Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

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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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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

 

 

A hive of creative ideas: The Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles story

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The origins of Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles came out of necessity – Brad Swift’s wife Anika ran out of lip balm.

That simple need started him down an entrepreneurial journey that has led to the creation of a successful consumer brand that has traction in retail outlets throughout the United States and Japan. But as with many founders, there is a constant pull to keep evolving and pushing to do something new and unique.

The building of a consumer product brand

As hobbyist beekeepers, the Swifts had accumulated plenty of beeswax. Brad started to make lip balm for Anika and their friends. While the simplicity of plain beeswax offered many of the benefits people want from a lip balm, Brad experimented with a plethora of different recipes until he finally hit on what would become the Portland Bee Balm product line.

Using the resources and skills he had on hand, Brad set out to get his product to market. but as anyone who has launched a new consumer product can attest – gaining initial market traction is a slog.

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The bee balm displays

But rather than be too daunted to move, they took the creative approach to get the bee balm on the shelves, all while Brad was still working full time at an elementary school.

“An artist friend and I spent an evening drawing up a label that included the city skyline, Mt. Hood and a giant honey bee. We had this shrunk down and printed on kraft brown stickers. Once the brand was designed, I got creative with display case building. Using a bundle of cedar shingles and hours of work in the basement of the shared house we lived in, I would build many different designs and offer them to stores for free. I would also offer to take measurements and custom build a display for any space in their store. People were very generous with their time and knowledge. They were the experts in this area and I would say, “You know your store best and I am good woodworker. I’ll build you anything you want to fit any location in your store for free; do you have any ideas?”

This personal outreach and engagement provided the initial market traction for Portland Bee Balm, but the true value was discovered through the conversations he had with store owners and buyers, as the display experiments and conversations with them would prove invaluable as Brad learned how the world of retail operated.

“My market research was mostly conversations with store owners and body care buyers. I tried not to do too much talking, I asked a ton of questions about how the industry works, how their department worked, what sold well, why did they think it sold well, what was the most valuable real estate in the store, and on and on. I would listen for as long as they were willing to talk – eventually they would have to get back to work. A little honesty went a long way – I told them I was new at this and had no idea what I was doing. Any advice they could give me would be greatly appreciated.”

But even with such an outward approach, there was the lack of confidence and knowledge so often felt by first time founders.

“I was rightly afraid that I was coming across as someone who had no idea what they were doing. I felt like people were doing me a huge favor every time they bought my product. It took me a long time to gain the confidence that I was providing something of significant value and they needed me as much as I needed them.”

In addition to the sense of fear of the unknown, there were production issues that created their own challenges and opportunities for knowledge gathering.

“We also had many production issues; a label that didn’t stay on the tubes and displays that did not function correctly.  Luckily I was able to encounter and solve these problems while Portland Bee Balm was still very small because when you are forced to recall all your product because your labels are coming off, it’s nice to only be in three stores. “

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Raw beeswax – each one of these weighs hundreds of pounds.

Brad started to hone in on an initial sales strategy as these early issues were ironed out. He’d would get on Google Maps and walk the street view guy down Alberta, Hawthorne, Mississippi, NW 21st avenue, and NW 23rd avenue. From the look of the storefront, he’d decide who might consider selling Portland Bee Balm and then drop them a cold call with the very soft ask of “Can I stop by and give them some free samples of the lip balm I make?”. As with anything new, it was pretty intimidating the first few times, but like anything it got easier and he got better.

As the number of stores started to grow, the product sourcing started to become a focus of the business. Brad started out using the beeswax from his own hives, but quickly surpassed what he could harvest from those sources. But as a beekeeper himself and the fact that the word ‘Bee’ was right on the label, it was important to have an authentic connection.

“To start with, most balms don’t want to use much beeswax because it’s such an expensive ingredient. But I wanted the recipe to have as much beeswax as possible and to this day, every tube of balm is over one third beeswax.”

In addition to the amount of beeswax in each tube of balm, there also was the fact that their tag line when they started was ‘supporting local bees and their keepers.’ By placing bees first in the tag line, it was a clever way to put the focus on them. A focus that Brad knew had to be more than just keeping his own hives and buying wax from other local beekeepers, because if that was the extent of that belief, it would feel more like marketing as opposed to the truth.

But the truth won out, and started a program they hope to grow as the company does.

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Brad beekeeping

“We started giving away hives each spring. We partnered with Bee Thinking to buy the hives, then we get beekeeping equipment and a package of honeybees with a queen. We give these hives away to people in the community that want to be beekeepers, but can’t afford the significant startup cost. We gave away 4 hives this last spring, our most ever. We don’t do a great job of publicizing and getting press about the giveaways, but it makes us feel good and we know we are not BS’ing anyone when we tell them we support local bees and their keepers. “

Scaling up production and retailers

As the number of retailers grew, there was a conscious effort to not jump up too many rungs on the ladder too soon.

