Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Author - Mitch Daugherty

Cut by crafted cut: The Ransom Spirits story

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Tad Seestedt  moved to Oregon in 1993 and began working at a variety of  wineries in the Yamhill County. He spent the next 4 years working with some great vineyards, but there was an internal passion to create his own unique brand of craft spirits.

The initial focus was centered around making high quality grappa, eau de vie and brandy.

It was a passion that launched one of the first Oregon-based distilleries; one that has evolved from an initial niche line of spirits into a world class maker of whiskeys, gins, vodka and grappa.P1060830

Starting from scratch

The craft distillery landscape in 1997 was a lot different than it is today. There were only four craft distilleries in Oregon, Hood River Distillers, Clear Creek, Bendistillery and Brandy Peak. Ransom was the fifth craft distiller in Oregon.

Tad had been experimenting with distilling at that point for several years, but since the industry was still pretty small, there were very few places to go for resources or to learn about distilling. The people who were distilling did not want to take on a part time person, and since Tad had to keep his winemaking job, he was faced with a decision.

“I didn’t want to make the choice on winemaking or distilling. I wanted to be both. So, I had to start my own distillery in order to do both.”

Tad didn’t have a wealthy family and he didn’t have any investors as he launched Ransom in 1997. He had some savings built up and was determined to do it himself. But the amount of capital needed to ramp up was beyond what he had in savings, so he did what most businesses did at the time and applied for a commercial loan.

He realized pretty quickly that the qualifications needed to acquire a loan didn’t line up with where he was as a business venture. Both the length of time the business had been around and the lack of necessary collateral were serious negatives in the eyes of the banks, and Tad was unable to get a standard commercial loan.

P1060832“Whether it’s spirits or wine, more so with spirits, you buy your raw material and do your fermentation and distill, and then you have this time lag where you’re building this inventory. Your inventory’s aging before you can sell it, which is this crushing financial situation to be caught in if you don’t and one that banks are not fond to invest in. If you could raise $80 million like the tech guy then it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I don’t know of any startup wineries or distilleries that raise that kind of money.”

Unable to get a loan from the bank, Tad turned to another option.

“That was back in the days when you got a credit card offer in the mail every week or maybe several weeks. They would be the ones that had phrases like -’You can get so much in unsecured loan and you can transfer this balance with a zero percent.’ And I thought, well, you know, these things sound crazy like a scam, but the bank is not gonna loan me any money anyways.”

Since this was before the internet, Tad called up Capital One and inquired about applying for one of their unsecured loans.

“They said, how much do you want?’ I said, I’d like to get $36,000 and they replied that they’d call me back, which they did, and two days later I had a check for $36,000. That’s crazy, you know? And at 4% it was a lower percentage rate than the commercial loan, which if I had qualified, would have been around 11%.”

So with money in hand, Tad got to work.

In 1999 Ransom was producing small batch fine wines, eau de vie, brandy and grappa – with Tad P1060831doing it all. As someone who is focused on the production side of things, he handled the fermenting, distilling and bottling. But as he started to bottle more and more he had a realization that there was this whole other critical aspect to running a business called sales. Tad was always in the cellar which became very clear on a business trip to Chicago. He had his first bottles of eau de vie, which included eau de vies made from pinot noir, riesling, and muscat – all bottled separately for each respective varietal.

“I’d go to high-end restaurant guys with bar programs and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is great, we’ll buy some of that.’ I think I was in Chicago for three days, and I sold probably six cases of eau de vie and 200 cases of wine.”

Tad went back in 2000, and visited some of the restaurants he had sold some of the eau de vie to. The buyer welcomed him back to Chicago and mentioned that they still had the bottle of Gewürztraminer eau de vie he had sold them a year earlier. The bar staff had been drinking them behind the bar because the customers didn’t know what to think of the eau de vie. The realization hit Tad – there was very little consumed, and therefore no turnover on the product.

At about the same time, the dot-com bubble burst and the economy took a slide. Tad was sitting on a lot of brandy with the stark realization that he was most likely not going to sell it. So he sold that brandy in bulk to wineries who used it to make ports and fortified wines, and took that income and bought more grapes that he fermented but didn’t distill.

“I started bottling a bunch of wine and that really started to change the financial picture, you know? People like to joke about starting a winery –  you start with a big fortune to end up with a small one? But when you have nothing and you’re able to sell something, it was good.”

But the early years of Ransom took a toll on Tad. For the first eight years he did everything himself, and he still had a full time job. He was still working for other people making wine, plus trying to run Ransom. This led to 70-90 hour work weeks, and the business was still hemorrhaging money.

“It was really extremely difficult, you know? I think that the long hours are one thing, but I think once that I started to recognize that it could work economically, it made it tolerable. I mean for a few years I really just thought I should bail out, but once it started to show promise around 2004, I realized this can work. You have to get to the point where you have that inventory that’s aged and ready to sell, whether it be winery or distillery. And you have to be able to sell it. Find people who want it, distributors who wanna buy it, or if you’re doing your own sales, and I was doing my own sales here in Oregon, making the rounds to all the bars, restaurants, wine shops and liquor stores – a huge amount of work. It took a toll. It definitely took a toll.”

Things started to change when he started doing more wine than spirits, and focusing on his own wine brand.  And in 2005 he hired his first employee.P1060826

Crafting the spirits

Around 2005, Tad was shifting from a focus on brandy and eau de vie in the distillery and towards gin and whiskey. This shift was the result of realizing the fact that gin and whiskey are more in line with what a broad mix of Americans drink. The spirits are more popular as stand alone drinks in tumblers, and people in bars use them in cocktails.

The early recipe for what would be one of his signature cocktails was connected to someone from his past, a friend back in New York named Dave Wondrich.

“I had left and I was living overseas for a while. And I came back, I think it had been like a year or something. And I called Dave up but he had moved and his phone number was different. This was before the internet. So, it wasn’t like now where you just need someone’s email address and you can find them wherever they are in the world. It’s like, if you lose someone’s address and phone number, that’s it. But then I started seeing Dave Wondrich’s name on spirits articles and cocktail articles, and it was around 2005 and started wondering if it was the same Dave that I knew.”

Tad tracked down Dave’s email and dropped him a note, and learned it was indeed the same person, which was pretty incredible to think about. Both of them were on totally different paths in the late 80’s and they went in their own directions. Then more than 15 years later they reconnect and both are involved in spirits; Dave as a historian and writer, and Tad on the producing end.

The two ended up meeting for lunch in New York with Tad bringing him up to speed on where he was with Ransom.

“I told Dave that I was trying to make brandy and eau de vie and it was not really working economically for me as I kept losing money. So I mentioned that I was going to start working on a gin recipe and he mentioned that he was working on an article around old time gin and classic cocktails. So he provided me with a lot of information and we worked on the old time gin recipe together, which was a huge help for me because I had never made gin before.”P1060850

But the switch to spirits did take some time for Tad to wrap his head around. He had experience working with grapes, berries and fruits and it all made sense to him. But working with grain was a completely different process. So he reached out to some brewer friends who reassured him that if he could make wine then he could make the spirits.

In 2006 Tad started working on the recipes for the gin and whiskey. Ransom released their first gin, which is the old time gin, around 2008. It was the old time gin recipe that he and Dave had worked on a few years before.

The first whiskey Ransom made was the Whippersnapper. It’s one that is unique to Tad.

“We believe the whippersnapper cannot be placed in one category of whiskey. It is clearly different from any one single style, with the best of the parts from several distinct styles. Whippersnapper is then hand bottled, hand labeled, and hand waxed. Meticulous attention is paid to achieving perfection both in the bottle and out.”

After that, Tad starting moving more into other grains besides barley and corn, and started working on the Emerald in 2009 – 2010. The Emerald was another collaborative project/concept with David Wondrich, the same partnership that had produced the Old Tom Gin. More recently, they released “Rye-Barley-Wheat”, which is a mash bill made up of several different malting levels, and also a mix of unmalted barley and rye.

But no matter what Tad and his team at Ransom are making, they never stray from the attention to detail and craft that has gotten them to this point.

“We lean strongly towards putting grain dominant whiskey in the bottle, and try to steer away from putting oak dominant whiskey in the bottle. It is our preference to focus more on the ingredients and how they affect aromatics, flavor profile and mouth feel, rather than focusing too much on the barrels that we use for aging. We only use 53 and 60 gallon barrels, the vast majority of which are used. Only a very small percentage of new barrels are in the distillery.”P1060837

Crafting with care

As with all of the steps in his journey, Tad did not approach the making of spirits from an efficiency standpoint. He started out making them in a very labor intensive way, and continues to do so to this day. The spirits are distilled in a hand-hammered, direct-fired alembic pot still which truly look like pieces of art in the production facility and are pieces of equipment Tad has been slowly acquiring over the years.

“I bought one, made one, bought another, and then bought the one here. Not counting the original one that I built to experiment on before I had a license. So technically five stills.”

One still in particular has an interesting story.

Tad was getting ready to purchase a direct fire basic still from Vendome when a friend called and said there was an alembic still for sale in California. The one in California was 10 hectoliter (300 gallons) and he was looking to ramp up to a 900 gallon pot from Vendome so in his mind the one in California didn’t make sense, but he called the guy and realized it was a dream still from the manufacturer he thought made the best pot still on the market. The one he couldn’t find 20 years prior was just sitting there in California, and according to the seller, never used.

