Two essentials for a Central Oregon camping trip are most certainly beer and a sleeping bag, so it’s fitting that the idea for sleeping bag beer holders was dreamt up at a campout in 2018. Bend’s Puffin Drinkwear now offers not only sleeping bag koozies, but versions with puffy jackets, parkas, life vests, flannels and more designs, which all keep a drink cold with style. Co-founder and President Tyrone Hazen gave Bend Magazine a little backstory on the growth of this Bend business.
Tell us about your company and how things got started in Bend.
Here in Bend we are known for our love of the outdoors…and BEER! So when a friend tossed me a drink holder made from remnants of an old sleeping bag, I was struck with the silly thought of combining the two by creating a sleeping bag for beers, adding some fun and personality to the utility. From there, we realized that we could create silhouettes for just about any interest someone has and really speak to someone’s identity.
When did you realize the company was really taking off?
Almost immediately. We walked into the Bend Store downtown with some samples in September 2018. While presenting the owner, Delia, with our sleeping bags, a man came in and saw what we had and asked, “Is that what I think it is? Can I buy two of those right now?” We left ten behind for her to sell and she called the next day asking for thirty-six more. Then she asked if she could have another 100 before the weekend. On Monday she called and asked to buy all of the inventory we had left. And while that was the first story of the exceptional sell-through Puffin achieves, it is no longer a unique one.
Any new koozie ideas on the horizon?
We are really focused on expanding into identities that are adjacent to things we’ve already produced. We started in outdoor, so sports is an obvious next step. We have a number of discussions going on right now that will have us creating sport-related Puffin of all different kinds. From there we are looking into travel and leisure (we have a NASA space suit coming out this fall…though I’m not sure that counts as “travel”). Entertainment and characters will follow thereafter.
Tell us about the company’s growth since starting in 2018.
Though we experienced significant headwinds and logistics challenges with COVID, we’ve managed to continue expanding rapidly from sales volume, revenue and employee perspectives. We have already maxed out our 9,000-square-foot warehouse and will be moving to a third-party logistics model with our next shipment. We have twenty full-time employees and another eight part- or full-time contractors.
What makes Bend a great place for the company to call home?
There isn’t a better community anywhere in the world offering the kind of support entrepreneurs need. From organizations like Economic Development for Central Oregon and Opportunity Knocks, to educational courses at Oregon State University-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College, to approachable individuals who have been where founders have been and want to offer support, I am not being hyperbolic when I say I truly don’t thinking there is a better place anywhere to start a company.
Tell us about the company’s Good Together philosophy.
We believe good things happen when people come together. Good Together was initiated by one of my co-founders, Christina Linton. When we initially brought her into the founding team, she told me she wasn’t interested in building Puffin unless it was doing something good in addition to being profitable. We agreed and let her lead the initiative. We partner with nonprofits and other organizations in need to help share their message and provide them with the support they need. If I’m being honest, no one needs a tiny jacket for their beverage, but if that one small item can expose an opportunity to help people doing good work in the world, we think we can build a net-positive organization known as much for our Good Together efforts as for our fun products.
What does the future hold for Puffin Drinkwear?
More growth! We have a clear line of sight to doubling our sales year over year through 2025. We will continue to add to our incredible team. We will consistently introduce new, high-quality drink wear that defines us as the masters of the category. Co-branding and licensing collaborations will become a major component of our business. And we will expand our Good Together impacts within the Bend community and beyond!