The independent gift shops prepared Brad for the Co-Ops, and the Co-Ops prepared him for New Seasons. He realized there was so much to learn; from lingo, jargon and acronyms to expectations regarding terms, legal, insurance and labeling requirements.

“If you jump too far, it will show and they will probably not want to work with you as it will be clear to them that you are out of your depth and holding your hand through everything will be a huge time sink. The co-ops and New Seasons were great, they helped me through a lot of things, but it had to be clear that I had a base level of knowledge and experience before they brought me onto their shelves.”

But more than just getting on the shelves, Portland Bee Balm became one of the top sellers in  the health and beauty category within the stores it was featured. Safe to say Brad and Anika were very surprised.

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Custom retail display

“I just had my head down and was focused on getting a little bit better with each iteration of displays or labels or production processes. When I looked up we had something that was working pretty well and people were responding to.”

The heads down approach to building a product proved to be the right model for growth, but in terms of personal growth, reaching out to the Portland area entrepreneur and maker world for feedback, support, and advice was critical, and that community was helpful in a myriad of ways.

The community provided a consistent push to keep evolving, evaluating, iterating, exploring and taking risks, which has helped keep Brad moving forward onto the next challenge – challenges that include more than just product refinement and scaling.

“The emotional support has been helpful as well. I’m a solo founder so there is no one at Portland Bee Balm with whom I can share large scale hopes and fears. A group of other founders can fill that role, as there are so many similarities across companies and industries.

The community’s most valuable contribution has been the expansion of perceived possibility. Everything looks impossible until you see someone else do it – like breaking the 4 minute mile. I did not come from a world where people started, owned, bought and sold companies. Successful company founders were generous with their time and advice. I was able to see that there was almost infinite room for growth and increased positive impact. Bringing these large aspirational goals into the realm of possibility has been the greatest gift from this community.”

The development of Cascadia Candles

As Portland bee Balm continued to grow, there was the constant noise around expanding the product line, and the never ending product ideas from outside voices. But much of Brad’s success with Portland bee Balm can be attributed to the ability to resist taking on too much advice, and concentrating on trying to continually improve on what they do best.

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Cascadia Candles packaging

Creative energies, however, do need an outlet. With the need to tweak the design and product slowing down, Brad got restless, and the restless mind led to the latest product line.

“Candles are an obvious choice; we are surrounded by towers of beeswax in this office, as it’s a main ingredient in our balms. However I could never find myself inspired to make beeswax pillars, tapers, votives or tealights – there are already many great companies doing this very well.“

The restless creative energy continued to burn within Brad and at some point he began to think that maybe the shape of the candle could convey the identity of the brand. He thought about releasing a Portland Bee Balm candle, which led to ideas like a raindrop, a tall boy beer can and Big Pink. And while those ideas would have no doubt created some noise and traction on shelves, his mind eventually settled on a more iconic representation of the brand and the Pacific NW.

“Eventually I thought about Mount Tabor and it’s reservoirs. I thought the reservoirs could be in blue wax and it would look striking. As I started thinking about creating a 3D model of Mount Tabor, it became clear that Mount Hood would be a much more recognizable choice. Once I started going down that route I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of modeling and printing 3D geographic features. I felt this new company would be limited if it was under Portland Bee Balm and it needed to be its own entity – Cascadia Candles.”

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Mt. Hood candle

Once the direction was set, Brad set out to do what he does best: do simple things really well.

He dived into learning about every aspect of candle making, including elements most people take for granted when lighting candles and navigating the intricacies of 3D modeling and printing. What seemed like a simple idea quickly became something that consumed his creative energy and led him to not just simply create a candle, but actually learn how to make a unique product.

“You have no idea how many different wick materials exist out there; each with their own burn properties, and how many different sizes they all come in. We tested wicks for days and days. For the candles themselves there are a lot of steps and each one is an opportunity to make mistakes. The topographical data gets transformed into a surface – that surfaces get transformed into a 3D digital model – that 3D model gets edited and sent to the 3D printer. Once the model in printed and exists in the real world, it has be carefully prepared and then cast in silicone. You have no idea how many different types of silicone exist out there! The silicone mold is then removed, and prepared to receive the beeswax. Don’t forget to adjust for the pour temperature and shrinkage of the beeswax as it cools. How do you get the wick in there? These were all great problems and I was able to come up with creative solutions that I am proud of. There will be way more problems to tackle going forward; they never end, but this is what makes the work interesting.”

With the candle design dialed in and production ready to begin, Brad is turning to Kickstarter for support of the project, instead of reaching out to the network of retailers he has built up through Portland Bee Balm.