Tad went down to California to look at it, and some of the pieces were missing, and so he negotiated the price down to what was a great deal and bought the still. He canceled the order with Vendome, who weren’t happy. But Tad didn’t have enough for two stills and he knew that he’d probably ever find another one like the one he just purchased, even if some of the parts were missing.

“So this is one of the last years that they made these from hand. This is a ’78 model and I think in the mid-’80s sometime they switched to different technology where a lot of these parts are spun, and it’s just made in a higher tech way. And I wanted one where you could see all these little dimples that are the result of hammer strikes on sheets of copper.”

He got the still back to the facility and began thinking how he could get the missing pieces fabricated, which didn’t seem too daunting except the pieces are sized to fit on the metric system, and many local fabricators are not set up for metric fabrication.

But a funny thing happened when he started to get it all unpacked.

P1060822“I was taking everything apart, laying everything out, and this preheater was sitting on this old beat up palette, and the guy gave me the blueprints. The blueprints confirmed it was a 1978 model that was made in France and shipped to a guy in California for some other guy who was supposed to use it in Tahiti.  I had all the documentation and I still didn’t believe that it was never used, because it had areas of discoloration. I looked inside the swan’s neck and could see some residue, but knew that even with the use I got a great deal. But as I cut the straps and started pulling it off the palette, and inside this pedestal’s hollow, that’s where those missing parts were, still wrapped up in original wax paper. And I was like, That guy was not bullshitting me. It’s like maybe the swan’s neck for some reason they sent that one part that had been used to this guy who bought it in California, and then they lost that and bought another one, I don’t know. But he wasn’t bullshitting me.”

And whether on that still, or one of the others on Ransom’s farm, Tad still does all of the cuts in the production by hand, and while it’s much more labor intensive than using technology to do it, the end result are spirits with a greater aromatic intensity.

And as far as new opportunities Ransom is chasing, well, Tad has a response you don’t hear very often.

“I think we’re done. We’ve just released a new whisky in October. A whiskey we’ve been working on for the last four years. The only other thing that we would do, and I’m sure we’ll do in the future, is to release a hundred percent barley and malt whisky. Because most of our mash bills are more kind of multi-grain. What we’re focusing on now is more on the grain-based, we’re gonna stick to that. But the dry gin is barley, rye, and corn, but different malts of barley, un-malted and malted rye. So, I think those, for me, are complex mash bills that make a more complex spirit. Not that I don’t like malt, malted barley whisky, because I love it, but I think from creation point-of-view, I’m trying to maybe push the boundaries in some respects and try to take whisky to a different place.  I think there’s a huge future in whisky. I think for us, and on the craft end in United States, there’s this huge spectrum of what can be done with whisky and I think it’s starting, and it’s starting in a good way, with limitless possibilities.“P1060834

Ransom Spirits grew pretty exponentially for a while, and while as Tad states above, they will never stop experimenting. But from a production standpoint they are leveling off. They are at a good size and the current equipment works for them. Growing and expanding is not something on Tad’s radar.

“For me to say ‘let’s take this to the next level’ would then require us to get a new mash done. Let’s get another bigger still. Let’s build another building where we can put more barrels. My goal is never to become a super wealthy person. I wanted to make a good living fermenting and distilling.”

Today, Ransom Spirits is one of the most well respected producers of spirits on the market, winning numerous awards. And looking back over the years, even with all the ups and downs, Tad has few regrets.

“I’d like to think that our path, like whatever it is, was our path. And that makes where we end up where we are, and hopefully, we’re happy with where we end up. So, if you change things, maybe you wouldn’t end up where you are, but I’m happy where I am now. So, I would say the only thing I might have changed would be to start doing gin and whisky in 1999 instead of 2006. But luckily for me, my other half has a good job and I didn’t lose any weight for seven years when I was hemorrhaging money -there was always food on the table.”

And accompanying that food on the table was always a carefully hand crafted wine or spirit.

For more information, visit www.ransomspirits.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on instagram and twitter.

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Inspired by a goat: The Chivaz Wear story

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The story of Oregon’s successful Chivaz Wear started in — of all places — Silicon Valley.

Matt Gilman was working at various video game and app startups in the Bay Area, where he found himself spending an enormous amount of time and effort building other people’s dreams and ideas. After years of working for others, he learned how the system worked and those insights led to a realization: he didn’t like working for other people._X4A0135

Inspired by a goat

The initial idea for Chivaz Wear came when Matt had a few extra dollars and wanted to upgrade his wardrobe, with an emphasis on unique socks that didn’t fall down.

“I always liked wearing long socks with shorts, but in 2006, the only long socks available were tube socks that came in multipacks and other ‘stylish’ socks from places like The Gap that had poor quality and uninspiring design,” he said. “Socks that fall down are called quitters, which is something I learned that from a Canadian friend growing up. I am not a quitter, nor will I create something that would be considered a quitter.”

The initial spark was expanded by a chance encounter with a goat..

“At this same time, I met this goat named Chiva (Spanish word for goat). She was the first goat that I ever really got to be around for more than just a quick looksee. She had a strong personality, and spent most of her day standing on a surfboard, surveying her expansive world, from the middle of my friend’s tree.”

AV5A7844-2So how did the combination of socks and a goat came together to launch a brand? As an independent person himself, the connection made perfect sense to Matt. He put a stake in the ground to make unique and high quality socks that were an expression of not only the independent and awesome spirit he saw in Chiva, but how he felt in the world.

“In my mind, goats represented so many things I saw as part of the brand; Independent flexible, adaptable, crafty, wiry, bearded and/or horned, great on their feet (sure footed), always trying to escape their pen, will eat anything, will not sacrifice their personality, friends to many, and unique.”

But the transition from a concept to an actual company can get a bit messy and complicated – especially when it comes to a consumer products brand. As a number of consumer product founders do, Matt took to Kickstarter.

“I had no money, so I floated the idea out there and I got a ton of pre-orders: $20,000 worth. That money allowed me to order the socks and start selling them. Without Kickstarter, I would have had to find some type of financing and no one in Silicon Valley was interested in hearing about small sock companies. I was hoping to raise $7,500 because I would have chipped in another $7,500 to get the initial order actually made. When I reached $20,000 I couldn’t believe it.”

It took Matt quite a while to find a reliable and quality focused manufacturer that understood the type of product he wanted to create, and wouldn’t cut corners or rush things. The socks had to hold their elasticity (wouldn’t fall down), kept their color, wouldn’t be too hot, and most importantly felt awesome when you put them on.

“I have drawings from 2007 showing my socks with a label on each sock and my goat logo loud and clear. I had several manufacturers that I prototyped with that I found through Alibaba. No one was giving me what I wanted, and the struggle through translation was obvious. I don’t know how to speak Chinese and they didn’t know how to speak English, and everything suffered as a result. After almost giving up, I ran into a friend of mine from Taiwan and he told me about his cousins who had once dealt with a good manufacturer there. I got in touch and immediately I knew that these people were professionals. We probably ran through another 10 prototypes before arriving at the right mix of materials and colors and price. I haven’t looked elsewhere since. “

With the manufacturing lined up, he turned his focus to the designs. From the outset Matt knew he wanted to have three designs with goats on them as a way to build his own IP. In his mind, anyone can make a striped sock, but not just anyone can make a goat sock. However, the realities of the marketplace and consumers had to be balanced with a unique IP.Copy of IMG_3852

Designing to differentiate

Beyond the initial logo design, Matt has mostly just used his own soul to come up with the designs, and with no art background, he still creates the socks in an old school way – with paper and colored pencils. He also doesn’t really look at other company’s designs, and as a result, there is a uniqueness that is simply inspired by goats, colors, nature and the environment around me.

“ More people initially like stripes more than goats, so I created nine styles that were all over the map to see what people actually wanted…unfortunately I ordered a bit too many of a few styles and was sitting on inventory for longer than i wanted. It was a great learning process though.The second phase of Chivaz has been a bit different. I ordered smaller quantities and styles, but they are selling faster. There is still a lot to be dialed in when it comes to the styling.”

Screenshot 2017-01-28 10.01.15Integrated into the styling and production are a few hidden features like the “get goatin” on the inside of each cuff, the cloven hoofprint on the bottoms, and the reflective embroidery on the back of each calf. These subtle elements harken back to the original idea genesis, but also help to define the brand.

As with most creative founders, he does have one that he’s particularly connected to.

“ I’m most proud of my current Black and White Chivaz sock. Not only does it have the Chivaz brand front and center, which I hope will serve as a reminder to the person wearing them to “get goatin'” and find their inner goat, but they also are two different socks with the same design. This goes even deeper with the brand and the message that I am trying to spread – that something that looks opposite, might actually be the same.”

You can learn more about the black and white sock via this Medium post Matt wrote.

Growing the company in Central Oregon

Matt moved out of the Bay Area because he wasn’t thriving there or growing like he wanted to as a person. He found that life was too busy and full of things that he didn’t always enjoy doing, and the general quality of life was a constant sense of pressure.

“ Sitting in traffic, absurd day care prices,  and some uninspiring companies that I had worked at led a general sense of dismay. Chivaz was on hiatus because I just couldn’t keep doing that and a full time job with a long commute. So when I moved to Redmond, it was conscious decision between my wife and I to change our lifestyle and get back to doing things that felt naturally good. Seeing beautiful nature, hiking, biking, meeting people, learning new perspectives, and understanding how to live without an income – which is still tough!”

Screenshot 2017-01-28 09.24.152016 was a huge year of growth for Matt and his family, which is something he attributes to the environment that Oregon has to offer.  Their rent went from $4300/month to $1500/month, a drastic change that gave them the room to make some mistakes – mistakes that would have really hindered them in the Bay Area.

