Ruffwear, a Bend company that makes outdoor gear for dogs, plans to create a co-working space for the outdoor products industry inside its NorthWest Crossing headquarters.
The multimillion-dollar project marks a new path for the company, which located in Bend in 1998 and expects to generate more than $20 million in revenue this year, company President Will Blount said.
“We’re at that point in our evolution — we’re able to make an impact,” Blount said. “We want to be generous with that.”
Behind Hydro Flask, Ruffwear is one of the largest outdoor-product companies based in Bend, said Van Schoessler, president of the Oregon Outdoor Alliance. As home of the Venture Out funding conference and the Bend Outdoor Worx startup accelerator, Bend is a growing hub for startups and outdoor startups.
Entrepreneurs want to be around others in their industry, but it’s been several years since one place offered enough available workspace, Schoessler said. With Oregon State University-Cascades creating a degree program around outdoor products, the need for startup space is only going to grow, he said. “I can’t wait for something like that to come along,” Schoessler said.
Bend now has a number of co-working spaces, but there continues to be a waiting list for desks at BendTECH, the tech-oriented space on Emkay Drive, community manager Jessica Hutchison said. Blount, who is also a member of Bend Outdoor Worx, hasn’t quantified the demand for co-working space, but based on the number of people wanting to use Ruffwear’s warehouse, he thinks it will be popular. The warehouse has been empty since spring 2016, when Ruffwear moved its inventory to Portland to be handled by a third-party logistics firm. The co-working space will offer single desks and small offices with shared conference rooms, and members will have access to Ruffwear’s sewing and pull-testing equipment when appropriate, he said.
The co-working space is one part of a major overhaul of Ruffwear’s 20,000-square-foot building at 2843 NW Lolo Drive. Projecting 25 percent to 40 percent revenue growth over the next four years, Ruffwear is about to run out of office space, and Blount said he faced the prospect of putting desks in the empty warehouse. Instead, the company will convert the mezzanine level of the warehouse to a 15,000-square-foot second floor. The west end will be occupied by Ruffwear, while the east end will be open to co-working members.
On the ground floor, Ruffwear will add showers, a back patio and shared kitchen as amenities for co-working members and other tenants.
The plan also calls for two flexible-use spaces on the ground floor, which Ruffwear hopes to sublease, for companies doing things like light assembly or bicycle repair.
Ruffwear will receive a $250,000 forgivable loan from the Oregon Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund to offset the cost of its own expansion, as well as the co-working space. The loan will be converted to a grant if Ruffwear meets its own projection for hiring 13 more people, plus opening and operating the co-working space, said Nathan Buehler, spokesman for Business Oregon. The entire project is expected to be complete sometime in 2019.
The remodeled building will be tagged with a new name to reflect the collaborative nature of the project, Blount said. “For us, one of the driving factors to do this is to expose our team members to fresh new perspectives,” he said. “We want to elevate our team members’ performance.”
Ruffwear’s founder and owner Patrick Kruse, who continues to lead the product-development team, started the company in the early 1990s with a collapsible dog-watering bowl made of waterproof fabric. The bowl debuted at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in 1994 and was immediately picked up by L.L. Bean, according to Ruffwear.
“What he was doing unintentionally is creating a whole new category of product,” Blount said.
Ruffwear now has many competitors, including around its top-selling product, the Front Range Harness, introduced in 2014. The fitted harness has a front leash attachment, which deters dogs who like to pull ahead. Ruffwear wasn’t the first company to make a front-attaching harness, but it boasts a superior fit.
“Our value proposition is more like Patagonia,” Blount said.
Self-funded and privately held, Ruffwear has been quietly growing revenue by about 20 percent a year over the last 16 years, Blount said. The company now has 38 employees, 30 of whom are in Bend.
Given Ruffwear’s growth trajectory, Blount said he worried that leasing space to other companies would prove to be a distraction. Although the co-working space will have its own manager, Ruffwear team members will probably spend more time fielding questions from co-working members, he said. But that’s OK because sharing Ruffwear’s knowledge of the outdoor industry is part of its long-term plan.
“You get what you put out there,” he said. “That’s how we’ve seen success in the past.”
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