Owner Joshua Veenstra is charting a course for an outdoor-oriented manufacturing economy in northwestern Colorado.

Photos Jonathan Castner

The idea for Good Vibes River Gear was hatched on a raft in the Yampa and Green rivers.

After working at the local coal-fired power plant in the early 2010s, Veenstra was ready to take a fork on his career path. Because he worked with insulation, he says the job “was like the Itchy & Scratchy Show. It was always full white suits, putting on respirators, a hardhat.”

Veenstra traded the hardhat and white suit for flip-flops and board shorts and launched Good Vibes with his wife, Maegan, in 2015. “I’ve always wanted to do something different that wasn’t working for a big company,” he says.”After that raft trip, I came back and bought a sewing machine and cut all my ties with the other industry and started in my garage.”

Then in his mid-thirties, Veenstra embarked on the development of a catalog of drop bags and other accessories for rafting trips.

A deal with a Grand Junction retailer died on the vine, leaving Veenstra with 60 bags and leading him to open Good Vibes’ brick-and-mortar shop in Craig that sells Good Vibes products as well as life jackets, coolers, apparel, and products from other companies. “It just kept getting busier and busier,” says Veenstra.

That led to a bigger shop in a former service station. “It needed a little facelift and a little love, so we came in here and made a home, but we’re almost outgrowing it,” says Veenstra. “I couldn’t ask for a better place here in Craig.”

The current plan calls for buying the current building to use as the storefront and moving manufacturing into an adjacent building and hiring four employees to allow the Veenstras to focus on running the company’s day-to-day operations.

“It’s just my wife and I sewing,” says Veenstra. “We’re realizing, ‘Wow, we can’t keep up with the demand.’ We’re always very low on inventory.”

Good Vibes River Gear now sells about 30 of its products alongside other rafting products. “I pretty much make the toughest drop bags on the market,” says Veenstra. “Everything is double-layered mesh. And the insides of our bags get lined with heavy-duty webbing, and our edges get bound with heavy-duty webbing. . . . People will go home and try to sell their old stuff so they can try to buy new drop bags or our gear covers.”

Good Vibes sources mesh from Georgia, webbing from Washington state, and buckles from China. It’s always about quality first, says Veenstra. “I’ve bought 20 or 20 different kinds of buckles, and they’re the best buckles you can get.”

Another selling point: “What we do that nobody else has done, you pick your colors,” says Veenstra. “We’re pretty much the custom company that does that. We’re the only company you call and get specific dimensions for your raft. Other companies make four sizes of drop bags and that’s all you can get. People are coming up with these crazy new boats that need a little bit more customized gear-hauling, and that’s our company’s specialty.”

Veenstra recently acquired a couple of additional sewing machines from Ralph’s in Denver, but he personally uses a sewing machine once owned by late local rafting legend Turner DuPont. “I can’t give up my seat in the shop just yet,” says Veenstra, noting that he needs more machines for the transition to train employees and grow.

One motive to get into the rafting industry was his own personal experience as a Craig native who had tubed the river as a kid, but never ventured too far. To get stocked for his first multi-day trips nearly a decade ago, Veenstra spent about $10,000 on the boat and all of the fixings. “I found out I kind of bought the wrong stuff, then I had to go re-buy a bunch of other stuff,” he says. “That’s kind of why I wanted to open up a raft shop: When people aren’t into rafting, they can get the right gear.”

Challenges: Water, or lack thereof. Three of the four rafting seasons since Good Vibes opened its storefront have been among the driest in Yampa River history. “What used to be a 90-day season turned into a 35-day season,” says Veenstra. “That’s going to be our biggest challenge in the Yampa Valley — how fast the snow melts — because our life is the Yampa River.”

Opportunities: “We’re going to be growing with our line of mesh bags and adding a little bit of sewing,” says Veenstra, noting that Good Vibes supplies the ranger boats at nearby Dinosaur National Monument.

He also sees an opportunity to foster river recreation in Craig, where a whitewater park and river restoration project are in the works. “That’s going to be a huge thing where we can start stocking some kayaks and offering classes around that whitewater wave,” says Veenstra. “My wife is vice chairman of the tourism board here. There’s a lot of river stuff going on here that I want to be a part of.”

The whitewater park “is going to make people realize there’s a river there,” he notes. “We’ve never really capitalized on it. A lot of people don’t realize what Dinosaur National Monument is — I’d say 90 percent of the people here think that it’s just dinosaurs. . . . It’s two river corridors that are some of the last wild ones in the United States, right there in Moffat County.”

He continues, “We can really start to discuss outdoor recreation and how it’s the only thing that might save our little town in Craig. That’s something that’s really important to me.”

The aforementioned power plant is slated to shut down by 2030. “As we lose good-paying jobs, I really want us to not lose hope that we could really be a viable manufacturing center for outdoor gear,” says Veenstra. “We might be able to entice some of these companies that want to move outside of the concrete jungle and give their employees a better sense of home and sense of family, which is what Craig is.”

He adds, “Steamboat gets lost in over-tourism, and Craig is that slow spot where families can be families.”

Needs: More space and a staff of about four skilled sewers to expand manufacturing. “I really need that building to expand,” says Veenstra. “We have to get way more organized and come up with SOPs [standard operating procedures]. We’re getting so much product in our lineup, to have it consistent and have that manufactured look, we had to start taking a lot of time to create SOP notes so we know how to and remember how to build all of our product.”

He adds, “We need to get that building behind us and really start stocking the showroom, so you walk in and all you see is mesh.”