“In the Bay Area I had no more room for mistakes. I would go into debt immediately between any jobs, so that had to keep all of my focus – instead of my own well being, my family, my creativity and my business, but what we found in Bend was an awesome and welcoming community.”

Matt didn’t know what he was going to do for work after he moved to Redmond, so he started to network in Bend. He met  Preston Calicott from Five Talent and thought the meeting would be a good one because he thought it could lead to a job or at the least introduce him to a couple of people and teach him about the area. The two of them started chatting about different companies and Matt kept droning on about random stuff. However, the conversation took an immediate turn when it switched to socks.

“We started talking about socks and I immediately changed my attitude. He basically said that I shouldn’t work for others if I really wanted to do socks. He was a bit harsh and honest with me, which was something I hadn’t heard in ages – so I welcomed it after wiping away my tears. What a blessing. He then introduced me to Gary Bracelin & Eric Meade of Bend Outdoor Worx and I just kept going out and trying to meet people on my own after that. I would just walk into different stores with a bag of socks and my story and start talking. I couldn’t believe it, but people actually had time for me.”

What Matt found in Bend was a similar tribe of people. There is a big group of people who do their own thing, so they seemed to know what he was going through, and more importantly, everyone has been supportive of the mission that he is on and stoked that he is bringing a new product to town.

AV5A7849The community and environment led to the creation of a new design, the Cascadia sock. The concept is based around a simple belief; Central Oregon is an awesome mixture of nature, independent spirits, local love, pioneering heritage, and the ability to see past boundary lines and into what brings us together as a people.

“I had no idea what Cascadia was when I moved here and now I am so proud to be a part of this community. I only made 200 of those socks and I am selling them quicker than I thought. Honestly, I feel like I am just lucky to be the first company to make a really good quality sock with this design that obviously came from someone else. I have learned that people also buy based on what they know and people who recognize that design love the design.I’d like to get these socks at some retailers in other areas of Cascadia, so if anyone out there knows of any, please send them my way – retail is still not my strong suit.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Matt and Chivaz is around spreading the “gospel of the goat,” but that could also be seen as an opportunity, one that he is slowly realizing every day.

“People keep saying they wear their Chivaz doing different activities like yoga, skiing, biking, running hiking, CrossFit, boomerang throwing, painting, cooking, and on and on. I haven’t had a chance to really dive deep into any of those segments. What I’d really like to do is get in good with other local entrepreneurs that are hustling like me and make make some co-branded socks, but I haven’t been able to build the relationships or work out the math quite yet.”

The bottom line is that Matt can’t wait to make more socks that will inspire and remind people to tap into their inner-goat. To get people believing in themselves and their own personalities and to embrace the differences that make each of us unique. To, as he puts it, “Get goatin!”

For more information, visit www.chivazwear.com. You can also like them on facebook and follow them instagram.ChivazHats1-26

Cutting a path to success: The ArcLight Dynamics Story

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Scott Cunningham had a simple idea: he wanted to carve realistic replicas of mountains. But that simple idea proved anything but simple to accomplish.

As he began exploring the project, a friend told him about CNC Computer Numerical Control) machines which could carve any shape he dreamt up. After researching CNC machines online, Scott purchased a CNC router from a vendor, but the quality turned out to be really poor. This led him to rebuild the entire drive system using surplus parts he found on ebay.

Once he fixed that initial machine, he realized that he could also build bigger and better CNC routers on his own.BRiJ-Way-LLC

Early beginnings

Scott worked on the CNC routers for a while, but eventually got into metalworking where he noticed the CNC plasma tables were selling for premium prices. He sensed an opportunity.

“I knew I could build a better one but — more importantly — provide an unmatched level of support,” he said. “At the time, you could read lots of reviews on the internet about how poorly these companies were treating their customers. And many of these customers just didn’t get any education on how to run these tables. It was obvious that these companies didn’t know that negative online reviews could hurt them.”

So in 2009, he started with two prototypes. Out of the two prototypes, one stood out as a potentially viable product — one which looks strikingly similar to the machines they sell today.

Scott used that table throughout 2010 to make metal art which he displayed at the Sunriver Artists Gallery in Central Oregon. This provided a solid trial run, but in his mind he kept pondering if people would actually buy the table.

“At the end of the year I basically threw it up on ebay just to see if anyone would bite, and I sold my first table a month later in January of 2011. That year I built 7 tables in my garage, and sold all of them on ebay.”

15937225_622225007949071_3764450894718195906_oWith initial sales traction and some market validation, Scott started thinking there was a true opportunity around building the CNC tables. That thinking accelerated when the recession cost him his full time job and he found himself unemployed. That change in circumstances opened the door to the beginnings of ArcLight Dynamics.

“With my small severance pay I rented a shop and hired two of my fellow unemployed co-coworkers, and built a website. From that point on the business took off and I hired two more of my old co-workers within a year’s time.”

That initial website had a high level of focus and professionalism. In all of his market research, Scott realized that many companies had a very limited amount of actual product information on their websites. This was a huge negative in his mind. He wanted potential and returning customers to have the ability to find an answer to any question they might have about the tables. There was an additional emphasis around producing comprehensive training videos that would allow their customers to hit the ground running.

“When we started out I created a series to video tutorials that showed our customers how to program and run our tables and put them up on Youtube for anyone to use. At this time no other manufacturer had done this, but from my perspective it was essential. So a lot of people who use other brands of tables used our videos to teach themselves how to run their systems. As a result we became the authority and source for training. “

The focus on the customer from the outset allowed ArcLight Dynamics to slip in and fill the void.

Developing an innovative product

ArcLight Dynamics tables are complete packages, which means that all someone needs to have for a very functional cutting system are standard components. And while this may seem like the norm, that is far from the case, and another area in which the focus on the customer has paid off.

“Other companies often start out with low prices, but the system won’t cut well until you add on options, which add to the cost. We believe customers will get the best bang for their buck with an ArcLight Dynamics table. We combine solid durable frames, combined with easy to use software, and most important to our success, excellent customer support.”

Scott and his team saw the biggest opportunity for their tables within small to medium size shops and businesses, and to gain traction within these verticals they had to be very conscious of the pricing. By keeping all of the parts and production in-house, they have been able to not only control costs, but also maintain high standards.

13305220_521846171320289_2423757534828226125_o“I do all the R&D in house for the design of the tables and develop new product lines. I don’t have formal education in it, but I’ve always had a knack for it. Keeping the overhead low is another reason we have been able to keep prices low. We have been very lucky as we found low cost rental space when we started out, and was able to take over more space when we needed it. But moving forward it is going to be very challenging to find a large enough building to rent or buy in the current market.”

Keeping the pricing low as they were just ramping up was a lot easier than the current production rate of 8 tables per week. So Scott and his team started researching ways to not only maintain their costs, but also create a more efficient process. This resulted in ArcLight Dynamics partnering with the local Fastenal store.

“Fastenal has been a huge help in sourcing and maintaining our inventory. Often I can find the best price on a product on the internet, and they can then match that price or do better. But what is really great is they come to our facility and stock the parts for us, maintain that stock, and often they are able to keep a back stock of our parts at their store. This saves a lot of labor and gives us ”just in time” ordering that helps with cash flow and storage space.”

ArcLight Dynamics started out with four sizes of tables, and just recently added two new larger models. The initial four were identical in design and function, while the most recent tables have larger steel welded frames and a more smoother and precise functionality. The new tables are named the Arc Max series, and are focused larger industrial environments. But new models are not rolled out too often.

“We just came out with the Arc Max table design this year, and so the new product cycle up until this point is about every 5 years. To date our best selling table is our 5’x10’ Arcpro 12000 table, accounting for 30% of our sales.”

ArcLight Dynamics has seen 40% year-over-year growth, which can, in many ways, be directly attributed to the high level of craftsmanship put into each table, along with the high level of customer service. One sector in particular, custom automotive, has really seen an uptick in the adoption and usage of CNC tables. Scott believes the adoption of CNC tables in these smaller shops, not just those focused on automotive work, can be traced back to a combination of things.

“The quality of cut that can be achieved with a plasma cutter has greatly improved in the 6 years, while at the same time, the cost of CNC technology had dropped in price. People have also become comfortable with running computer controlled equipment. They have come to the realization that they need this technology in their shops if they want to compete in the marketplace.”14681025_580637488774490_787406608450889072_o

Connecting to the community

There is a strong connection between ArcLight Dynamics and the Central Oregon community. Scott and his family see not only a place with a high quality of life to raise families, but also one they can help support through providing good paying jobs with benefits. In addition to the jobs, the company pumped $2.25 Million back into the local economy.

Scott also found connections that have been a tremendous help to his business, including Steve Curley from the SBDC.

“I started off taking the two year business development course through the SBDC and that was immensely helpful in getting me to understand how to grow our business. After the completion of that course they told me that we would qualify to continue working with the Grow Oregon program. This is when they introduced us to a new program they were offering,the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS. This system has been very helpful in bringing the rest of our management team on board so they can start running the company independent of me. It has been very empowering for them and helped me grow from being self employed, to being a true entrepreneur/ business owner.”

Table made for Central Oregon based Noslr

Table made for Central Oregon based Nosler

The training and resources Scott received have helped to shape a great company culture as well. ArcLight Dynamics has been able to consistently move people up from the bottom and into management. This means that every one of their employees started out cutting steel , welding, assembling tables, and lastly, training customers on how to run the tables.