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Mt. St. Helens candle

Kickstarter offered the best platform to not only share this new product with a large and diverse audience, but it also allows him to gauge if there is truly enough interest in the concept to take the next steps.

Backers generously agree to wait months for their rewards. This will allow us to build out our production capacity to be roughly in line with demand. These candles also feel much more at home on the internet than lip balm. People are online looking for a new, unique gift or object that speaks to them.”

And if the candles do speak to a large customer base, Brad knows that will come with new challenges and opportunities for both brands.

“I think the biggest challenges will involve people. Making sure everyone is communicating, on the same page and feeling supported is happening right now in our 4 person Portland Bee Balm team. If things grow very quickly and we need to add more than a few people I think the biggest challenge will be to maintain the culture we have created. It’s a flat hierarchy with open books and no secrets. Everyone knows everything that is going on with the company and we are all in it together.”

Being transparent and open are the core values that Brad has built Portland Bee Balm on, and will continue to do so as Cascadia Candles comes into the brand fold.

And what would he say if he could go back and give his former self some advice?

“Quit your job sooner, it’s going to work out. Try to relax. Don’t compare yourself to other people that founded a better, faster, cooler, sexier, bigger company. Your instincts are good, Brad’s Bomb Balm would have been a dumb name.”

For more information, visit the Cascadia Candles Kickstarter page and visit Portland Bee Balm at www.portlandbeebalm.com and follow them on facebook,  instagram and twitter

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The ripples of design: The Soul River Runs Deep story

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Chad Brown’s journey has been a winding one.

It’s a journey that has taken him from Texas to Iraq, Somalia to New York City, and Asia to Portland. But more than the journey itself, the company he’s founded along that journey, Soul River Runs Deep, is the embodiment of a belief and mission.

“Soul River is about the embodiment of our rivers and our personal relationship in and with nature. Your ‘soul river’ is defined by your interest, passion, and love for anything in Mother Nature that is precious and healing to you.”

The brand is about bridging the gap between two different worlds – urban and nature – and syncing the two worlds as a fusion of humanity, a stand for social justice, equality, artistic expression, and nature.

It’s a brand whose origins have to be traced back along the meandering journey of a creative mind.6-860x514

The evolution of a designer

Chad’s creative tendencies started at a young age, and through a simple gesture by his mom.  She would give him a poster board from the grocery store and he would draw characters from his picture books in ink.

Simple? Yes.

But that gesture allowed Chad to evolve into an expressive and artistic person.

“As a youth, I was immersed in various extracurricular art programs within the community, public school system, and even the Art Institute of Dallas to study commercial art. Like many young, starving student artists, I needed to pay for my books, the classes, my supplies, and just school in general. That’s when I dropped out to go into the Navy.”

Chad’s time in the Navy included serving in the Operation Desert Storm Campaign in Kuwait and the Operation Restore Hope Campaign in Somalia. But even during those campaigns, he’d find opportunities to design through projects like a “how-to” manual for the command, which served as an aid for Navy and Army on-load and off-load transportation.

Once Chad left the Navy, he returned to school and completed his BFA in Communication Design at The Intercontinental University in Atlanta, Georgia. He stayed in Atlanta for a year freelancing and working as a young designer for Upscale Magazine.

“I knew that I had potential to go further but, like many artists, my strong suit was not sitting down and American-Lemon-Tie-Reversedfilling out paper applications for days. I remember sending my application into the Pratt Institute along with a cover letter that was written on a torn up fast food bag. I figured If these people know how to see beyond words on a paper, they will accept me.”

To Chad’s surprise, the administrators at Pratt believed in his potential and looked past his fast food bag cover letter and accepted him into the program. The Institute is based in Brooklyn, and while the New York City pace can sometimes swallow up people, Chad relished it.

“Living and studying in NYC inspired edginess, raw talent, and authentic perspective for me. At the time, I had never felt more expressive and true to myself. I graduated with a Masters of Science in Communication Design and the world was my oyster.”

But as he opened up that oyster, Chad quickly realized that the being a designer in NYC is not for the faint of heart. It was tough, hard and highly competitive. He worked for various agencies and design firms doing typography design, packaging design, identity development, fashion, and photography. But the agency world was not one he’d linger in too long and a moment that changed many people’s lives forever, played a role in his.

“After the Twin Towers came under attack on September 11, 2001, the economy went ballistic and, like many others, I lost my job. Actually, it was on that exact day when I was let go. I needed to survive in New York City and freelance was my only option. I came to realize, however, that I much preferred living and thriving as opposed to surviving. Surviving was symbolic to the struggle. I knew I could do better than struggle!

