What: Ruffwear

What it does: Designs outdoor gear for dogs

Pictured: Will Blount, president, puppy Millie

Employees: 45

Address: 2843 NW Lolo Drive

Phone: 888-783-3932

Website: www.ruffwear.com

Inside a nondescript NW Lolo Drive office, designers, customer service representatives and accountants tap away on laptops while their pooches sleep curled on comfy dog beds next to their desks.

Water bowls and treat jars are as popular as pens and pencils at Ruffwear, a Bend outdoor gear company for dogs.

Dogs are taken seriously here at Ruffwear. In June the company will celebrate its 25th anniversary and expects to earn $25 million in sales.

Two years ago the company moved its distribution operations from Bend to Portland to be closer to the shipping industry.

Most of its products are made in Vietnam and China and the design and office operations are in Bend.

“The company started in a recession,” said Will Blount, Ruffwear president. “We sold dog products in the outdoor market and built them from an outdoor product perspective. We’re the Patagonia of the dog world. We joke that we’ve been experiencing 25 years worth of slow growth. The company is self-funded, and we have slowly grown every year.”

Blount talked to The Bulletin about the outdoor dog products industry. His responses have been edited for length and content.

Q: Where does your business come from?

A: The majority of our business comes from our retail partners. We have 1,200 retail partners throughout the United States in outdoor stores and pet stores. We do sell direct to the consumer through our website.

Q: How do you develop products?

A: Ruffwear is comprised of people who have a passion for the outdoors. They have a passion for having their canines join them in those adventures. Dogs’ paws get cold because they’re hiking during the winter. We’re able to perceive those needs of the dogs because we’re attuned to the emotions and feelings of our dogs.

Q: What’s the company’s mission, or philosophy?

A: We like to say that priority No. 1 is valuing relationships over transactions. We have a statement here that every dog is an explorer. So the dog becomes this amazing motivator that inspires us to get off the couch and get outside.

Q: What’s the No. 1 product?

A: We introduced in 2014 a front range harness. We forecasted it to sell 14,000 in the first six months, but it sold 14,000 in the first month. It created a new awareness for us of what is possible. We realized our brand had appeal to a larger audience. There’s a need for a functional collar and that shifted our paradigm to what we could become.

Q: What’s the future for Ruffwear?

A: We’ve got two exciting projects. We are remodeling this building to accommodate a shared workspace allocated to community space. We have low turnover, but it’s important to expose our team members to fresh ideas. We see the shared community space as a way to help and give back, and a chance to expose team members to new ideas so they can grow themselves. The other exciting project is developing products for working dogs. We have deep relationships with search and rescue dogs, conservation canines, ski patrol dogs, dogs that are tracking scat to study and measure the health of ecosystem and that species. We’re extending that program to guide dogs and service dogs. We’re ready to launch next year a new guide dog harness. We’re adding technology, innovation, fabrics, hardware and design to make it not only more comfortable for the dog, but transforms the experience for the blind individual.

— Reporter: 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com

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