This has resulted in not only a sense of empowerment for the employees, but also created an entire company that has a very deep knowledge base, has a commitment to making sure the table works for the customer the way it should, and knows how each customer can get the most from their tables.

As the company continues to grow at a high clip, one of the biggest challenges facing ArcLight Dynamics will be finding a large enough space to rent or buy to not constrain growth. But taking on challenges like these are where Scott and his team feel most comfortable. They have created a great product, culture, and customer support system, and are more poised to seize on opportunities as opposed to slowing down due to challenges. Scott also has advice for other founders about to take the leap.

“Don’t hesitate, take bigger risks, and don’t be afraid to invest more in your company.”

For more information, visit www.arclightcnc.com and like the on facebook.

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Passport Oregon And Its Bold Quest To Close The Urban-Rural Divide

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Kevin Frazier, the founder and ED of Passport Oregon, never met someone with a degree in ‘Problem Solving’ or a Masters in ‘Moving Past Ideation.’ But soon after he graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.S. in Economics an opportunity to build, refine, and hone those skills quickly appeared. Eleven months later, he is now the Executive Director of a growing nonprofit, Passport Oregon. We sat down with Kevin to learn more about his journey and the mission for Passport Oregon.

How did the concept for Passport Oregon come to be?

When I started Passport Oregon, I didn’t know the first thing about establishing a nonprofit. I didn’t let that stop me from taking action. Why? Because I knew that if I didn’t act, Omar and kids like him across our state would continue to spend their weekends inside, evenings online, and free time doing something familiar, regular, and all together un-outdoorsy.

That bugged me. It nagged me when I went hiking and only saw people that looked like me. It frustrated me when I perused my Facebook feed, full of people adventuring throughout the state. It filled my thoughts as ads about Oregon’s outdoors played on the TV. Omar showed me the Nature Gap in our state. I needed to figure out how to construct a bridge across this burgeoning divide.29951608324_de94e54d41_k

You mention Omar, who is he, and how did your interaction with him lead to an enhanced focus around the Passport concept?

Who is Omar? For two years, I mentored Omar at his school, Spencer Butte Middle School in Eugene. Our weekly gatherings over PB&Js usually sparked conversations about grades, girls, and the Giants – his favorite baseball team. Eventually, I started to ask him about his weekend plans. They didn’t vary much. He played Call of Duty, walked to the arcade seven blocks down the street, and saw the occasional movie. Week after week, I queried him. Week after week, only the titles of the games and names of the movies changed. Week after week, I grew more and more despondent.

I told my roommate, Kyle, about my concerns. Over a patio beer – a weekly ritual during which we drank one of Oregon’s fantastic brews on our patio – he told me to channel my curiosity. If I thought there was a problem, then I should find a solution or help someone who already has found an answer.

With Kyle’s wind at my sails and Basecamp S’more Stout inducing confidence, I embarked on a weekend assignment to study the Nature Gap Adhering to my collegiate habits, I treated this inquiry like a good student would – as a formal opportunity to implement the scientific method. This homework would soon become so much more.

The ‘Scientific Method’ does not sound like the typical entrepreneurial process, expand on how you followed this method to determine the need and opportunity

So, first, I outlined my questions: Is Omar’s indoor-intensive schedule and relatively small radius of exploration the exception or the norm? If the latter, why, and what strategies can be used to remedy the chasm between Oregonians and their outdoors?

The background research came next. I uncovered loads of literature on the Nature Gap, Nature Deficiency Disorder (NDD), and Vitamin N (short for nature). Authors such as Richard Louv introduced me to all of this jargon and more. Like an onion, each chapter read and term googled peeled off another layer of the larger puzzle, until I was left with facts and figures pertaining to Oregonians like Omar. Thankfully, people from across the nation and the Pacific Northwest were aware of NDD and shockingly low levels of Vitamin N in our communities and, even more, our schools.

But, I did not find any foundation, organization or individual addressing my largest qualm with Omar’s rare excursions: not only was he not getting outside, he was also not seeing all that Oregon has to offer. Ski trips to Mt. Hood, learning to surf at Seaside, wake boarding at Wallowa Lake, hiking Smith Rock, and gazing into the endless blue of Crater Lake had an indelible impression on me as a child. Each trip outside of my own Shire exposed me to an unfamiliar setting.30198783224_0d235a6268_k-1

How did your outdoor experiences affect you, and how did these experiences shape the initial Passport Oregon mission?

I encountered new people with views far different than my own and perspectives as varied as our state’s regions. I exercised my brain and body through learning new skills and failing and face planting regularly. Although I was pleased organizations were connecting students with the parks within their neighborhood, I wanted to go a step further and connect these youngsters with all of Oregon’s natural wonders – the coast, the Gorge, Mt. Hood, Smith Rock, the Painted Hills, Wallowa Lake, and Crater Lake – while also introducing them to the economic, cultural, and historic significance of these sites.

My love for Oregon and its people drove me to move to the next steps in the scientific method – developing 30198749844_2bfde8d435_za hypothesis and testing with an experiment. Here’s the hypothesis: if a nonprofit empowered students to travel across the state, meet its people, and learn its history, then they would later make nature a norm in their lives and, as a result of having a stronger sense of place and vastly expanded horizons, contribute to closing other gaps in our society such as the urban-rural divide.

Surely, no science professor would have accepted such a broad, open-ended hypothesis. Thankfully, I didn’t need any professor’s approval. Instead, I simply needed people to help me execute an experiment – start a nonprofit called Passport Oregon with a clear mission: Exploration for All. Passport Oregon would form cohorts of students that would embark on regular trips around the state. Trips would include a different parent on each trip, perspectives from all Oregonians, and facilitate exposure to the unknown and unbelievable. This experiment induced the trying times, chaos, and wicked problems I mentioned earlier.

Starting a nonprofit is similar to starting any business, so once the experiment was concluding, how did you go about the organizational formation?

For a chemistry question, you call chemists. When launching a rocket, you dial up rocket scientists. Who do you convene when you start a nonprofit or, more broadly, when trying to address any novel, complex, and entrenched problem? Earlier, I said that no book could completely ready you for inciting change. However, I have learned that one book is a necessary condition for a successful experiment – a phonebook or at least the 21st century equivalent, Siri. I called people in the public and private sectors, had coffee with educators and entrepreneurs, spoke to executive directors and volunteers, and skyped friends who share my affinity for a particular Robert F. Kennedy quote: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

We jointly asked, “Why not break down the barriers to nature? Why not leverage the love so many hold for our environment to propel students out of Portland and across Oregon?” During each call, I listened intently. I listened, asked lots of questions and took notes. Each conversation shaped the settled-upon solution: a school principal told me about the importance of engaging and interactive content wherever we took the students; an elected official introduced me to members of Oregon’s Native American tribes that would happily introduce our students to their stories, culture, and challenges; other nonprofit leaders informed me of the dos and don’ts of the trade and connected me with others who ran organizations with overlapping aims; and, of course, my parents, family, and friends gave me tips and leads to follow.

Running an experiment requires the right equipment. Ideally, your tools and materials will be perfectly suited for the ensuing steps. In this ideal world, you could purchase the finest implements and not worry for a second about the cost. That’s not possible when starting a nonprofit, especially one that is all volunteer based. From my aforementioned chats, I started compiling a list of folks that would want to join me in closing this gap. If they indicated interest, my first question was, “If you could do anything for Passport Oregon, what would it be?” This question reflects my belief that people work best and work happiest when doing something they love, when they feel challenged, and “in the zone.” This was yet another example of listening – compiling as much information as possible so that those who did opt to volunteer their already limited free time would see their involvement with Passport not as draining, but as inspiring.30466512332_8cf3f9e1a2_k-1

How did you put together your team and organize the first official Passport Oregon trip?

Slowly, but surely, we built a team and readied our first trip. Our background research and extensive networking connected us with a principal of a school with a high rate of NDD. When we met with him and his leadership, we were open about the fact that we did not have all the answers, but would meticulously solicit feedback from them, the students, and their parents to refine and improve our efforts to make Oregon an even more wonderful place. In the same way, we prioritized meeting the parents and the students before we commenced with their cohort. We outlined our plans, answered a myriad of questions, and took the first steps toward making nature a habit in their homes. We did not shy away from labeling this initial group of explorers an experiment. Our honesty facilitated greater communication and shortened the time period between an issue being raised and a response being implemented.

A case in point: Our first trip (what could also be labeled as our first experiment) to Trillium Lake and Mt. Hood was a typical fall day in the Oregon Cascades: wet, windy, and with woefully limited visibility. Our video and photos attest to the misty conditions. Even from Timberline Lodge, we couldn’t see the cloud-enveloped peak. Outfitted in running shoes and winter sweaters, our students, like the paths we trekked on, absorbed quite a lot of water. In short, they were not dressed for the occasion. Although we had asked parents to ensure their explorer had gear for less than great weather, our team recognized that our assumption – that all Oregonians magically have Columbia Sportswear gear tucked in their closest – was ill advised. Thankfully, the wet weather only damped the cohort’s sweaters and not their spirits. We think the hot chocolates at Huckleberry Inn in Government Camp may have helped as well.

What did that first trip teach you?

Needless to say, our first trip/experiment revealed some errors, opportunities, and successes. Our proactive pursuit of finding these shortcomings meant that we started planning how we could do better on the drive back to Portland. With our next trip already on the horizon and more inclement conditions surely ahead, we knew that better preparing our students for Oregon’s notoriously surprising and significant showers meant quickly reaching out to that same web of kindred souls that helped the project get off the ground. By the next trip, each student donned a Tested Tough Columbia Sportswear jacket, which made the gusty conditions in the Gorge feel like a light Portland breeze.