“Stepping out independently was, is and always has been in my DNA. I’m not one to follow the masses nor really work for the man. I’ve always been able to adapt to those environments but being so much of a creative, I tend to conceptualize and design really well independently.”

And working independently was something Chad relished at. He started as primarily a freelancer and evolved into more of a consultant, working with a broad mix of clients, including working and collaborating with Russell Simmons and his business Phat Farm. Chad was brought on to develop and design their running shoe launch.

Eventually, Chad’s freelance career took him overseas to do do design consulting and branding development in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, as well as throughout the US, including Los Angeles. During this time he wore many creative hats; from art directing, to working with photographers in front of the camera, to being the photographer shooting fashion ads, as well as working on high concept campaigns bringing “big ideas” to life.

“I helped launch the TIVO campaign in Los Angeles through Campbell Ewald West. Opportunities like these gave me more confidence in knowing I could take on the world of freelance. I was eventually hired to rebrand for Epic, a leading international garment fashion house in Hong Kong. As Asia’s industry leaders and one of the world’s leading garment manufacturers in the fashion industry, Epic boasts clients with internationally recognized names such as GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch, Costco, Levi’s, Hollister, Sears, and H&M, to name a few.

“My role was not just to rebrand, but to recreate the image of the company with a fresh appeal to European, North American and Australian clients with executive buying powers. I hired a team and conceptualized the branding, photography, and video. We shot film and photography in three different countries and ultimately delivered a successful outcome”

Life was going good for Chad. But life is not always a straight path with a defined ending. 12115596_1061797197194325_4396068783544269536_n

The soul of a brand

Chad moved to Portland and continued to focus in on his creative work, but there was something that kept pulling him in a different, and sometimes dark direction – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

His once focused journey became more uncharted and riddled with uncertainty, and where he found solace was fly fishing on the beautiful rivers of the Northwest. He was introduced to the sport and he began to learn and love more than just the sport itself. The river became the place where he found the embodiment of hope combined with solace.

The place where a brand vision was hatched.

“One day, I waded out into the river and began casting with my hand half-submerged in the cool water. I felt the current pushing a strong and consistent force against my legs and the sun was beaming warmth overhead and, for a moment, I felt a surge of strength run through me as if my inner-being was re-awakened.  My mind felt clear and my soul inspired. I knew my talents and abilities could be merged with my newfound source of survival to provide exceptional, one-of-a-kind apparel and accessories for clients and customers and a medicine for my soul. Little did I know that it would spread to be much more than that! This was the ultimate conception of Soul River Runs Deep.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.02.32 AMThe brand of Soul River helped Chad merge his passion for design and expression of creativity; it was the celebration of humanity and the desire to want to create a product line that speaks of nature and displays an artistic approach.

And that expression started with the design of the Naiad – a Greek goddess.

The Naiad is the nymph of the rivers – the protector, She lives only in healthy waters and clean environments and represents mother nature as her ambassador of aquatic and natural life amongst the rivers. Many anglers see this symbol as their good luck on the water. This initial design also led to an overall brand direction.

“My artistic process is walking between the natural world and the urban world merged with inspiration from Greek mythology and fantasy and striving to give a different perspective of beauty, nature, and eclectic modernism. Using weighted-line style design and incorporating shapes, space – both positive and negative – intricately to play into an organic and playful art that we know and can identify as well as position a unique breath of fresh air. “

As Chad evolved the brand and the products around it, he experimented in more than just soft goods and attempted to design his own Soul River fly fishing reel, an attempt he emphasizes will never happen again. He sold some of the reels, but realized this was not his best pursuit and use of talent and now the focus is squarely on soft goods. A line that is inspired by, and a merging of,  military style and outdoor urbanism. A combination that defines the brand, and the various brand extensions Chad is working on.

“Design is intrinsic in everything that I do, even if it’s not seen or being worn. In my own space or in the outdoors with youth and vets, it is all connected to the artwork which is expressionistic, building the brand into the deployments of my non-profit, giving experiences that create a lifetime opportunity for veterans and youth.”Image-1

Evolving the brand in Kenton

The growth of Soul River Runs Deep, and a desire to make it more meaningful and approachable, led Chad to open up a small retail location in the vibrant Kenton neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood that is eclectic, but also has a growing local business community that Chad saw an opportunity to be a part of.

The neighborhood is also a less hectic than other areas in Portland, which Chad admits is a positive to him.

“Kenton is a little low key which is actually an advantage for me because 95% of the time I am running the shop solo and have meetings or appointments with clients elsewhere that I have no option to miss. Saturday mornings and holidays bring out shoppers who are strolling by and wanting to engage with shop owners.  The buildings are still original and have character and charm. It’s easy to let your imagination tell stories of Kenton’s history. In addition, the food scene is bustling and tends to have its own heartbeat.”

