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Airframes Alaska Rebrands as Alaska Gear Company

by | Oct 25, 2023 | Featured, Manufacturing, News, Retail

Among other outdoor living and recreation products, Airframes Alaska makes Bushwheel landing gear, which fits perfectly with the company’s new name.

Alaska Gear Company | Element Agency

The double meaning of “Airframes Alaska,” the Palmer-based maker of tents and airplane landing gear, no longer encompasses its full range of products, so it’s time to rebrand. The new name announced last week conveys a similar two-way connotation: Alaska Gear Company.

Unified Identity

As the company has acquired new product lines, the aviation-related name became too limiting, according to Marketing Director Ryan Kedzie. “Coming to an airport, you feel like there are rules and regulations and restricted access,” he says. “We wanted to come up with a name that was more approachable and easier to understand all the items that we actually produce here.”

Those items include aviation equipment, such as Bushwheels, the tubeless tires for landing light aircraft on remote beaches or gravel bars. Factories in Palmer and Fairbanks also weld fuselages and other parts for Piper PA-18 Super Cubs. The product lineup also features Arctic Oven tents, Siglin freight sleds, and industrial solutions through its TundraTech Alaska division.

Kedzie says a new name is necessary “to unify our brands under one uniform name that was easy to identify, easy for customers to relate to, something that Alaskans and outdoorsmen and women outside of Alaska want to be a part of.”

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The process began earlier this year, and the company explored other names before arriving at Alaska Gear Company. “We went down many different routes,” Kedzie says. “We worked with different groups throughout the state to make sure we were not infringing on copyright, any organizations, or Native peoples.”

Kedzie’s four-person marketing department built the brand architecture, and Anchorage-based Element Agency then helped to deliver the brand identity.

Alaska Gear Company is built for searchability, says CEO and majority owner Sean McLaughlin. “We wanted the name to work in a large market but also take advantage of the brand ‘Alaska,’” he says. “We think that’s our biggest calling card. For everything extreme sports, extreme adventure, there should be room for at least one ‘Alaska’ brand.”

Airframes Alaska started as a licensed maker of Super Cub fuselages at Birchwood Airport. The company then acquired the Reeve Air Motive brand. Since 1950, Reeve Air Motive had been selling aircraft parts to pilots at Merrill Field. Its building, notable for the airplane tail section poking from its roof, is now Airframes Alaska’s main retail outlet.

Other acquisitions brought Alaska Tent & Tarp and Northern Sled Works into the company, and with them a longer list of manufacturing capabilities, from welding and machining to sewing and vulcanizing raw rubber into finished tires.

Spinoffs from those industrial processes become new products: fabric remnants and pond liners become sturdy, waterproof tote bags. McLaughlin says the company experimented in that market with short runs of products made by a division called Alaskan Gear Lab, which pointed the way toward the new brand.

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Alaska Gear Company is phasing in new signage for the next couple of months, and Kedzie says the rebranding should be complete by January 1. He acknowledges there’s a risk of alienating established customers or possibly confusing new ones. “It may have customers believe that we only provide landing gear,” he says. “We’re trying to represent both parties without frustrating any of our markets. We wanted to let each group of customers understand that we’re still providing the products that they’ve always loved, whether it’s the Arctic Oven tent or the Airframes fuselage.”

The Brand Scheme of Things

Signs outdoors, indoors, and on the floors of the retail shop at Merrill Field advise customers of the rebranding effort taking place over the next few months.

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The majority its retail sales are products the company makes itself. It also stocks other licensed products—from folding chairs to hot sauce—bearing its brand names. And the shop stocks third-party repair kits and spare parts so that, as Kedzie explains, pilots can walk in from the Merrill Field runway and grab the washer or nut they desperately need.

The company just renovated its Fairbanks retail location and filled 35,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Products are also retailed at the main Palmer factory, and the retail store in Anchorage has its own sewing workshop. Among the three sites, the company has about eighty employees.

“You’re going to start seeing some new products from us in the near future,” Kedzie says. “That is part of why we opened it up. We’re starting to look into Arctic-grade boots; we’re starting to look into more technical gear, such as backpacks.”

Another goal on the horizon is a Lower 48 store selling Alaska-grade gear. The name “Alaska Gear Company” sells that idea in a way that “Airframes Alaska” couldn’t.

“Our new brand gives us a chance to build an even bigger Alaskan manufacturing company,” says McLaughlin. “In a lot of the markets we’re in, it’s hard to grow beyond that segment, so rebranding is a way to build a bigger company.”

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