Javier Franco, a mountain guide in Argentina Patagonia, started with an idea. Next he had a prototype. Now, he and his siblings run a small but thriving business in Buenos Aires.
BUENOS AIRES — Venture off into the vast landscapes around Aconcagua, in the Andes mountains; El Chaltén, in Argentina's Patagonia region; or the desert highlands of Catamarca, in the far north of the country, and there's a good chance you'll spot one.
We're talking about the signature domes made by the Argentine firm Geodomos, founded just over a decade ago by three young people in a workshop in Ciudadela, in Buenos Aires. The structures are reinforced tents or marquis that effectively act as a personal, mobile little cabin or hotel room. And they're the brainchild of mountain guide Javier Franco, 40, who came up with the concept, almost inadvertently, in 2008.
Leonardo, 37, Javier's brother and head of product development at Geodomos, says his brother wanted "something different" to offer tourists hiring him for excursions, and thought of a dome that would be light enough to carried up a slope, but strong enough to resist wind and rain.
Javier designed a prototype, but kept that first dome for his own use. Soon after, however, other guides in El Calafate, where he lived, were asking for one too. With word-to-mouth recommendations, Javier began receiving orders for his domes from local travel agencies. And so, in 2009, he founded Geodomos with his younger siblings, Leonardo and Mariela.
The initial investment was 25,000 pesos (about $6,500 at the time) for a thermo sealing machine. The brothers then began building and selling their domes in borrowed premises. These are igloo-style structures made of triangular windows and designed to create maximum usable space. They can be used as a mountain refuge, for high-end camping — also known as glamping — or for storage.
The siblings do everything from design to stitching, and share out sales and admin tasks with help from their parents and employees. "Our growth was slow because initially we decided to be actively involved in production," Leonardo explains. "Each of us handles a machine. My father works with the lifting beam for the metal structures. When we recruit people we work on training them properly to save time."
Sales have risen from a dome a month, initially, to seven a month. Some months Geodomos sell 14 domes. "That's the limit of our productive capacity," Leonardo says. "We'd almost have to go without sleep."
Each dome meets the needs of particular customers or climates, and the models span from four to 15 meters in diameter. Prices start at 71,000 pesos ($860 euros).
"It's vastly inferior to the cost of buying a cabin," says Leonardo. "At the same time, a dome allows the tourist to be much closer to nature. In Esquel, one business used the domes to build rooms in the middle of the forest."