Floating tents? Troy company makes new product to camp on water

A small Troy business has grown to national recognition after inventing a product so high in demand its been out of stock for months.

SmithFly Design’s now famous floating tent wasn’t an intentional creation. Owner Ethan Smith was working on a prototype of an inflatable tent, but when a friend mentioned running out of space at his campground for new lots, the pair came up with the idea to put the inflatable tent on a raft to rent out more camp sites on the river.


“We did it not knowing that nobody had ever done it before and then we put it out there online and it kind of took on a life of its own and went viral,” Smith said.

The tents retail for nearly $2,000 each on the SmithFly website. They've been sold across the globe in Germany, Norway, Australia, Canada and Africa, and are in such high demand that they've been out of stock for months.

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The inflatable product under the tent was already a popular design for SmithFly’s Shoal raft, a boat that only sinks about 4 inches so fly fishers can get into “skinny water,” said Jules Conner, the office manager.

“We do zero advertising because we can’t. All of that is generated through referrals,” Conner said.

If someone ordered one of the Shoal rafts today, it would take about a month to get it to the customer, Smith said. It depends on where in the cycle of delivery of rubber from China the company is.

The goal is to build up a stock once the company can catch up to be able to next-day ship.

“The big box stores do want this. We’ve had a deal with Cabela’s for a while but we have to have a certain amount in stock,” Smith said.

There are more conversations to be had with other big-box retailers, Smith said. The company also partners to sponsor the Great Miami River Way’s River Summit and works with the UD River Stewards program for its alumni campout.

SmithFly has developed pretty much everything needed for camping on the water including floating tents and fire pits along with paddle boards to get to the tents. The floating fire pits aren’t for sale yet, but the company plans to make them for consumers, Smith said.

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An inflatable partner in China makes all the rubber components, but the hard metal parts are all manufactured in Troy where Smith said he could better control the quality.

The popularity of the tent has sparked growth in the company as well, including revenues that have doubled every year since the company started, Smith said. He declined to give specific details.

A few years ago it was just Smith, his father for packing orders and his father-in-law for welding. In August 2017, Smith hired Conner to organize the office processes and work in sales. Now the company is made up of six total employees.

“We predominantly sell to river guides. Those river guides get out on the water and they start showing people what (the rafts) can do and they see that and that’s when we get calls,” Conner said.

The tents and SmithFly’s Shoal rafts are now the largest part of Smith’s business, but they weren’t even in the initial vision for the company.

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Smith started developing fly fishing gear as a precaution to potential layoffs at a design company he worked for during the recession. By 2010, the idea was put together well enough to launch as a company.

“It was just basically a lack of customization in the pack side of things is what I started on,” Smith said. “I was just not satisfied with what was out there and thought we could do a little bit better.”

The packs and bags are sold on SmithFly.com, but customers also can buy them on Cabela’s website and they ship from the Troy SmithFly showroom.

“One of the things I love most is that we’re this small little company in Troy, Ohio, in a historical building. But we’re really getting things out internationally. And, you know, some people don’t even realize what we have here,” Conner said.


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