The Kenton neighborhood also stuck out to Chad because it still holds history, as the gentrification isn’t as rampant as in other neighborhoods and that demographic base is very important to the bridge Chad is hoping to build – an accessible location to the diverse demographic which the brand of Soul River serves.

“The local demographic was important to me for a variety of reasons. I was aiming to be in an ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood, one that was accessible, and one that was familiar for inner-city youth and families to visit. I appreciated that I was twenty feet from the bus and MAX line, making it more accessible for today’s urban youth. If you peek around Kenton, you won’t see any other business like Soul River Runs Deep. If you look at other fly shops, they tend to be close to rivers or on outskirts of towns…not typically in the center of the urban world. Soul River Runs Deep is so much more than a fly shop – we are a haven for new anglers of color and recently returned veterans, a boutique space that anyone can find something uniquely designed and created from Portland, and a unique shopping experience that boasts raw creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.”

Inside the retail location you’ll find more than just Soul River branded products. Chad offers a few fine local goods for customers, and that gives the shop a different and eclectic dynamic for the customer. Soul River is an anthropology mashup between art, design, nature, and fly fishing.

But forging a new retail brand while supporting a growing nonprofit poses many challenges, challenges that many entrepreneurs can relate to.

“At this very moment, the biggest hurdle is the balancing act of running a retail shop, being a creative and doing freelance design work, and directing a grass-roots, new non-profit. It’s incredibly taxing and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for ‘me,’ but I believe that the entrepreneurial path is the right one for me. With that, there are oftentimes no ‘days off.’ I have to be aware of my limits and take care of myself, but at the same time I am always creating concepts, brainstorming, and networking.”

However, in addition to the challenges, there are many opportunities on the horizon for the Soul River brand. The work Chad has done around his nonprofit, Soul River Runs Wild, is well documented. He has bridged a gap between urban teens, the environment, and veterans to being mentors for these inner city youth while teaching them the art of fly fishing.

Chad sees the opportunity to bridge the design world to inner city youth and veterans.

“This is something that I have definitely considered. Right now, I integrate design and photography in secondary and tertiary ways – designing a fly on the vice, providing opportunities for expedition participants to help the videographer. Someday, I do plan to integrate this in a richer way, but not this year.”

Trying to not do everything at once is something Chad is working on doing, and evident in the advice he’d give his former self.

“Focus on one company at a time.”

For now though, Soul River Runs Deep and Soul River Runs Wild continues to build bridges that connect design to the outdoors and inner city youth to veterans, and where success is not solely focused on the bottom line, but on the impact you have on others.

For more information, visit www.soulriverrunsdeep.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.

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Perfected to your palette: The Time and Oak story

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What’s the difference between top-shelf whiskey and well whiskey?  Tony Peniche, 29-year-old serial entrepreneur, asked himself this question in 2014 while shopping at a local liquor store. Turns out, the answer is quite simple: time and oak. Oak barrels infuse whiskey with unique flavor and incorporate the liquid with rich natural color. And the time for the oak to do its work.

But that “time” part is tricky. It takes years and there’s never been a convenient way for people to age the spirit at home.

Tony began experimenting with Josh Thorne, a 30-year-old Air Force veteran with a background in film, who enjoys home brewing. Josh cut, burned, and cooked a variety of oaks in the hopes of finding the right temperature, and best way to expose the wood’s capillaries while accelerating the aging process. The answer: reverse engineering — aka bring the wood to the bottle. Three months of tweaking the product and hundreds of blind taste tests resulted in a crowd favorite: the Signature Whiskey Element — A Lincoln Log looking product that promised to age a bottle of whiskey in a matter of hours or days — depending on your palette. Plus it would act as a filter removing many of the chemicals and toxins that cause hangovers.

“Our fans have shown us that when you can do it in days instead of years you can get barrel aged taste to things that would have otherwise spoiled. Whether a batched cocktail or spirits such as Pisco you can keep the fresh taste and still get that nice smooth finish from the wood, we think it is really cool seeing how people use the Elements.” says David Jackson, the 32-year-old CEO of Time and Oak, which was officially incorporated on August 6, 2014, two months after its inception, by co-founders David, CEO, Josh, COO, and Tony.

Garnering crowd support for a unique product

Fast-forward three months and queue the Whiskey Element Kickstarter campaign.

“We gave ourselves a really tight timeline because you can dabble on an idea forever,” says David. The campaign launched on October 1, 2014 and was funded in 18 hours. “Hitting our goal on day one. That was our goal — because there’s a lot of proof of concept and we wanted to prove price point and get people excited about the idea.”

David believes crowdfunding is an excellent way to attain free market research — but don’t expect to get rich in the process.

