At Glo Domes, Missoula-based co-owners Ryan Duarte and Chirag Patel seem to have the Missoula market covered.
From large horse arenas, festivals, backyard Airbnb, a private family escape or a more immersive luxury shelter experience deep in the woods, Glo Domes and their energetic creators are tapping into a market that may make downsized living more affordable and fun.
Since the company is negotiating specific deals that could boost the Glo Domes bottom line, forward-thinking Duarte said he wants to hold off on any such announcements.
“If our big one (deal) goes through, we’ll 100 percent be making a lot of jobs next year,” he added.
Trendy, but based on a 1950s-era patent, the geodesic dome borrows gravitas from the glamping industry and the current Airbnb craze. But the Glo Domes demographic reach is wider.
For sure, the company’s geodesic dome on exhibit at Southgate Mall through Jan. 1, 2020, draws a wide range of visitors entranced with the possibilities of living a simpler life in a comfortable structure that can go up in one day. The luxury elements vary, depending on customer taste and purpose.
“We put it up like an art exhibit so people would walk through it and experience it,” said Duarte, who also owns Montana Root Applications, a Missoula-based mobile apps software company. He is an Arizona State University engineering management graduate.
Chirag Patel, 26, graduated from the University of Montana an MBA. He is the founder of MVO Capital.
Patel, said a main company objective is to “make things greener again. These structures as eco-friendly and semi-permanent, meaning if you put one up as a guest house in the back yard for grandma and grandpa – or as an Airbnb, it can be relocated.”
“We just trying to provide solutions for people who have property in this area,” added Patel. “And helping to monetize your space in the most efficient manner.”
Customizing a dome runs the gamut.
“We can make anything dome-related, including green houses,” said Duarte, 37. “Some will use it for storing hay or heavy equipment like tractors. We specialize in the soft shells, but if people are interested in the hard shells, we can do that, too.”
Glo Domes has four employees. Together, the owners and workers can set up an Airbnb dome in one day and bigger, commercial, festival or other-use domes in a sold full day’s work.
With the help of solar financing and a current buyer-friendly solar interest rate of 5.9 percent, now is a good time to invest in a geo dome, said Duarte. The $14,500 model showcased at the mall draws between 15-20 interested customers per day.
“Being in the mall one month has showed us there’s a huge interest,” he said.
The mall model boasts a solar panel, battery bank and an inverter – plus a set of loft bunk beds that attract kids shopping for back-to-school clothes with their parents.
What else will $14,500 get you?
A dome shell, blocking glass, aluminum door, interior liner, insulation and a solar fan. Each customer selects customized interiors and domes, which can range from 5 meters to 211 square feet. Bigger domes can house several queen-size beds, plus a second level with a wooden floor and various types of heating sources, including a wood stove or radiant heat.
“It takes 40 percent less power to heat or cool a dome than a regular standard-built construction house,” he said.
One big demographic draw is women patronizing nearby stores in the mall like Nail Tricks, Cost Cutters and River City Hair Studio.
“We see everybody getting their nails and hair done – a lot of ladies who often are decision makers for the family,” said Duarte. “She might want to do solar update on her house and maybe also for the back yard. Or she might decide to do a solar dome.”
While the glossy videos on the Glo Dome website appear idyllic, Duarte is adamant that the company fills gaps that an exclusive, expensive glamping experience does not fill.
“We aren’t looking for the people who want to go glamping,” he said. “We want to look for people who have the ideal property for the dome. All of a sudden, there’s that Airbnb income potential in your back yard. Or if you don’t rent it out, you can use it as gifts or dedicated family time. This is a portal to dedicated family.”
Duarte and Patel employ four workers – all of whom can put together a dome in a few hours or a day, depending on the size and order. They build the domes in two spots: inside at the MontTEC building at 1121 E. Broadway, Suite 118, neighbor to Missoula College; and in Victor, where Duarte resides with his family.
Solar power as an efficient alternative plays into the Duarte’s sales pitch. He said buyers are eligible for a 30-percent solar federal tax return, in addition to the low interest rate.
“That’s a really great benefit, just until the end of the year,” added Duarte. “So we’re trying to tell as many people as we can.”
But individuals who tour the dome model in the mall often return a second and third time before succumbing and buying one.
“Our process is a long sales cycle, and usually not on the first visit,” Duarte said. “A lot of people will come back, then back again. We want to bring about enough orders so that we can scale up our production and produce them in Missoula.”
A geo dome differs greatly from a yurt, a tiny house and a container house, he added.
“Those are modified containers – you insulate the inside and you live in a box. That’s the opposite of our product. We have 14-foot ceilings and we also make domes much larger, to cover a horse area or home sizes, like 2,000-square feet. Each interior will be unique to the customer.”
Duarte said his company uses Radiant Barrier Insulation – the same used on the Space Station and in recreational vehicles – among other high-end materials.
After reading about Buckminster Fuller’s popularized 1950s patent of the geodesic dome, Duarte became enthralled with the structure and sought angel investors.
“I saw there’s a huge need for a glamping supplier who makes a Montana-made product that can hold up to Montana winters,” said Duarte. “I thought I could specialize in this product that I love, that I am passionate about and can make a lot of jobs.”
Patel eventually came on board as a full-fledged co-owner when he caught the geodome bug, too.
So if a certain potential deal goes through, Duarte said Glo Domes can make a big local impact.
“If we do, it can change Missoula in a really big way and I think Missoula will be known for domes in the future.”