Made in Idaho: NRS has provided river gear to people in Idaho for nearly 50 years

Posted at 4:39 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 20:36:50-04

MOSCOW, Idaho — Bill Parks created Northwest River Supply, or NRS, back in 1972 while also teaching at the University of Idaho. During his tenure, he took advantage of every opportunity he had to get on the river.

"He started with $2,000 and a dream," said current Northwest River Supply CEO Bryan Dingel. "It was literally started in his garage."

That was nearly 50 years ago when river gear didn't really exist the way it does today, and it was also a lot harder to find.

"Bill decided he would build it, find it, source it, and sell it," said Dingel. "At the time the only way to sell things was through mail order."

The NRS catalog has certainly changed in the last 50 years, but what hasn't changed is how this company listens to its customers and adjusts to fit their needs.

"That’s kind of the fun part. We design our products ourselves and our customers better design them," said Dingel. "You do everything to make the best thing possible and you get it in the market. The first consumer is like, 'Hey this is great but what about this?' And you are immediately in a pivot mode saying, 'Yeah, we can fix that.'"

NRS gear can be found all over the world and is used in multiple sports, but here in Idaho, we can say for sure that some of the best kayakers in the world use paddling gear designed by NRS.

"To see the best of the best using the product, you just see this image of all your friends, co-workers, and buddies and all the work they’ve done," said Dingel. "People respect and appreciate it. It’s awesome."

Bill Parks has always had a goal to make NRS an employee-friendly company. Before other businesses started doing profit sharing for employees, Bill was doing it back in the '80s.

"He was kind of a groundbreaker in that regard," said Dingel. "He’s 86-years-old. He is going to be paddling into the grave. That’s just the way he’s built."

But, Bill couldn't run NRS forever and although he could have sold the company he built from the ground up to the highest bidder, Bill used an Employee Stock Options program to basically sell NRS to his employees.

"In 2014, the company got sold into an ESOP, Bill had his equity event and the employees now own 100 percent of the company," said Dingel.

NRS also has a new corporate headquarters and warehouse they built in Moscow at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic hit.

NRS is still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic as it drove up demand for outdoor equipment, but COVID-19 also broke the supply chains and many items are currently on backorder.

It's an issue that consumers will face this summer on all types of outdoor gear and Dingel told us outdoor stores that sell NRS gear are already placing orders for 2022.