How many trips have you done to this point?

Six trips (Mt. Hood, the Gorge, Cannon Beach, Mt. Pisgah, , and a service day in Portland), 210 hours of kids exploring nature, and 42 hot chocolates later, Passport Oregon has an initial answer to our hypothesis – it is correct. Per their teacher’s reports, the students look forward to each trip, fastidiously analyze the itinerary for the coming adventure as soon as it is available, and frequently share their stories with classmates.

30583150135_84ac3d8991_zLikewise, the parents that have joined us regularly ask to come along again as soon as possible. While we are pleased with these initial results, we are not yet satisfied.

Passport Oregon is looking forward to a 2017 filled with even more exploration, empowerment, and education. In March, we will launch two new cohorts that will embark on their tour of Oregon. Approximately three months later, another new set of cohorts will begin their time venturing around the state. These explorers will kickoff a new round of experiments. We will be ready, prepared to assess how we can do better, and continue to make exploration for all possible for all.

The organization is still young, but how has what you’ve done to this point helped to shape how you see it evolving?

We’ve already encountered new obstacles to Portlanders and Oregonians getting outside: parents and families commonly don’t have the time to plan for a day in the outdoors – mapping out locations, finding affordable meals, and determining the best gas and rest stops; and, the rising costs of going on an adventure – park fees, gas, food, and admission to places like museums. Accordingly, we are launching two additional experiments in 2017.

The first is simply making our trip itineraries publicly available on our website. To track their usage, we ask that those who use the sample trips as a foundation for their own hike, trek, or exploration send us a picture of their time in the wild. Second, in the coming year we will introduce our Adventure Fund. This resource will be available to all Passport Oregon families. The fund will enable families with financial difficulties to apply to have the cost of their excursion entirely covered, just as their child’s trips are covered currently through Passport Oregon. Again, all we ask is that those who utilize the fund send us a photo of their expedition. Stay tuned for more details on the Adventure Fund and how you can reinforce this essential effort to reduce disparities in access to nature.

Also,  we are still listening – if anyone has suggestions, ideas, or comments, please send me an email at kevin@passportoregon.org.  We are always looking for volunteers, and those  interested in Passport Oregon volunteer opportunities can shoot ariel@passportoregon.org an email to learn about the variety of volunteer roles we have available. Finally, please check out our website passportoregon.org and spread the word – Oregon’s outdoors must be available and accessible.

You can find Passport Oregon on its website, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Built with a mission in mind

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Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything – George Bernard Shaw

Built Oregon was officially launched two years ago this week.

The idea, concept, and passion behind the project was born through a shared belief amongst the founders that a simple concept — telling the stories of founders — could change the conversation for businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Oregon.

Over the past two years, we’ve managed to tell 85 stories, both written and spoken. What’s more, we’ve gathered people together through numerous events to hear those stories firsthand. Those events — those face-to-face moments of community building — have enabled us to actively engage in lively and wide-ranging talks about cross industry and regional entrepreneurship activity, explore both rural and urban economic development challenges and opportunities, highlight the need to have underrepresented communities participate and have a voice in the conversations, and revealed the unique collaborative elements that make up the Oregon entrepreneurial DNA.

All of these conversations, more than anything, have reinforced our shared desire to continue to follow the original Built Oregon mission around storytelling. But simply continuing isn’t enough. We are driven to do more. We believe we have a unique opportunity build upon this foundation to have an even greater impact for Oregon entrepreneurship.

To reflect our dedication to this mission and our continued willingness to champion it, Built Oregon is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

It’s a decision that aligns well with the mission focused impact we want to have — a mission that will always follow a guiding star pointing towards supporting cross industry and regional entrepreneurship and collaborating with other organizations and entities to create a cohesive narrative and vision of Oregon.

Built Oregon was launched through our community on Kickstarter and helped via an investment by Oregon Story Board. It was that initial support and the ongoing support of partners like the Oregon SBDC, Anvil Media, and others that have enabled us to keep telling the stories.

But the stories are just the beginning. We’ve happily donated hundreds of hours of our time to discussions around statewide economic development, broad based access to capital, innovation that is inclusive, and ways to engage underrepresented communities.

These discussions illuminated and forged Built Oregon’s path forward.

It’s a path that allows us to play a critical role as a conduit for the opportunities and challenges throughout the state, while continuing to raise awareness around what is happening in every community.

It is a path that creates more opportunities to collaborate with partner organizations to catalyze the next wave of entrepreneurs, while continuing to grow the established brands and those companies that are already off to the races.

It’s a path that will take into account our mission to add value to all voices and ideas.

As founders, we strongly believe that our evolution to an nonprofit is one that will allow us to reach our long term vision for Built Oregon. But more importantly, it crystallizes how we can have the most positive impact around the state.

Do we have big ideas? You bet. Will our path forward be easy? Nope.

But we have a firm belief in our mission, a dedication to this state and commitment to the people who get up every morning to chase their entrepreneurial dreams or build up the communities where they reside.

We look forward to continuing this journey with you.

Best,

Mitch, Terry, and Rick

Swallowtail Spirits leverages passion, hustle, and fortitude to build a growing distillery

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Kevin Barrett was spending hours upon hours researching and experimenting with home brewing and distilling, and consuming any content on distilling that he could find. He did all this while only putting a fraction of his time researching geography for his degree from the University of Oregon.

Given how he was focusing his time it only made sense that if he was to carve out a career, one that he loved, it should be around something he was passionate about. Thus, the journey from home distiller to Swallowtail Spirits began.14379769_568685866675742_4984882555288960865_o

Early Beginnings

Kevin started making home brewed beer around six years ago, and did so knowing that it would be the first step to making whiskey. The first spirit he made was a brandy, from 5 gallons of leftover wine from Silvan Ridge Winery in Eugene.

And so began his journey in the distilling craft, characterized by much experimentation.

“ I made a couple of stills and talked with local distillers about the production and permitting process. I made a few whiskeys, brandies and vodkas. Some were good, but most were bad so I researched more to find out how to make them better.”

But through trial and error, the whiskies started to taste better. The taste improvements led to people inquiring if Kevin could make special batches for weddings and one of a kind gifts. But the demand for the early batches led to a bit of dilemma.

“ The aging process is the toughest part though because no batch of whiskey that I have made has lasted for longer than 6 months on oak. Everyone drank it.”

The initial interest in the spirits he was making provided him with the validation needed to pursue starting a spirits brand. But in a crowded market, having a strong brand upon which to build is critical, and Kevin had help from a close supporter in creating it.

“ I wanted to link the distillery to the state in some way. I threw around a few names, but then my girlfriend suggested Swallowtail Spirits after Oregon’s state insect, The Swallowtail Butterfly.”

swallowtail-2With the brand locked in and the distilling process fine tuned, it was time to move past small batch production and bring Swallowtail to a larger market. But ramping up liquor sales is not simply about having a solid marketing plan, it’s about having the fortitude to grind it out.

“ Liquor sales in Oregon are all about the hustle. You or an employee have to be out there with the consumer, engaging with them, explaining the process and getting feedback. Nobody will sell the product better than an owner. We know every detail of the process and are passionate about the business. It’s why I am still out there doing the tastings in the liquor stores. Customers like talking with the owners and when they see how engaged we are they get pretty engaged as well. If you can get them engaged and passionate about the product then you now have a customer for life.”

Kevin and his team hustled. They met customers at markets and stores, and talked about the brand to liquor shop owners. The consumers really liked the Swallowtail vodka, with many folks comparing it to top shelf brands. But Kevin was conservative as he entered the market, and even though he believed passionately that their vodka was as good as many highly regarded brands, he entered the market at a lower price point, a move they looked to remedy as they scaled up.

“ We actually listed it at too low of a price initially. Price point reflects a lot on consumer opinion. If you don’t have a premium price, you don’t have a premium product. We’ve increased the price twice over the last year and have seen no drop in demand.”

The premium level of spirits that Swallowtail produces can be traced back to their distilling process. A process that begins and ends with an intense attention to detail.

The water used in the distilling process comes from the lowland Willamette Valley Aquifer System, which has been filtered over many years through the volcanic sediment. Kevin and his team continue that filtration process to an incredible degree. The vodka is filtered through activated carbon sixty times, which produces a very polished vodka and helps to eliminate the by-products of the distilling process.

“ By-products like congeners and fusel oils are left behind in small amounts in vodka. They are what’s responsible for off flavors, odors and colors. They are also responsible for hangovers. Activated carbon pulls these by-products out of the vodka like magnets, with positive and negative charges. We filter our vodka an insane amount of times to get the cleanest product we can in a reasonable amount of time.”

Given the bounty within Oregon, Swallowtail has a vision to use as many locally sourced raw materials as possible in the making of their spirits. But with scaling up fast, finding those sources takes time, and they are actively searching for local suppliers to make that goal a reality.dsc_0082

Connecting to the community and putting down roots

The distilling process, especially with vodka and whiskey, takes a very particular equipment setup to produce. Swallowtail recently purchased a 300 gallon pot still to make their whiskies. The new equipment will allow them to produce about a half a barrel of whiskey a day. The goal is to effectively ramp up sales and production, and purchase equipment to the point where they can produce at least a barrel of whiskey per day. In addition, they also now have a tasting room where they can really connect to the community and consumer.