“When you do a Kickstarter there’s no money. You pre-sold stuff. Your first round of deliveries are always more expensive than you can project because you have no economy of scale. You have no reorder potential. You don’t know what your supply chain really is going to look like long term. There are a lot of things you have to pay a hefty premium on getting delivered on schedule.”

IMG_1835Time and Oak asked for $18K and received $200K over the course of the month with the help of WE ARE PDX, a creative marketing agency. While getting 1000% funded may sound like a dream come true, the reality of this is a nightmare.

“It was really when we breached the $100K mark halfway through the campaign — where logistics started to pile up. You have a goal for a reason — it’s what you can reasonably accomplish with a reasonable amount of money,” says David. By the end of the Kickstarter on October 31st, 35,000 Elements had been ordered between the campaign and website. “We were promising things by Christmas. We wanted to honor all those promises but the reality of delivering on those promises became more and more difficult.”

Around the onset of the campaign Time and Oak had been published in Esquire and Popular Mechanics — and was continually being re-blogged.

“I think based on the publications they were reading, people thought they were buying the product,” says David. When people campaign on Kickstarter they’re asking supporters to back an idea or prototype — not a product already being sold. “At the tail end we had 50/50 of the 5,000 backers — those who knew what Kickstarter was and were praising us on hard work and the other 50% wondering why they hadn’t received the product yet. By mid-November we had 875 unopened emails at the beginning of the week. Everything from support emails to ‘where’s my product,’ to ‘can I carry this’ to ‘can I write about you.’ We were working all through Christmas Eve and all through Christmas — literally finishing all the different packages and getting out as many as we could. There was no stopping.”

Notwithstanding the initial boom and complications fulfilling orders on time, Time and Oak has come out ahead.

“We’ve been able to take and build an actual company underneath that.” The company grew 46% in their first year through good old fashion hard work.

Last year they signed a multi-million dollar trade agreement to manufacture all goods in Portland. Everything is locally sourced except for the wood, and each Whiskey Element is laser cut and goes through four points of hand selection.

“It increases our cost but we want the consumer to have that high quality experience.” As to outsourcing the oak, “Your favorite whiskeys are made with very specific regions of oak. And each region tastes different,” says David. “We wanted to have the most traditional taste — that’s what people expect. You put it in and expect it to taste like a good Bourbon.”10665758_934717513224010_7477042485168932444_n

Building a responsible and sustainable business

In the meantime, Project Footprint was born out of the founders’ desire to give back. Their Whiskey Elements make a more efficient use of natural forest resources than most traditional alternatives but they hoped to work on land conservation while allowing people to buy their favorite products. So for every pair of Elements sold a donation is made toward preserving one square foot of land.

Companies often have to sell and explain the value proposition of their product but according to David, the Whiskey Element has sold itself time and time again in taste tests. “I’ve consulted and I’ve grown companies — I’ve never seen something where so many people have an ‘aha’ or get it or love it.” To date they’ve offered around 40,000 blind, Pepsi style taste tests. “You taste it before and after, and the amount of people that are blown away, or say ‘wow’ or love it is huge.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.35.54 AMCelebrities, rappers, and major distillers supported and back the product. John O’Hurley, an actor and TV personality originally from Seinfeld and winner of Dancing with the Stars, fell in love with the product and is now the face of the company. Time and Oak is currently sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is used alongside America’s favorite whiskey, Jim Beam, for before and after taste tests at trade shows, craft fairs, industry events, and Saturday markets. In addition, they reached a deal with Bacardi after their national brand director of whiskey picked David’s $40 bottle over a $250 bottle in a blind taste test.

All that being said, everyone’s palette is different. And Time and Oak is not into telling people how to drink. “I think the hardest thing when you have your own idea is you start building a vision of where you think it should go. With a product like this we have multiple sales channels because of how broadly used a barrel really is. One channel is the consumer — who will chose it, taste it — they’re a great market validation. But if the consumer likes it because they put it in their own bottle why wouldn’t a distillery want to use it and sell it to them direct and get a 10 times rate of return.” Why wouldn’t you want a high end well or house whiskey? Another trend involves barrel-aging cocktails. You can put the Elements in just about anything you would traditionally barrel age. “We just had a restaurant pick us up that’s doing infused balsamic vinegar and olive oil,” says David.

time & oak cocktails006A new use of the product: infusing alcohol with different alcohols. For example, you can put the element in a bottle of scotch for half a day and then move it to a bottle of tequila for half a day — leading to an amazing smoky finish on your tequila.

As for their competition — there is nothing on the market quite like the Whiskey Elements.

