SIDNEY — When Ken Sawyer’s business partner from South Dakota called him asking if he would like to run a yurt factory, Sawyer jokes that he replied the way most folks would: “What the heck is a yurt?”
Within a week, Sawyer was on his way to Colorado to check out the factory there, and within a month, Freedom Yurt-Cabins had moved to the Sidney Industrial Park.
A yurt is a round structure, most often a soft-sided structure, “a glorified tent,” Sawyer, who now serves as operations manager and president of the company, said. The yurt came from the original ger, a Mongolian form of the structure that was portable and often covered with skins or felt for nomadic groups in Central Asia.
Freedom Yurt-Cabins are not portable, nor are they soft-sided. They are more of a cabin structure, but with insulated sides, flooring and ceiling. They do have a soft roof covering, made of a Duro-Last material able to withstand high winds and hail.
“We’ve got a complete wooden structure that comes with the cabin,” Sawyer said, “which sets us apart from traditional yurts because they have dirt floors. Our competition doesn’t sell yurts with a floor system.”
The yurts range from 219 square feet up to 490 square feet with anywhere from 12 to 18 walls. They weigh between 5,000 and 9,500 pounds. The company has some clients who place their yurts in their back yard as a sort of guest house, and some who are using their yurt as a location for home schooling. Yoga studios and massage parlors, a teaching school academy and a mountain biking facility have all used Freedom’s yurts, and the City of Grand Prairie, Texas, will be putting yurts around the community’s lakes for rentals.
Kits are shipped to the consumer with somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 parts to be assembled using detailed instructions. Sawyer said it would take a typical team of two to three people three to four days to assemble the final product, depending on the skill level of the individuals doing the work.
Freedom currently employs nine full-time and four part-time workers with plans to expand production. A partnership with Adams Industries will allow for an increase in the square footage of the building to allow for more room for production. The Sidney City Council recently approved $112,500 in LB 840 funds to help the company reach its goal of selling 100 yurts in 2021. They had sold 34 in the first half of 2020 with a goal of 26 more by the end of the year. That will require additional employees going forward.
“With Adams coming on board with me, I see a vision, and their vision is the same as mine, of making this company grow and what its potential is,” Sawyer said, indicating that he would like to outgrow the current facility in another five years.
Sawyer, who grew up in Valentine, attended Eastern Wyoming College for its welding program. He said he has worked a number of jobs over the years, always working his way up to a supervisory position, then looking for a new challenge. He started a business in Colorado installing sound system cabinetry and insulation until he and wife, Misty, moved to South Dakota for a few years. When Misty landed a new job in Sidney, they came back to Nebraska.
With Freedom, Sawyer hopes to grow the employees under him in the positions he has available.
Yurts made in the Sidney facility can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and can be found from Alaska and Canada and all the way to the Patagonia region of Chile. A customer recently indicated she would be placing a Freedom yurt on the Arctic Circle.
“Some are off-grid, so they’re totally without power and heating and air and all that,” marketing manager Scott Cowan said. “They’re for the survivalists who want to just go out and have a cabin in the woods and get away from it all. Then you have the people who really set them up nice and have a complete house set-up with their kids that they live in.”
Some users connect multiple yurts for a different type of living experience. Cowan said the sky is the limit for the yurts, as he found out on his first visit to the factory.
“They had one set up in the back, and I went in it, and as soon as you walk in one, you want one,” he said. “There’s just this cool factor to them.”
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