SEPTEMBER 29, 1997
By Deborah Bender
You're hunting in the backcountry. As darkness settles in for the night, you realize it's too late to find your way back to camp. Your only hope is to build a fire before the temperature drops below freezing. Droplets of icy rain splatter your face and fingers as you fumble for a firestarter. Soaked through, it will not light. Shivering, you know it's only a matter of time before hypothermia sets in.
Duvall resident and hunting enthusiast, Ed Trim knows this scenario all too well. Twenty years ago, while hunting in Montana's back woods Trim got himself into a similar situation, but managed to "invent" his way out of it. Using ordinary tree-pitch, Trim created his own firestarter which he affectionately dubbed the "PitchWitch." Unlike most commercial firestarters, Trim's invention was 100% waterproof, useful in even the worst of weather conditions.
When one of his hunting companions lost his life to hypothermia, Trim became very concerned with hunting safety. He put together some survival kits for hunters, which included his PitchWitch, and began distributing them among friends and outfitters in Montana.
"Everybody just loved the firestarters," explained Trim. "They kept telling me, "Ed, you should really put these on the market, and you would no doubt save a lot of people's lives."
Just last year, Trim got serious about his product and secured a trademark for the PitchWitch. Last February, Trim opened a hunting outfitter in Duvall, called BackCountry with his wife, Carol, and family friends, Ron and Alice Bredehoeft. BackCountry specializes in hunting gear, and does not sell firearms.
Trim explained how the concept of BackCountry came about. "We started with the survival kits, but wanted some more quality gear to go with them. We wanted to provide the serious hunter with the kinds of products that are usually only available at sportsman shows."
Indeed, most of BackCountry's products are unavailable at typical retail sporting-goods stores.
The process of finding a quality product took some serious effort. "We went back to Colorado to school for a week, studied up on wool clothes, and found what we felt was the best brand on the market. From there, we went looking at packs." said Trim.
With modular packs costing $250 and wool pants that run upwards of $300, BackCountry is no Army/Navy Surplus store. Of course, BackCountry's wool pants are not your ordinary slacks, either - they're made with two layers of wool, medical knee pads, and a pad Bredehoeft referred to as a "bun warmer."
Bredehoeft, who has a background in computer science and runs a computer business called I Q Technologies, created a website for BackCountry (www.backcountryinc.com) before the showroom opened. The site consists of an on-line catalog, information about the PitchWitch, hunting pictures of BackCountry employees and customers, and even a page devoted to hypothermia awareness. Although the BackCountry site is well-crafted and informative, the internet marketing strategy met with minimal success.
Bredehoeft explained, "We decided to launch the business with this internet site, and spent a good deal of time and effort putting that out there, only to realize that most hunters don't have computers."
They quickly remedied this situation, becoming "road gypsies," and displaying their products at various shows including Duvall Days, Fall City Days, and the Evergreen State Fair. "Our business has really evolved," explained Bredehoeft, "from internet, to road shows, to the retail display we have now."
Just a couple of weeks ago, BackCountry opened its retail showroom in downtown Duvall. The showroom is located at 26425 N.E. Allen Street, suite 2, one block up the Cherry Valley Road. Business hours run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday.
In business there is always a bottom line. But for Trim, that bottom line has more to do with safety than with money. "My biggest goal is to get more of those survival kits out there so more people can call me on the phone and say, 'Hey, thanks, Ed it saved my life.' I think that would be pretty super."