When an idealistic business professor named Bill Parks set out in 1972 to prove that the principles he taught in the classroom could work in the real world, he had no trouble deciding what kind of startup to launch. Bill was a river runner, and he wanted to help others enjoy the sport he’d come to love so much. Starting with $2,000 from his savings, he stocked an inventory of boating gear in his garage and typed out the first Northwest River Supplies catalog.
Bill was drawn to rivers, to the beautiful places they carried him, to the challenge of running rapids, and to the people and experiences that made every trip a memory to cherish. Now in his 80s, Bill is still running rivers and still working to help others pursue their passions on the water. And the nearly 100 employee-owners at NRS are committed to the same singular vision. What draws us to water is what drives us every day.
As Bill Parks neared his 80th birthday, he knew he needed to consider the legacy he wanted to leave behind. He could have sold NRS to the highest bidder, taken his money and floated off into the sunset, but that wasn’t his style. Instead, Bill helped finance a deal to sell the company to his employees. In 2014, NRS became 100% employee owned.
Employee ownership has done more than improve the financial futures of NRS employees; it has made us a better company. We’ve learned how eager workers can become caring owners, how small ideas can lead to big improvements, how a stake in the outcome makes every decision more meaningful. Every NRS employee-owner is personally responsible for the company’s performance, from customer service to dealer support to product development and quality control.
In the early days of rafting and kayaking, boaters had to work together to outfit trips, keep gear serviceable and, of course, get down the river safely. Bill enjoyed that aspect of boating, and he wanted to build that same kind of culture into his company.
We’ve grown a lot since Bill hand-typed the first NRS catalog four decades ago, but we’ve always remained true to his original ideals. We pride ourselves on working together to accomplish tasks, and everyone, from Bill down to the newest hire in the warehouse, shares responsibility for ensuring the highest standards of quality, service and integrity. We’ve never had a lot of managers, protocols, or official policies. Instead, we’ve tried to empower individuals to make the right decisions for the good of the customer and the company.
Since manufacturing the first purpose-built dry bag for boaters back in 1977, the NRS name has stood for rugged, reliable equipment built to the standards of our toughest customers: professional outfitters and guides. Outfitters around the world rely on NRS boats, frames, life jackets, apparel and accessories to keep their customers safe, their guides productive and their businesses healthy day after day, season after season.
Our legacy for providing professional-grade equipment informs every new NRS product design through a philosophy we call Ultimate Utility. Ultimate utility is about more than building rugged gear that gets the job done. It’s about purpose-driven, user-focused solutions that enhance experiences on the water. It’s about versatility for changing conditions and multiple activities, with the technical sophistication and visual appeal of the best outdoor gear for any sport. We design all our products in-house in Moscow, Idaho, and we use the gear we build.
NRS was founded on the idea that a positive approach to business could enhance the lives of its community of stakeholders while outperforming the cynical and exploitative practices of many conventional companies. This basic principle guides every aspect of our business, from product development to marketing to sales. Everything we do, and every decision we make, is focused on creating value for our customers, business partners and communities.
At our Moscow, Idaho headquarters you’ll find passionate rafters, whitewater kayakers, sea kayakers, stand up paddlers, kayak anglers and fly fishermen whose lives and livelihoods are intimately connected with water. Our future depends on healthy waters where our customers and we can recreate, recharge and reconnect with nature.
We’re committed to preserving access to on-the-water recreation and to promoting stewardship of our precious wild places. We work closely with national organizations and local groups throughout the world to help take care of our rivers, lakes and oceans.