We’re still growing,” Luther adds of the business that currently employs 50. He predicts his business will continue to grow in the 68,000-square-foot building YakAttack now calls home. He plans to take advantage of the SBDC’s resources to help promote that growth.
“Every growing business is constantly faced with challenges they haven’t encountered before,” Luther concludes. “Having someone like Michael, who’s been down that road before, can save you from making a lot of mistakes. I plan to keep the SBDC at the top of my contact list.”