“You can get pieces of oak that you put in bottles but they take weeks at a time and leave sediment in the bottle.” Time and Oak recently released the Signature Dark Whiskey Element, which “draws out notes of mellow smoke and charred oak.” They also offer multi-flavor Whiskey Elements and a monthly subscription.

For David there are many perks to being an entrepreneur.

“For me it’s the challenge. There’s something fun about taking something that hasn’t really been done and making it come to life. We failed so many times as part of the process and I wouldn’t look at any of them as failures. You just look at them as learning — the only time you fail is if you stop learning.

The reality — yeah we don’t have a ton of money and we’re not huge and we’re 18 months old. But literally surviving that first year, creating a manufacturing process, developing a supply chain — from my background in consulting I couldn’t be more proud of that. We literally are creating a new industry.” Time and Oak is currently distributing their Whiskey Elements in all 50 states and 23 countries. And they’re projecting 300 percent growth in 2016 through the addition of retail distribution as well as distillery partnerships.

According to David, it’s not about good or bad whiskey — it’s about your whiskey. “Everyone has their own flavor, and if you want to tweak a flavor this is the best product to get that flavor with. And that’s really our core and that’s kinda why I don’t like telling people how to use it other than the power of it. Have you ever seen a piece of wood that goes in a beverage? Taste it regularly. When you fall in love take it out of the bottle. Every time you put one in a bottle you’re truly making a small batch of whiskey — one bottle at a time crafted to your exact flavor.”

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

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Shifting the focus of economic development

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It all started with a letter from an innkeeper to a newspaperman in 1987.

Jim Beaver, the innkeeper of the Chanticleer Inn in Ashland, Oregon, had experienced adventure cycling and came away with a sense that the activity could spur economic activity in the small towns around Oregon.

Jonathan Nicholas, a reporter for the Oregonian, was focused on telling stories about the shifting economic landscape in rural Oregon that was occurring in the 1980’s.

Jim encouraged Jonathan to invite people to go for a ride to small towns, and in the process they’d get hungry and thirsty, leading them to buy pizza and beer in each place. Jonathan agreed to write the story, and with the support of area chamber of commerces and the generous backing of Travel Oregon who oversaw the event coordination, the first event was scheduled to take place in September of 1988 – covering 320 miles from Salem to Brookings.

Jonathan wrote the story and they both thought that somewhere between a handful and a hundred people would arrive.

Over one thousand people from 20 different states participated, generating $360,000 in economic activity for the participating regions. Cycle Oregon was officially born.6148518948_2e10abfb0e_o

Defining the experience and routes

As the growth of Cycle Oregon has extended out from its roots, the one thing that has not changed is the focus on a quality experience for the riders who participate, something Alison Graves, the Executive Director of Cycle Oregon, knows is critical.

“Cycle Oregon is renowned for its amenities and support. Our saying is, ‘all you have to do is pedal and we do the rest’,” she said.

But things weren’t always that way.

“The first year there were no porta-potties and after the first few days, realizing something needed to be done, Jonathan hired a local roto-rooter who also had porta-potties – they have been with Cycle Oregon ever since. Similarly, food used to be provided by communities. But after the fourth day of burgers and dogs, Cycle Oregon turned to a mobile catering company, OK’s Cascades, who also provides incident response catering.”

However, no matter the level of support and amenities, the core essence of the ride is still the route the ride takes throughout Oregon. In recent years Oregon, and primarily areas like Portland, Bend and the Coast, have become hot tourist destinations – and for good reasons.

But Oregon is a big and diverse state.

From the Painted Hills to the Rogue Wilderness and back up to Astoria and out to the Wallowas, the options for the rides are almost endless.

“We tend to make a rotation around the more remote parts of the state. Great bicycling means low traffic roads, so that tends to mean areas that are more out of the way. Plus, with economic development part of our mission, we work harder to ride through smaller towns. That doesn’t take too much work in Oregon with so many idyllic communities,” says Alison.

11224351_10153398895163283_4232298022079492787_oThe work, however, doesn’t end with the route selection. Engaging the communities around the state before the ride, as the event passes through each community, and after they have left are all important aspects of how Cycle Oregon works to promote economic development.

“We work closely with partners, like Travel Oregon and State Parks, to make it easy for riders to return. We promote Travel Oregon’s Bicycle Friendly Business program to the communities we ride in and also incorporate Scenic Bikeways into our routes wherever possible,” Alison adds. “Cycle Oregon actually started the Scenic Bikeways program as a way for anyone to create their own Cycle Oregon anytime. Plus, we are an ambassador for RidewithGPS, where we post our favorite routes and connect to Travel Oregon’s data that includes bicycle friendly businesses, campgrounds and other amenities to make return visits as easy as possible for past participants and those folks looking to head out on their own.”

