Survivalist businesses surge in uncertain times
Increasing numbers of mainstream Americans are preparing for disasters, many of these companies say.
Four years ago, after years spent working in construction administration, Viola Moss wanted to leave Florida. She was looking for a home that offered her and her family a chance to grow their own food and live free of dependence on society. But realtors kept showing her homes in retirement communities.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Moss finally found what she was looking for in a home in remote Libby, Mont.: room to raise crops, distance from big-city crime, and proximity to good hunting and fishing, just in case hard times – or a disaster – made food hard to come by. Knowing she wasn't alone in her desire to live a "prepared" lifestyle, Moss decided to turn her interests into a business and set up shop as a realtor herself.
Her offerings on survivalrealty.com include a five-acre, three-bedroom property with the trappings of practical survivalism: a 10,000-gallon cistern for cultivating organic fruit trees, a 250-foot fire hose, and a dual-use root cellar/fallout shelter with "essential living quarters" and a backup generator.
"I've had inquiries from people all over the country, from professionals – doctors, lawyers, commodity brokers – to blue-collar workers like mechanics and nurserymen," says Moss. "Some people really do want a lifestyle change."
Once seen as a radical and paranoid ideology, survivalism is expanding as a business, and growing fast.
Lehman's, an Ohio retailer of home self-sufficiency equipment, has recorded large sales increases, with water-pump sales up 95 percent and sales of home agriculture equipment up 50 percent from last fall. The growth is coming from across the preparedness spectrum, from the curious buyer to the serious die-hard, says Glenda Ervin, the firm's vice president of marketing.
Minnesota-based Safecastle, which markets home shelters for protection against disasters like hurricanes and chemical attacks, has seen revenues more than double since 2007, says founder Vic Rantala. KI4U Inc., a Texas-based seller of products like meals ready-to-eat, personal radiation-detection devices, and potassium iodide, a compound known to protect the body from some effects of radiation exposure, has seen business surge after the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, a month ago.
"If most people think of a survivalist as an armed loner with extreme views – there are folks like that out there, but there are many more in America who are simply involved in preparing for down times, lean times, or disaster," says Mr. Rantala, a former US intelligence analyst. "It's logical. It's common sense."
The number of businesses marketing survival products is hard to pin down, in part because many are smaller, family-owned operations. The market for survival goods like agricultural tools, seeds, and emergency food, moreover, blends with growing consumer demand for homesteading products. Still, the emergence of preparedness-specific businesses and marketing suggests that survivalism is going strong.