In addition, the new equipment allows them to ramp up production of their gin, and Swallowtail is taking steps to expand their offerings even further.

“ We will be producing our own single malt (Scotch style) whiskey and bourbon. November marks the launch of two gins as well; a Navy strength (114 proof) London Dry gin and a American gin (90 proof) as well. A goal of our tasting room is to start sampling 2 different products each month to get input from our consumers. Once we find out what they like, we will produce those liquors as well.”

In addition, Swallowtail has partnered up with fellow Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing to produce a whiskey based on their OATIS Oatmeal Stout. They recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to purchase the oak whiskey barrels and necessary equipment needed to produce the collaboration.

The time Kevin has put into building the brand to this point has been immense. But he has also connected to, and worked with, a diverse mix of organizations.

“ From the start I have never stopped asking questions. Anyone who would give me their time was on my list. I started with NEDCO in Springfield then moved to SBDC at Lane Community College for help with the business plan, forecasting and strategy for funding.”

The SBDC’s feedback around Swallowtail’s business plan was a huge asset. Multiple people took the time to go over a series of revisions, and as Kevin notes, it still changes every month.kevinbarrett1-300x216

In addition to the help NEDCO and the SBDC provided, Kevin was also accepted into the RAIN Accelerator program. Just like he did with the SBDC, Kevin continued to ask questions, which led him down the accelerator path.

“ I talked with Joe Maruschak at RAIN in February of 2015 about what I was doing. In September I met with Joe and Shane Johnson and finally convinced them that I really had no idea what I was doing. They let me into the program in September and it was one of the most amazing experiences. It’s like taking an MBA crash course in 12 weeks, but you get to focus in on where you really need to.”

But even a crash course MBA program and support from a myriad of business resources can’t speed up the time it takes to launch a craft spirits company. The wait time for permitting can put a serious dent into any solid plan, as the distiller continues to pay rent and insurance without revenue coming in during that time period. Luckily Kevin planned in advance, which allowed him to save close to $60K.

“ I started contract bottling a year and a half before I applied for a permit at my own facility so I already had a foothold in the Oregon market and had revenue coming in.”

That forward thinking and the hustle to get the product onto shelves has led to a 10% monthly growth rate in the state of Oregon, and with the addition of new products, their local growth will continue to grow while also looking towards distribution in other states.

So we’ll certainly keep seeing Oregon’s state insect on shelves in Oregon and beyond over the next few years.

For more information, visit www.swallowtailspirits.com.

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Drinking from the tank – The DrinkTanks story

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In Bend Oregon, Nicholas Hill and the ever growing team at DrinkTanks design and assemble stainless steel growlers that are unique and built to last.

The company has evolved from sketches on a napkin to an 18,000 sq. ft. production facility. Nicholas and the team have stitched together an entrepreneurial journey that has balanced life events, crowdfunding, and rapid growth in order to create a sustainable business in Central Oregon.

Early origins

Nicholas, a Bend native, was running Pacific Line Promotional Company when his father Dr. Tim Hill joined him on launching a water bottle company. The company looked to leverage their combined experience in Food and Beverage and brand product marketing.

They named the company Pistol Creek Water Bottles and looked to create a line of bottles that reflected their passion for the outdoors. They were set, and had an idea as to what they wanted to create. That was until a trip to a conference in Las Vegas.

“In 2010 at the Mandalay Bay seafood buffet, my dad and I started to draw some ideas for a new product focus. What if we did something based on the initial double-walled water bottle idea, but made a product that kept your beer cold.”

It was a subtle change of focus, but one that opened up new opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the first ideas were based on the water bottle design. They had already dialed in the design and sourcing, which is extremely important to product companies – especially young ones. And this would have provided an easy transition if they followed a similar process, but that was not the case.

“ As the product design unfolded, we decided to put a focus on the engineering, and as opposed to the previous pre-made Pistol Creek bottles, we made the leap to a unique and custom design.”2015_drinktanks_pub_16 2015_drinktanks_pub_16

And just as things began to get ramped up, Nicholas’ father passed away. He was left running Pistol Creek and Pacific Line at the same time. His father’s influence to design a truly unique growler was instilled in Nicholas, and so he made the decision to sell Pacific Line and focus on Pistol Creek. It was about this time when they made the decision to change the name to DrinkTanks, a name that better described the vision they had for the product line.

Kicking things into gear

Nicholas and his dad had worked on a few designs for the tanks, and after some trial and error, John Herrick of Herrick Product Development joined the DrinkTanks team to help fine-tune the design. John was the perfect match to take the original vision forwards. They spent the next 9 months working on prototypes and designs with a first focus on strong functionality.

As the design began to get closer to the final form, the team at DrinkTanks started to ponder doing a Kickstarter campaign, and before the launch worked on some initial analysis of their own.

“We started talking to factories and doing consumer analysis, including going around to the bars and brewpubs here in Bend and talking to the patrons. The feedback we received was very valuable, including feedback on the name.”

So with a super glued together prototype, they launched a campaign in 2013 with a goal of $30,000. The campaign was a huge success, with 2,076 backers pledging a total of $304,142, with the most valuable aspect being the knowledge that there is a market for their product. The team had also taken PO’s prior to launching the campaign, so by the time of the launch, they had dialed-in production and fixed mass production errors.2015_drinktanks_rock_climbing_3

“Although the amount raised on Kickstarter didn’t solve all of our money problems, the fact that we had spent the time to figure out the tooling and inventory processes prior to launch allowed us to to get a running start on building the company and sales pipeline.”

After they made sure the backers had their DrinkTanks, they turned their focus to the craft beer industry to build up sales. There were numerous challenges, from being a new technology and brand to also being the most expensive growler on the market at the time. But with Nicholas’ promotional company experience, they pursued the co-branded path to help them get both noticed and to shore up the initial validity. In addition to the craft beer market, they put effort into the outdoor industry vertical where the tank’s design and functionality was a welcome addition.

The sales pipeline picked up, as well as the operational challenges. Nicholas is from Bend and had an innate passion to build the company in Central Oregon. They began production in a 4,400 sq. ft. facility that they quickly outgrew. The company moved from that initial facility to a current footprint of 18,000 sq. ft. to accommodate production and employee growth- the team nearly doubled from 18 to 35 people during just a 60 day period in 2016.

But with expansion also came the need to raise additional capital to allow for the growth to continue. Nicholas raised some money from the original shareholders and also received $250,000 from the Grow Oregon program. They also found local support from Mid Oregon Credit Union who also played a large role in the capital support.2015_drinktanks_rock_climbing_10

The capital infusion has allowed DrinkTanks to continue on its strong growth trajectory, but other challenges are always on Nicholas’ radar.

Building a product company that has direct ties to the lifestyle of the community – beverages and outdoors – has been a huge positive. The community has been supportive, but the local pool is small for employees and executive talent. In addition to the talent challenges, managing the logistics of growth will also play a critical role. Each tank has 18 different and unique parts, all supplied by different manufacturers.

But those challenges are part of DrinkTanks’ current wild ride. The next 12-24 months will see new diversity in regards to their product offering, but the core focus will not change.

Nicholas has enjoyed the journey from a napkin drawing to an 18,000 sq. ft. facility, and wouldn’t change a thing. However, if we could offer his former self some advice it would include being intentional about surrounding yourself with smart people, learning to delegate earlier, and making the transition from founder to CEO at a quicker pace.

For more information, visit www.drinktanks.com. You can also follow them on facebook, twitter and instagram.screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-6-04-15-pm

Bringing kombucha to the masses – the Humm Kombucha story

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The Humm Kombucha story can be traced back to a friendship that was formed over some hard hit tennis balls, and discussions around kitchen tables.

Those discussions, occurring during a time when the recession was hitting Central Oregon especially hard, led to the launch of a consumer brand that has seen explosive growth in an ever expanding category. They are looking to be trailblazers in the kombucha market – a market that is growing at a 25% yearly clip and is estimated to hit $1.8 Billion by 2020.

But that growth has never led them away from from those early roots. Friendship, family, community, and having fun are elements that remain at their core, even as the wild ride is picking up speed.copy-of-img_8254

Bringing a family recipe to market

Bend or Bozeman?

Humm Kombucha Cofounder and CEO Jamie Danek and her family were looking to enroll their son in an Outward Bound program, and they had narrowed their city choices down to two. Jamie had run a successful recruiting business on the east coast, and her husband was a contractor. The recession hit and the economy in and around Bend started to decline. The contracting work evaporated and the number of other opportunities was waning.

It was around this time that Jamie had a chance encounter with Michelle Mitchell on a local tennis court. Both of them were beginners, but that didn’t stifle their competitiveness, and after a day of hitting hard shots back and forth they sat down and became fast friends.

During one of their many discussions they tried some of Michelle’s mother in law’s kombucha, which was not especially tasty. Michelle’s husband then tried brewing his own kombucha, and while marginally better than his mom, it still left a bit to be desired. Michelle then tried her hand at brewing up her own kombucha – and they were onto something.

copy-of-10277728_733454623372732_7421625577348645302_nMichelle started to brew more and more kombucha. She and Jamie realized that they felt really good while they were drinking the kombucha and decided they wanted to bring the health benefits of the beverage to a larger audience so that more people could experience the same feeling. They started going door to door and putting up posters around Bend, which created the initial sales pipeline for what was then called Kombucha Mama.

Around this time retail locations started to inquire how they could get Kombucha Mama on their shelves. But without any wholesale program set up, they could not seize on those early opportunities. Jamie and Michelle made the leap and hired a brewer. This helped to increase production, but kombucha takes a long time to brew, and thus, they had an ever growing waitlist for delivery.

