Moby Dick comes to mind, with a little bit of Around the World in 80 Days thrown in for good measure.
Esarey practically grew up on his father’s commercial fishing boat plying the waters of Alaska, Oregon and Washington for some 13 years. Later, he an his new wife, Janna Esarey, sailed to Hong Kong on their honeymoon, a feat that inspired her to write the best-selling travel memoir, Motion of the Ocean, with the intriguing subtitle: “1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife.”
If that wasn’t enough adventure, in 2018 he loaded up himself, his wife, and their two adolescent daughters onto a 60-foot sailboat and headed to the Arctic Circle – picking up his parents in Sitka, AK., on the way up.
Esarey figures he’s logged around 50,000 miles at sea during his 52 years, either on a fishing boat or by sail. On his Alaska cruise, he “repurposed” what was once a racing boat into an exploration vessel.
The family spent the better part of a year in the ship at sea, not only in Alaska but also taking forays to Hawaii, the South Pacific, and back to Alaska. They ventured through some iconic Pacific Northwest and Alaska regions, such as the Inside Passage, the Aleutian Islands, Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, AK., and many other ports of call.
“We were pushing a lot of ice around,” he remembers. “We had a lot of hand-warmers (on board), but they didn’t work very well.” The designing and making of improved hand warmers sparked one notion. But the big break-through occurred when he and his family noticed just how many one-pound, disposable propane containers – in the familiar green casing – were left scattered on the landscape by whalers and other fisherman.
Esarey says there are about 40 million to 60 million one-pound propane containers consumed and disposed of each year. Sitting on his sailboat, he and his family wondered why there wasn’t a refillable propane container solution on the market.
“Someone needs to do something about all these disposable propane bottles,” he recalls thinking at the time. “Why not me?”
Not long after returning to shoreside, Ignik was launched. The name is derived from a combination of an Alaskan native language, Old English and Latin that “all line up as (meaning) sustainable heat,” Esarey maintains.
Besides working in commercial fishing, the self-styled “serialpreneur” spent time in the consumer electronics business, and at least a decade as president of Industrial Revolution, a Tukwila-based company that owns and distributes a whole array of products in the camping industry, from kitchen accessories to tinder fire-starting equipment. It distributes its products through REI, Amazon and some 10,000 dealers nationwide.
Esarey subsequently worked with Industrial Revolution’s owner on another start-up, and has parlayed those experiences into shaping Ignik. “The idea of doing outdoor products is way more interesting (to me) than consumer electronics, which is all about show me the money,” he says. “In the outdoor industry people actually care about what they do.”
Through his many contacts, Esarey was able to piece together a small staff of designers and engineers, and launched Ignik’s first product – a propane gas growler – in December 2019, distributing it through REI. That same year, the small business filed eight provisional patents for additional products, such as bio dependable hand-warmers and battery-powered heaters.
Today, the company has 35 product offerings stretching across three main categories: Propane Heating (which includes camping fire pits and reusable containers), Personal Heating Systems, and Air Activated Warmers. Backed by venture capital, Ignik operates out of a small office located at OfficeXpats, a co-working site in Downtown Winslow, and had annual sales last year of between $5 million and $10 million.
The company employees 10 to 12 people, many of whom are located off site in remote locations, such as New Hampshire, Mississippi, and other areas of Washington. It assembles many of its products in a light-manufacturing center in Tacoma after they are produced in factories in China and Thailand.
“Designing reusable products is at the core of what we do,” Esarey says, “(but) the great limiter is human capital.” Indeed, managing his scattered workforce and the company’s impressive array of products, distributed to retailers like REI, Amazon, Sierra Trading Post and many others, is no easy feat.
“Developing products isn’t that difficult,” Esarey explains, while loading gas growlers into the back of an SUV. “It’s managing the growth and the supply chain…Last year we had a 600 percent growth rate. That growth percentage doesn’t (really) make sense, (but then try) putting 30 products in 200 stores at the same time. You have to produce and deliver (and) it takes a while to get paid.”
Such challenges – that might deter others – seem to roll off Esarey’s back. He knows that his consumer market of regular family campers and who he calls “Van Lifers” is growing and will continue to expand post-Covid 19. “They are compassionate consumers who own vans and small RVs,” he says. “They’re people trying to be outside in their own bubbles. That business has been explosive.”
If Esarey didn’t already have enough products to sell, he’s researching another item that will fit into Ignik’s Personal Heating System line. “The big thing this fall is (going to be) a wearable blanket that’s heated and fits like a poncho,” he says, flashing a grin that only an entrepreneur could appreciate.
Interested in learning more about Ignik, visit www.ignik.com
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