By Chris Meehan | Apr 17, 2023
Roof racks and accessories
Co-founders Hayden Deatherage, Will Oliver and Alex Fleming began making roof racks for their trucks while still in college out of necessity.
"At the time, we all had 4Runners and we needed a roof rack to carry our gear. We were broke college kids," says Deatherage. "What was out there was limited and we couldn't afford it. So we just decided to make our own racks that did exactly what we wanted it to and that we could afford."
"It kind of progressed from there. We posted some photos of it to social media just to try to show people: 'Hey, look what we made.' People just took it from there and it blew up, people wanted it. And that's when we were like, 'Okay, we can actually do this.'"
Branding the company's crew as "Toyota guys," Deatherage says Sherpa Equipment Co. -- then Rocky Mountain Racks -- launched making roof racks designed for Toyota 4Runners and Tacomas. "We pretty much covered all of the Toyota market just going through friends with different vehicles, so that was kind of an easy progression through those."
Since its start in 2017, the company has expanded into making racks for other trucks, including Ford RAM, and even Porsche. "It's grown through just seeing what people are building right now and what vehicles people are actually using to get out there and explore," Deatherage says.
The racks' key selling points? Flexibility and durability. "Our rack system is really easy to bolt and mount virtually anything to. Basically, there are slots along the crossbars and we have special hardware that makes it so pretty much anything with a hole can bolt right up," Deatherage says. "So while we don't have a bike or ski rack specifically, we have a lot of customers that will take pretty much anything out there and, and bolt it on"
Deatherage says Sherpa is focused on making the strongest racks on the market. "We see a lot of other ones that work, but eventually you'll have an issue with them because they just can't hold up to the abuse that going off road and having a rooftop tent will put on those racks."
He also says that the company doesn't skimp on the details. "It's honestly a pretty involved R&D process in the sense of we have to get everything just perfect so that it doesn't make any wind noise, it doesn't touch the vehicle and rub paint off, so it's definitely a balancing act trying to make it look the best we can while trying to make it aerodynamic and whatnot."
Each rack system is unique to the vehicle type, with 90 percent of parts that are vehicle-specific. "It's kind of unfortunate on our side of things because it requires just so much more stock," says Deatherage. "But at the end of the day that's what gives our product that edge and makes it what it is."
Using a fiber laser, waterjet, press brake, and tumbler, Sherpa fabricates almost everything in-house, including the side plates, fairings and mounts. "There are some little products that we have to outsource, like rubber blocks -- we just don't have a way to fabricate those," says Deatherage.
"All of it comes from the U.S. and honestly, the majority is pretty local to us. So that's something we're proud of and we're always striving for, is keeping everything made in the U.S. using U.S. materials and components."
Due to growth, the company, which started in a home garage, has had to continuously find larger spaces. Sherpa moved into its current 26,000-square-foot shop in August 2021. The new building allows for future expansion as well as for building reserves of stock to meet customer needs more rapidly.
As of March 2023, Sherpa was building out a powder-coating area in the new shop to allow them to bring that aspect of their manufacturing in-house. In the future, he says, the company could also purchase a mill for more on-site work.
Currently, the company is selling racks primarily in the U.S. and Canada through a mix of direct-to-consumer marketing and some stores and dealerships. Deatherage says the company enjoys both approaches.
"It's honestly a lot of fun to work with customers and be able to kind of experience this journey with them trying to figure out what they're trying to do with their build and what they're trying to mount. But it also is fun working with dealers too and being able to give people another outlet, and a means to have access to this."
Challenges: "Having the processes and whatnot that we want to have to have to make a truly premium, high-end product," says Deatherage. "It's not always possible to have all the equipment and make everything in-house."
Opportunities: "The opportunity is being able to get that equipment, get those processes. and be able to grow our product and really elevate our product with those pieces," Deatherage says. "We've had a lot of things that we have certainly improved upon throughout the years and it's exciting to see what we can continue to improve upon going forward."
Needs: "It's certainly been a little bit tricky, especially in last year . . . hiring-wise, but I've heard that from everyone across the board," says Deatherage. "That's probably the biggest need I see, especially in the coming months with powder coating and whatnot. It's just being able to hire, and to hire quality people, too."