Johnson Outdoor Gear, a division of Johnson Outdoors, Inc., has been in its Conklin Ave facility since 1895 – 122 years! One of the most commonly known brands produced there is Eureka!. Born in Binghamton in the nineteenth century, Eureka! started out making “Conestoga Wagon” covers, manufactured walled camping tents through World Wars I and II, and made trailer awnings during the Baby Boom.
In the 1970’s, Sam Johnson of SC Johnson, an avid outdoorsman, acquired Eureka! and combined it with several other family-owned outdoor recreation companies to form Johnson Camping, which eventually became Johnson Outdoors, Inc. after it went public in 1981. Today, Johnson Outdoors, Inc. employs 1,500 people worldwide with annual sales of $425 million last year.
The Binghamton branch of Johnson Outdoor Gear focuses on manufacturing and selling camping-related products, military tents/accessories and outdoor event tents. Johnson Outdoors Gear employs 80 to 100 people, depending on the time of year (their busy season is from March to July), and produces several hundred military tents and thousands of event tents/accessories annually, most of which are produced here in Broome County.
Jim Reyen, Business Director for the Military and Event Tent divisions, takes pride in this fact, attributing much of the company’s renown and success to its innovative management teams over the years, of which his father was a member for decades. Jim’s father, James, began working for Eureka!’s tent rental crew right out of college and quickly worked his way up to handling the Sales and Rental divisions around the time Sam Johnson bought Eureka!. James then became manager of the Johnson Outdoors Gear Binghamton branch and, along with a few other innovative managers, took it from a regional company to an international one from 1973 through 1993, making Johnson Outdoors, Inc. one of the top camping tent manufacturers in the world.
The innovation continued into the early ‘80’s with the development of a backyard, party canopy made with vinyl, not canvas as previously used, and pushed Johnson Outdoors into the rental business, allowing them to develop large, elegant event tents for the commercial tent market.
In 1988, Jim Reyen officially began working for the company, though he’s been around the business for as long as his dad was employed there. Having worked in almost every division of this local branch, Jim has seen many of Johnson’s cutting-edge products through from start to finish.
Around 1995, in the Camping Tent division, the company got involved with a brand-new phenomenon–the Internet. Johnson Outdoor Gear’s Sales Manager at the time led the company to establishing a secure-dealer website for Eureka! tents before most of their competitors had one, where dealers could access instructions and technical information.
A few years later, the Military Tent side of Johnson Outdoors, Inc. collaborated with Natick and several other design partners on a new design to replace the Army’s general purpose wall tent with a tent known as the MGPTS, which became an immediate success. This product earned the company a 5-year $100,000 million contract with the U.S. army and from there, they started adding on one product after another. Johnson’s military tents are built and spec’d for militaries all over the world, including the U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, National Guard, as well as foreign armies like those of Israel, Argentina, a few in the U.K and more.
The company’s history of being ahead of the curve in product innovation has trickled down from the top. Current CEO Helen Johnson constantly pushes each branch of Johnson Outdoors, Inc. “to strive for innovation in product and process,” as well as “better communication and understanding” of their customers through analysis and research.
As much as innovation is integral to the Johnson mission, family, tradition and loyalty are a key part of the company’s environment and culture. This is a family-oriented business that values their employees.
According to Bill Kelly, Group Vice President for Johnson Outdoors Gear, “When the Binghamton facility was hit by both the 2006 and 2011 floods, incurring $10 million and $6 million worth of damage, respectively, Helen Johnson and her team continued paying our local employees while the plant was closed. We also hosted huge benefit events to raise money for employees who had lost their homes and possessions in the floods.”
This explains why the average duration of employment in the Binghamton facility is around 15 to 20 years, with many people having 30 to 40 years with the company under their belt. The local branch of the Johnson Company is dedicated to its employees, as well as the area.
Even with the challenges of repairing and renovating after the floods, they didn’t pick up and leave. They “just kept trucking” and remained here because of the company’s history and attachment to Broome County. In Jim’s own words, “We’re proud of our heritage. We’re proud of our area. We’re proud of our employees. We’re just gonna keep pushing forward and do the best we can.”
Johnson Outdoors Gear, Inc.is looking for reliable, hard-working, dedicated people to join their Conklin team. If you are interested in a career contact their Human Resources Department and speak to Suzanne Lewis-Mott or Walaya Kretzmer at 607-779-2200.
To purchase Johnson Outdoors, Inc.’s products, check out their website, as well as on Amazon and DICK’S Sporting Goods, Inc.’s sites. You can also rent Eureka! party tents from Taylor Rental and many other rental companies nationwide.
Johnson Outdoor Gear is part of why #Broomeisgood and the #MadeinBroome program.