I can’t say I was blindsided by the announcement from the Johnson Outdoor press release a few weeks ago stating they are “exiting its Eureka product lines.” I saw it coming a few years back when Jim Stevens retired from Eureka Canada.
Jim was the Sales Manager at Eureka Canada until he retired in 2020, and if you knew him, you’d agree that he was Eureka Canada. Jim had been designing tents and other pieces of camp gear for well over two decades.Kevin Callan
The first time I walked into Jim’s office at Johnson Outdoors, it was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory or James Bond’s Q Laboratory. Samples of tent fabric were taped to the wall, sketches of canoe packs and camp chairs cluttered his desk and prototypes for packs and bug shelters were strewn about. He might have gone to university to become a gym coach, but he has spent most of his career getting people outdoors.
Jim has also been a good friend of mine for many years, and we've had a few canoe trips in the past. There’s no better person to have on a trip than the person who designed the exact gear you’re using, from the tent to the air mat.Kevin Callan
Jim created the bestselling Eureka bug shelter which was originally used to save countless campground campers from the onslaught of early season pesky biting insects. I remember ordering one and asking him not to mail the poles. I wanted to use it in the background and just simply tie it to neighbouring trees. He had the same idea. And the rest is history. Kevin Callan
He also designed the El Capitan and the Midori tent, the two top-selling tents for backcountry paddlers. Both were well known to be very spacious and highly functional. Jim also created the popular waterproof canoe pack that we now see so many YouTube celebs using. And the list goes on.Kevin Callan
Jim Stevens was also a key sponsor for my annual speaking tours across North America for a couple of decades. I couldn’t have presented at places like the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show, Michigan’s Quiet Water Symposium, Midwest Spring Expo, Madison’s Canoecopia and countless local outdoor clubs, libraries and scout groups if it wasn’t for his help in paying for travel expenses.
So, needless to say, I was deeply saddened to hear about the closure of Eureka Canada. But again, I wasn’t surprised.
I won’t forget the Zoom meeting I had with Eureka US after Jim’s retirement. The meeting didn’t go well—through the conversation with them, I came to realize they had their sights set on front-country camping sales, not backcountry. What would happen to things like the bug shelter or waterproof packs? Would the renowned EI Capitan and Timberline be dropped from their sales catalogue? It was obvious to me that they were more keen on “consumers” rather than “customers,” and they perceived that Eureka Canada probably wouldn’t bring in a decent amount of cash flow with just canoe-tripping gear.Kevin Callan
Truth be told, though, Canada sales were always up. Quality, until the end, was always up. So why the exit from Johnson Outdoors? Eureka was created far back in 1895, making canvas wagon covers, horse blankets and custom camp tents from its Binghamton workshop. Johnson Outdoors bought it in 1973. The Timberline tent—their bestselling tent which was a common shelter for Scouts Canada for years—was actually the first free-standing frame tent (with internal shock cords) made in North America. Eureka Canada has had a solid following for countless years. So, what happened?
According to the press release from Eureka:
“After careful and thoughtful consideration, we have decided to increase our focus on the opportunities in the Jetboil franchise and our strong position in the cooking segment. This was a very tough decision, but the right decision to make for the good of the company and its long-term success,” said Helen Johnson-Leipold, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
“We expect this will negatively impact Company sales by less than 1 percent for fiscal 2024. Additionally, the company expects to take a charge of approximately $4 million in fiscal year 2023 related to this decision,” said David Johnson, Chief Financial Officer. Kevin Callan
Johnson Outdoors are owners of consumer-preferred brands across four categories: Watercraft Recreation, Fishing, Diving and Camping. Johnson Outdoors' iconic brands include Old Town® canoes and kayaks, Carlisle® paddles, Minn Kota® trolling motors, shallow water anchors and battery chargers, Cannon® downriggers, Humminbird® marine electronics and charts, SCUBAPRO® dive equipment and Jetboil® outdoor cooking systems.
To note, earlier in the year Johnson Outdoors made known the sale of Eureka’s military and commercial tent division to Rekord Group. The deal included Eureka’s original facility in Binghamton, New York, for an estimated price tag of $13.7 million. They added, at the time, that Johnson Outdoors said the deal would not include the Eureka brand name or the recreational side of the camping business. I’d be interested in knowing what happened with the military portion.
Some people on social media stated Eureka outsourced more lately and quality has gone down. I doubt that. Nothing seemed to have changed in regard to production in years. Eureka Canada sales were fine, but it was the US sales that dropped. I’m guessing Eureka US believed the big money was to be had with the masses of campground campers who shop at large chain stores like Walmart, not specialized backcountry gear purchased at top-quality outdoor stores.
Bad idea, I guess. Goodbye Eureka Canada. You will surely be missed. Hold on to your Timberline and El Capitan tents, everyone. They will certainly hold their value.