But they saw the potential and kept hustling – growing the business step by step and day by day, while taking no salaries for years.

The early focus from a flavor standpoint was the Original, a mate based kombucha. It was well received and allowed Kombucha Mama to get early recognition and brand loyalty. Flush with this early traction they started experimenting with new flavors by pumping fresh fruit and vegetable juices into the kombucha. Jamie and Michelle would go to the local farmer’s markets and get ingredients, then head back and work on new flavors.

As the product line evolved, they decided to put the kombucha on tap, which was a first. They sold kegs to local coffee shops and allowed them to pump in the juices they wanted.

They had an ever increasing sales pipeline and increased brand awareness. It was time to bring kombucha to the masses.copy-of-12313615_1035887283129463_8624499210151166762_n

Brewing up a growth strategy

The production and operations required for kombucha are capital intensive. They were self financed for 4 years and then did a convertible note to raise additional funds and expand the production to keep up with the sales demands.

In addition to the capital, Jamie and Michelle had a keen awareness that they needed to hire the right people. Kombucha was a fairly new category in the beverage world at the time and thus, not only did they have to oversee operational concerns that any craft beverage company would encounter, but they also had to lead with education to consumers. If there was to be mass appeal there had to be mass awareness and understanding as well.

Much of that understanding is around the health benefits of kombucha. The beverage can help balance your ph, contains a high percentage of your daily Vitamin B12, improve digestion (probiotic), improve joint mobility (glucosamines), and strengthen your immune system by being packed full of antioxidants. But being a keystone player and driving home that education in a new market takes time, which is something Jamie and Michelle realized but never dwelled on. It was simple in their minds – kombucha makes you feel great, and so more people should be drinking it.

And with a goal to be on the shelf of every grocery store, they started wondering if Kombucha Mama was the name that not only created new brand awareness on the shelves, but more importantly conveyed what they had been experiencing and seeing as the company grew. There was a sense of happiness and energy around the drink. People drank it and became a part of the tribe – a movement. They would hum a tune and enjoy the day. Thus, Humm Kombucha was launched. It’s a brand name that captured how they felt about the product, and how they wanted the brand to relate to the masses. It was a name that resonated with a large and diverse group of new customers.

And so it was with a new brand that they expanded sales and started working with Cascade Couriers to deliver in Bend and Eugene, and at the 4 year mark signed on with a distributor who took a chance on them. In addition to the distribution expansion, they opened up a taproom at their facility. Jamie saw this as a place where personal interaction could take place.

“ The taproom was unique and allowed the team to create true brand experiences with the products. It was a place where brand evangelists would come, and then who in turn helped to promote it to a larger crowd.”

That larger crowd is where Humm, and kombucha in general, is headed. The vertical is still young and on the precipice of huge growth. Up to this point the focus of many kombucha brands has been more towards the health stores and natural food groceries, while the big potential is to bring kombucha and Humm to a more broad consumer base.

That’s where Jamie and Michelle have been aiming. They’ve done deals with WinCo, Safeway, and 7-Eleven, and also brought Humm to Seahawks Stadium (CenturyLink Field). The NFL and kombucha seems like an unlikely pairing, but it’s led to interest from other NFL teams around the country. They also recently added a nationwide deal with Target to their sales pipeline.

copy-of-file_008Humm has expanded their facility from 5,000 sq. ft. to 30,000 sq. ft. and will be hiring an additional 30 people to meet the growth opportunities head on. This new expansion will allow them to quadruple their brewing production, but they are leaving their taproom and retail location at its current location. This is where the brand interacts with the community – a community that has and continues to mean so much to Humm.

They started the business during the recession without really knowing anybody, and the community welcomed and supported their venture with open arms.

“ Bend is unique and has a strong sense of place. People want to live here and it’s led to a happy population, one that truly gets the idea of community. Everyone is willing to help out or answer questions,” explains Jamie.

This ideal of community and giving back is ingrained in both Jamie and Michelle. They are always willing to lend an ear, or offer up some feedback to other founders and support organizations, including working with EDCO’s (Economic Development for Central Oregon) food and beverage industry cluster initiative.

Being a keystone brand in a rapidly growing industry has put the team at Humm Kombucha on a wild ride, but they would not have it any other way. They will continue to hum with happiness and bring that thirst for adventure to a wider and wider audience.

For more information, visit www.hummkombucha.com. You can also follow them on facebook, twitter and instagram.copy-of-tacoma-fresh-market

 

A new kind of barn raising- The DC Structure story

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In 2003, at the age of 23 Dustin Gruetter applied for and received his contractor’s license.

That license has led him down an entrepreneurial path from painting houses to building world class structures all over the country. But his journey is still evolving in ways that keep his entrepreneurial mind racing.

Early beginnings

DC Buildings, headquartered in NW Portland, started as a general construction business focusing on normal projects like decking work, siding, painting and remodels. There was no thought to developing a business plan or set marketing direction. They simply started working.

Dustin honed his craft through a building construction technology program at Clackamas Community College, while building a structure on his Grandma’s property so he had a place to live while ramping up the company. But it wasn’t just Dustin sleeping on the couch. Half of the team would sleep on couches then get up and work hard all day. The initial work led to more referrals, and the company started to slowly grow into a sustainable business.

But the business and the new ideas were still percolating within Dustin and the company as they expanded outside of Portland.

“We got a call to build an equestrian facility, with one of first ones being in Northwest Portland out on Germantown Road. And then right after that, this company was referring us work and asked if Battle Ground was too far, and we said ‘nope’. Then requests came in from Willamina, Baker City and eventually California and the East coast.”e35c0323-2

But managing multi-state growth as a fairly streamlined staff was something they had to work on daily.

“It wasn’t easy, and it was only made possible because of the great people that we have in place on our Project Management  and Carpentry team along with utilizing technology to collaborate. We have always been modern in the way that we communicate with our clients and internally as a company. We’ve focused on using assets like cloud based project management tools that keep our clients and construction teams updated on a daily basis with photos, daily logs, and a file storage system to keep all of our documents maintained and manage our client’s selections in one spot. We also utilize Skype and web meetings to make sure that we stay aligned as a team on our projects.”

The communication between team members allowed them to manage their internal processes, but since they handle everything from the initial design process to handing over the keys,  open lines of communication and personal outreach with their clients has always played a key role.

“On the building side of things, yes, 100%, that’s our focus. Our mission is that once a client commits to us we’re gonna treat them like kings and queens and try to meet all their needs, over-communicate and shower them with options. But the options are not meant to overcomplicate things or make a building more expensive –  we just don’t want them to look back and say, “Hey, I wish somebody would have told me about this.” To hear that at the end of a project, that means we didn’t do our job.”

The referrals kept coming and the diversity of projects expanded, including a clubhouse for the Carmel Athletic Club, a all-in-one home and processing facility for Upchurch Vineyards, custom homes across the country, wedding venues and a myriad of barns. And as they grew, they found themselves saying ‘no’ more often than they wanted to. There was a large group of people whom DC Building could not service, because it didn’t fit into their business model from a cost standpoint. So the DC team, as entrepreneurs are wont to do, got to work turning what was initially a negative into a new part of their business, by finding a way to share their designs and streamlined processes to a broader customer base.fall-city-wa-workshop-barn-kit-dc-structures_31

Bringing custom barns to the masses

With a schedule that had them talking to 700 people a month along with being highlighted in various magazines, DC Building looked to their construction knowledge, and their awareness of other kit companies, to create a series of barn kits.

The barn kits were conceived and created to leverage a more simple process that is streamlined and cost effective for their clients. They spent 2014 planning the vendor relationships, supply chain, marketing and website development, and launched in May of 2015 with 9 barn kit designs and 9 pavillion designs.

The first kits were sent to Tennessee, San Juan Islands, North Carolina, Colorado and also locally here in Oregon. Although the initial logistics of shipping to all 50 states with varying site conditions did pose some issues for the DC team, their building experience and background allowed them to navigate those early challenges and dial-in a process that is scalable.

“We provide them with a very detailed set of plans and instructions, and then also support them through what we can provide for them here from our building crews. We also pre-assemble certain components that make sense to make it easier for construction, and then we source all this material here in Oregon and the Northwest. “

That focus from the outset has resulted in a very streamlined process – one where the value is passed onto the client.

“ These buildings are pre designed and engineered, and so we already know how much it costs for the materials, and have a general idea of how much it will cost our clients to complete. Combined with the blueprints and building materials that are needed, in as little as 4-6 weeks we can have these packages onsite and ready to build. This is where the cost saving comes in for our clients. We save them time, money, and headache and give them certainty in what the end result is going to be.”

One key aspect of the kits is the integration of the highest quality materials from the Pacific Northwest – many of which these clients could not get at their local lumberyards. These are the same materials used in many in their custom builds, and so even though the costs are reduced, the end product will stand the test of time. This ability to use the highest quality materials, even as operations scale, is a result of the vendor relationships built over time, and DC does not see changing the source materials in the future.

What the future does hold are changes to the line of kits being offered based on client demand. The new line, which include cabins, barn homes and also timber frame kits, is in the works in 2016. The kits have taken off and have created an interesting evolution to the two business verticals, an evolution Dustin is keenly aware of and planning for.

