Sheri Tingey, Alaska Entrepreneur Extraordinaire
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Today, Sheri Tingey, who is age 60, runs a family business
called Alpacka Raft, which has created and built a series
of ultra light, packable rafts for use in long distance
backpacking and wilderness racing.
Sometimes, a "new" business opportunity can begin with a
challenge or a question from a friend or a loved one.
And, that’s exactly what happened when Sheri’s son, Thor,
asked his Mom to come up with a light-weight raft that
could stand up to some of the most demanding parts of
Alaska’s wilderness in a sport, where he was an enthusiast.
In the first year, Sheri Tingey’s Alpacka Raft sold 200
carefully crafted units, but had demand beginning to pick
up outside of her Alaska base. In other words, if the rafts
were strong enough to withstand Alaska’s wilderness, then
challenges from the Lower 48 would be easily surmountable,
many potential buyers must have thought. In the process,
sales have inched up from 200 to 300 to 400 and, this year,
Tingey estimates that her sales will top 700 units from her
whole product line with approximately $500 thousand in sales.
So, how did she wind up in Alaska so far away from her
Arizona roots? After graduation from the University of
Oregon with a degree in Physical Education, Sheri headed to
Jackson Hole, Wyoming to ski for just "one season" before
getting on with the real world. But, while she was there,
she fell in love with skiing and tried to figure out a way
to make a living besides waitressing. That is how she
happened to start her first business, which involved making
custom ski wear. Herone-piece snow gear for skiers at the
time was sold through six retail shops around the US including
Sun Valley, Idahao, Aspen and Vail, Colorado, Alta and Snowbird,
Utah, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Lake Placid, New York. I
n that chapter of her life, Sheri would ski all day and,
then, she sewed late in the evening every night.
After selling her "Design by Sheri" business, which she
ran from 1967 to 1982 and which was based in Jackson Hole,
Wyoming, she and her husband together with their two children
moved to Alaska primarily because of a job offer for her husband.
But, Sheri had also wanted to sell her business, in part,
due to a series of health-related challenges she was experiencing,
including chronic fatigue syndrome. .
After moving to Alaska, Tingey again tried to sew, but the
effort simply drained her. She desperately wanted her old
energy level back and, as a consequence, felt rotten because
it just wasn't coming back. At the time, her children were
small and there were no programs available for them in the
Alaska Bush. So, she wound up starting both a swimming and
a gymnastics program for rural Alaska kids. Further, since
Sheri was able to control the hours, she could also closely
monitor how much energy she put out. Doing those morning
or afternoon only programs, she could work these job assignmenrts
into the three good hours she had each day, where she functioned
Today, Sheri has been married to her husband Ralph Tingey
for 30 years. But, Sheri’s inspiration for her current
business, which came at the point in life, where she was
just beginning to feel good again after a nearly 20 year
battle back to health, was and is her son Thor. For his
part, Thor Tingey recently took several steps back from
the business in order to attend law school. So, Tingey
has recently taken a partner, Jim Jager, into the business
to help her accomplish some of the things Thor or her
husband had previously done in the business up to the time
that a suitable business partner could be found. Finally,
Sheri’s daughter Daphne, who is 23, will be resuming school
this Fall near Boulder, Colorado, where she will continue
her junior year at Naropa University in Psychology.
For Sheri Tingey and her husband, they had always wanted
to move to Alaska, which she described as a state that
someone either really loves or they leave it. From the
beginning, she said, she and her family always kept a
large dog team for racing in Alaska, even when her kids
were little. Plus, she said that despite her chronic fatigue,
running her dogs was not as tiring as someone might think and
she very much enjoyed the experience. She really loves the
wilderness inAlaska, she said, because it offers wonderful
freedom to its residents. In addition, Sheri also loves to
fish, hike, climb and do any kind of boating. Plus, she
loves animals. And, Sheri still loves to sew and to build
(which for her means carpentry work). In fact, Tingey
describes the similarities between sewing and carpentry
and said it was unfortunate that more people, both men
and women, don't enjoy the cross-over benefits of both
disciplines. Finally, Sheri loves to read too.
In terms of her health struggles, changing her MD to
someone else, who was willing to try some alternative
approaches to medicine, made all the difference in
regaining her health. Not just vitamins, but Sheri
was willing to experiment with a wider range of treatment
options than most physicians are willing to utilize.
In the end, this alternative medicine approach essentially
worked for her. Interestingly, Sheri’s health had substantially
improved just at the point of her son’s challenge.
In turn, Mom Tingey was then excited and challenged to
return to the passion of her life, which has long been
design. As a child, her grandmother had taught her to sew.
But, she came by the design part of her DNA make up quite
Click to see larger photo
In the future, Sheri concluded she and her husband may
decide to take off from November through the end of January,
when Alaska experiences that long night in the state.
Like many other Alaskans their age, they would/will then
plan to come back by February 1st each year.
Her greatest business challenge comes down to correctly
estimating the demand for her product ahead of time each
year and, then, having it manufactured by Feathercraft
Kayaks, which uses this down time to produce her rafts.
For its part, Feathercraft Kayaks has long been known
for making amazing folding kayaks. In addition, Tingey
has recently overcome still another nagging problem by
no longer sub-contracting to her brother-in-law in Phoenix
to glue the bottoms into her rafts. Because he had
previously used a bothersome glue, she changed back to
Feathercraft to finish the raft they had started. Plus,
the Feathercraft answer now includes a 100% environmentally
friendly solution to gluing the bottom of the raft to complete
the finished product. In fact, coming up with an
environmentally acceptable glue has long been a challenge
for all of the raft manufacturers, she confided.
Today, Sheri Tingey takes pride in her workmanship at
Alpacka Raft. Now that she has been given a second
chance in life to be a designer, she simply wants to
make each raft last. Her short-hand way of putting
it is this: “I’m just too old to make junk.”
From being a classic, drop-through-the-cracks kid,
Sheri has found her niche, where she excels. Plus,
she makes a quality product that anyone would be proud
to call their own. Since her rafts can easily last for
15 to 20 years, each year, she has to find a whole series
of new customers. But, each new raft she plans and
makes is built to last. And, that’s why Sheri Tingey
easily qualifies as our "Alaska Entrepreneur
Excerpted from the book, Now What? Discovering Your
New Life and Career After 50, by James O. Armstrong.
It is available at NowWhatJobs.net:
NowWhatJobs.net was set up to better inform individuals
and employers about the current and coming labor
shortage facing North America.
James is editor of NowWhatJobs.net, and he is
president of James Armstrong & Associates, Inc.,
which is a North American media representation firm.