Ruffwear’s president Will Blount on growing an international company in Bend and nurturing a collaborative creative community of outdoor entrepreneurs.
Colorado native Will Blount has been at the helm of Ruffwear since 2001. The performance dog gear company was founded by Patrick Kruse, who presented a collapsible, fabric water bowl for dogs to an immediately enthusiastic public in the early 1990s. Today, Kruse leads the product development team and Blount is president of Ruffwear, which generates $20 million a year in sales from its headquarters on Bend’s west side. Bend Magazine caught up with Blount to discuss the company’s trajectory, the local outdoor entrepreneurial scene and the cool renovations coming to Ruffwear’s commercial space.
Tell us about your background and how you first came to Bend.
I grew up amid the mountains and rivers of the Rocky Mountains. I earned a business administration degree in college, and knew early on that outdoor pursuits, following curiosity for the unknown and learning by doing were my path to a fulfilling life. When I was 10, my father took me steelhead fishing on the Deschutes River. I remember the beautiful sunrise and sunset and the adrenaline rush of catching my first anadromous trout on its journey back to its birthplace to spawn. This experience ultimately drew me to call Bend home in 2001.
What have been the most significant challenges and benefits of growing an international business in a small Oregon mountain town?
Our backyard is full of mountains, forests and a vast high desert that are the inspiration and testing ground for all our gear. Recreational attractions, combined with a great culture, help us attract amazing talent. As for challenges, one we’ve set for ourselves is to make purposeful visits to our customers and distributors, whether that means down the street or across the ocean, to understand their needs.
Ruffwear is renovating its headquarters to include a new co-working space. What sort of members do you wish to attract, and what sort of environment do you hope will result?
We consider the co-working space to be an incubator targeted toward outdoor-oriented professionals. We envision it as a home to like-minded businesses, independents, startups and freelancers, from creatives to conservation nonprofit organizations. We want this to be a community, with up to 125 new users to the space and nearly 25 percent of the space developed as common areas.
Ruffwear is projecting at least 100 percent revenue growth over the next four years. What are your goals moving forward as a company and as a part of Bend’s outdoor products scene?
From the start, we’ve been a company driven by purpose over profit. We’re focused on building relationships with our dealers and customers, as well as our team and our community. While Ruffwear is an international company now, we started as one fellow working in his garage. We believe in a culture of innovation, and we hope the co-working space will nurture this. Through educational talks, noon-hour mountain bike rides or beers with friends at day’s end, we believe networking, sharing resources and conveying experiences make for engaging days—this makes us better at what we do best. We also believe the time is right. Bend is home to the first outdoor industry-focused accelerator in the country, Bend Outdoor Worx, and a funding conference, Venture Out, for outdoor companies, as well as the Oregon Outdoor Alliance and an outdoor product design program at OSU-Cascades. It’s an exciting time.
What do the dogs have to say about more company at the company?
We’re secretly working on a dog translator! But I think it’s safe to say the dogs are excited about having more four-legged and two-legged friends.