“ You know, this company has really taken off. It actually feels like it’ll probably end up outgrowing the Building business. Probably not this year, but looking ahead in the next year, this company will outgrow the Building company just because we’re able to reach that many more people.”boring-or

Growth and evolution

Along with growth comes new opportunities, which include strategic partnerships that can benefit multiple companies. That is the case in the merging of FrameWork Plus into the DC family of brands. It’s a combination that makes sense for both current operations and future goals.

“ FrameWork Plus has been in business since 1994. They specialize in timber frame construction. The DC style of construction is more post and beam, which is very attractive. But their construction is actually a step up from what we do in a true timber framed building, so everything is put together with very little steel hardware. It’s mostly by hand – mortise and tenon joinery and wood pegs.”

The collaboration with FrameWork allows DC to offer more on both the building and structure sides of the business. It allows the company to offer conventional, post and beam, and timber frame as options. As they scale up the kits, there will be a focus on tying in more timber-framed buildings, barns, and homes. On the flip side, DC brands will incorporate some of their designs and learnings into the FrameWork projects going forwards.

And currently the projects are stacked up. The DC team has 66 total projects going on either in construction or design with about 45 people working on them, and internally the culture has evolved into one where they work hard, but also have fun.

“ It’s been a lot of fun and really enjoyable to just build this team. We have a very low turnover rate and when we bring people in, we tell them that we want to have them retire in this company, and we truly mean it. We’ve seen two or three years of really intense growth, and to be honest, we don’t want to  grow too fast either.”

But with DC Structures on a steep growth trajectory, the company knows that it will be hard to balance strategic growth from a project side with that of a personnel perspective.Their pathway forward is based around creating new product lines for the kits. Lines that build in upgrades and allow the clients to accessorize it a bit more. Lines that will potentially shift the balance of the work towards the structure side of the business.

That growth trajectory is fine with Dustin and his team. They know from experience that hard work pays off in the end, so they are willing to put the time in now in order to create a long term, unique, and sustainable business. The crazy ride the DC brands company has been on over the past 10 years has also imparted a lot of wisdom onto the founders – wisdom that is applicable to a great deal of entrepreneurs out there today.

“ Go with your gut always! Make decisions quickly and have confidence in them and realize there is no time wasted in pre project planning. Focus on the people, both from an employee side and also how you interact and treat your customers. Most importantly, have fun.”damascus-or-party-barn-kit-dc-structures-jpg28

For more information visit www.dcstructures.com, follow them on twitter and like them on facebook.

Ignoring the Status Quo and Doing What Matters: The Grovemade Story

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At a shop in SE Portland, Ken Tomita and the Grovemade team conceptualize, design, build and produce an wide array of products, from laptop stands to knives.

They have built up a company that doing what matters in life. A company that rode the wave of early online sales of iPhone cases into building a strong consumer products company that many times ignored the status quo in order to build the company they envisioned from the start.

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Early origins

As with many entrepreneurial journeys, the Grovemade one was hatched between friends who saw an opportunity to work together. Ken was furniture maker and Joe Mansfield had a laser engraving business. They were both self employed and talked often about the latest happenings, or to bounce ideas off one another.

“We’d toss a football in the street talking about ideas when we really should have been working.  Joe had an idea to make a bamboo iPhone case and put laser engraved art on it.  No one had done it.  He asked around and no one was willing to make this for him…. and I thought why not give it a try.”

And just like that, a product company was hatched.

But going from a conversation between football passes to actually designing and producing the cases proved to be challenging, but also an open road to opportunities. In order to make that road a bit more manageable, Ken and Joe reached out to a number of experts in related fields to get advice and feedback on the Grovemade concept.

One of the key people they talked to was Bill Dieter of Terrazign. Bill supplied Ken and Joe with some great feedback, but just as importantly, introduced them to his machinist friend, Chris Rizzo.

“ Meeting with Rizzo was very encouraging because he had so much expertise in CNC machining and he was eager to take on a challenge.  We hired Rizzo, bought a CNC mill, and got to work.  For 9 months or so it was myself and Rizzo huddled over the machine, trying to develop our first product, the iPhone 3 case.“

But buying that machine was no easy decision. Everyone they talked to steered them towards doing the opposite. A CNC machine is prohibitively expensive, and there is also a steep learning curve. But with Rizzo on board, the decision to purchase the machine was ultimately one that made both short and long term sense to Ken. The machines are are usually in industrial spaces – not creative studios.Environment_Grove_MchningV2_408_edit (1)

“ I chose to take the path and buy my own machine because I felt very strongly that the integration of the making process and the design process is the key to great work.  I had worked for years designing and making furniture and I couldn’t let go of that mindset even with the advice from people to not buy our own equipment. We were hoping that magic would happen if people like us had access to these machines. “

With the machine ready to roll, the team got to work. Ken had the knowledge and experience in woodworking, and a sense that the concept of problem solving to get something made is universal. Rizzo had the know how when it came to the CNC machine, but working at a such a small scale made the process feel new to everyone involved.

The team managed to dial in the design and production process for the iPhone 3 cases, and that early product started them on an unexpecting growth trajectory, which opened up new challenges.

“ It was very difficult to develop our first product in a technical sense but the greatest difficulty was in scaling up the company.  Going from 3-4 people to 20+ very quickly introduced a host of growing pains, as I lacked the experience of managing a larger team.  For me personally, going from actually doing the work to leading the work took a few years to grow into. “

Initial product growth and evolving the line

Grovemade’s iPhone cases created a splash when they were introduced, and the initial sales strategy was 100% online. Ken’s brother created the first website and they were up and running. The team looked to leverage digital PR via outreach to bloggers, and in 2010, there were a lot fewer to focus that outreach on, and the popular ones tended to drive a lot of traffic back to the website.

The company continued to focus on iPhone cases until around 2013-2014, when they anticipated a decline in the iPhone accessory market.

“ We made a big business decision to pivot our company from being about laser engraved art on cases to a product company.  We made this pivot because we took a good look at what our strengths and passions were.  Our unique ability is to create great products (not curating art) so we put everything into that.”

Pivoting away from what was the core product line towards a new vision, while a big move, was one that Grovemade was uniquely able to handle given the structure and processes put in place that allowed them to handle the entire chain, from concepting to production and fulfillment.

“ We have the luxury of pushing the limits of both design and manufacturing because we do it ourselves.  We can attempt and do difficult things that in a traditional setup with a separate designer and manufacturer would be very impractical.  In turn, this leads to us creating unique products.“

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And unique and solid products are what they have created.

Their line of desk products effortlessly blends art and craft into a line that ranges from laptop stands and iPhone docks to planters and mouse pads. The Minimalist Wallet came out of the need to create a better product than what is out there, but also one that exemplifies the company’s core focus on the details. And while a pocket knife might seem like a random brand extension at first glance, a deeper look at how it’s designed and made reveals how keeping the entire process under one roof enables Grovemade to stretch the limits on not only design, but also advanced wood manufacturing.

The stretching of the limits can also be seen in the recent collaboration with speaker designer, Joey Roth. The collaboration married Roth’s incredible speaker insights with Grovemade’s unique advanced wood manufacturing process, with the result being an intricate, gorgeous, and one of a kind desktop wood speaker. It’s a process that took over a year to dial-in the perfect shape and sound, and one that is documented in this blog post

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But beyond being just unique and creative, the products are also a representation of the passion behind the company, and a core belief they are instilling into the company as they move forwards – a belief in who they are and what they make, but also about who they are building products for.

“ Find What Matters is our new slogan this year as we go from being about product to being about the spirit behind the product.  We believe that to do great work you have to love your work and believe that is our true difference maker,” adding “ Our next step is to really engage with our customers and have them help us determine where to go next.  We have always been centered around ourselves, just making stuff we want.  While that is great in some ways the next level is to provide solutions to our customers while also making sure the products are things we would really want.”

Culture and community

As Grovemade continues to grow and expand, there has been a constant and concerted effort to build a strong culture, but as any founder knows, that is many times easier said than done.

The team focused on hiring the right people – especially ones that can navigate the complexities of a company that has design to production under one roof. They hired Jim Hassert to oversee the operational aspects, which took the day to day responsibilities off of Ken and his team. But even moves like this didn’t make it easier.

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“ With our organization running more smoothly we could build up the culture.  There were definitely a few years where it was very painful as we started to zero in on what our culture was and many of us no longer fit in.”

But even with the road bumps, the way Grovemade has been built up and evolved makes it unique in the product design space. There are many challenges with integrating design and manufacturing into manufacturing companies similar to Grovemade, but the team wouldn’t have it any other way.“ It’s absolutely key for our creativity.  We feel the freedom to create and also that we are only limited by our abilities.  Basically we have the feeling that our successes and failures are in our hands.  It’s a great feeling.”

There is also a sense that companies like Grovemade can bring back manufacturing jobs to both Oregon and America. And while that is true, the mission of Grovemade is not American job creation, but rather to create inspiring lives. It’s a topic Ken explains via this honest blog post – “Is Made in the USA a Marketing Gimmick?”

The sense of culture also extends outside of the Grovemade walls and into the consumer product community within Oregon. A community that is collaborative and supportive of one another.

“ Our network has been absolutely critical from the early days when it was just us getting started to present day.  We are only as good as the network around us and we strongly believe in learning from others as part of the Grovemade way.”

And what pieces of knowledge would Ken impart on his former self if he could go back in time to the day they started down this road to building Grovemade?

“ I have no regrets!!!  I wouldn’t give him any tips.  Life is a labyrinth, enjoy it!”

For more information, visit www.grovemade.com, like them on facebook, and follow Grovemade on twitter and instagram20150303_GroveMade_1948