With typically a 50/50 split in Oregonians and non-Oregonians participating in the ride, Cycle Oregon is reaching out to a broad mix of riders. Close to 75% on average are from OR, WA, and CA, while another 25% are from around the country and world.

And maintaining the uniqueness year after year through route selection has resulted in a high number of returning riders, as Alison points out.

“We have a high number of people who do the ride more than once. We have a handful of people who have done every single Cycle Oregon. This year we have 75 people who have done more than 15 rides and 175 people who have done 8-14.”

But as the ride has grown, the organization knows that there is a limit. The logistics in taking bike riders around Oregon, and the impact the ride has on these communities, is something Alison and her team always take into consideration.7998387698_418053684f_k

“We have found that the right number is around 2,000. With that number we need 13-14 acres and that can be hard to find in small communities.”

Also, as  Cycle Oregon has grown from its roots to what it is today, the team instilled a core focus on sustainability to ensure that as the ride grew, some of the potential negative effects would be negated.

“The focus on sustainability was a practicality issue and we are a ‘leave no trace’ event. We bring all of our own food and water that is consumed while riding, and we take away our garbage,”  Alison said. “We started by recycling the usual stuff and over the years it has evolved to include using compostable utensils and plates. We compost and recycle a lot so that we minimize what goes into the landfill.”

Becoming a voice, giving back, and continuing to grow

With an ever-increasing number of riders participating in Cycle Oregon, the economic impact continues to grow. But the staff and board of Cycle Oregon wanted to identify a way to create a more lasting and sustainable impact.

“The grant program started in 1996 (the organization started in 1988). The board wanted to set up a sustainable way of giving back and an endowment was a great vehicle. To date we have made 190 grants totaling $1.6M, and we have about $2M in the fund today,” Alison adds. “We focus our giving in three categories: Bicycle Tourism & Safety, Environmental Conservation & Historic Preservation, and Community Projects. We tend to have higher giving in the communities we have just visited but we accept proposals on a year round basis and from every part of the state.”

3948845230_2fd1c74e91_zIn addition to giving back, Cycle Oregon has evolved into an important voice for change too. The Policymaker Ride was born through a conversation between Jonathan Nicholas and longtime environmental advocate, Mike Houck, both of whom were frustrated with the slow pace of change in improving facilities.

They organized the first event to highlight the Scenic Bikeways project and invited policymakers to join in so they could experience the good, bad, and ugly in order to motivate them to make change more quickly.

And it worked.

To date the Policymaker Ride has helped launch the Scenic Bikeway program, shined a spotlight on regional projects like connections in Washington and Clark counties plus the Columbia River Gorge, and cultivated relationships among the participants.

Even with the continued growth of Cycle Oregon and the evolving positive impact it’s having in the state, there are challenges. An aging population, more traffic on the roads and less funding for bicycle safety are challenges that the team at Cycle Oregon know all too well.

But they also see a multitude of opportunities, including events that cater to new populations, creating awareness around bicycle programs and safety campaigns, and more strategic investment approaches.

And Alison knows that Oregon is a special place to do an event like Cycle Oregon, “There is a strong sense of history and community. The story of Oregon — the Oregon Trail, Lewis & Clark, native peoples — is the American story. And it’s still very much alive. So, while the roads and scenery are truly breathtaking, it’s the communities that welcome us with open arms and share their experiences with us, which makes Cycle Oregon such a unique and priceless experience.”

And by embracing the open roads and the sense of community around the state, Cycle Oregon has had an estimated direct annual economic impact of $660,000, and a total of $14,000,000 since its inception.

Which is truly putting pedal power to work.6164530450_13669fc16a_o

 

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

Where is the fashion? A look into Portland’s apparel scene and where it’s headed

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This story was written by our high school intern, Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a junior at Jesuit High School and beyond this story, will be acting as our student Built Oregon reporter over the next year. 

Streetwear is hard to define.

Everyone has their own interpretation of what it means, but the one thing we do know is the streetwear industry is booming. With brands like Obey and Stussy growing into multi-million dollar companies within a few years, the door is open for smaller brands to be successful.

Portland is known for its alternative and dynamic culture, but what about its fashion scene? As a teenager, clothing and style is an indispensable part of my identity. From jogger chinos to the trending elongated tees, I’m always looking for new designs and styles to stand out. That is why I created Blue Market. Blue Market is not only an online marketplace for designers to upload their clothing lines for the public, but we also help designers who don’t have the resources and knowledge to create sophisticated designs and establish themselves as independent designers. There is a lot of hidden talent in the Portland area that just needs a little push to share their art with the public.

11406924_1115754201773204_729951032786562650_nI got the chance to meet with a couple clothing designers and local retailers to get a sense of where the Portland fashion scene is headed.

Jae Fields’ One Man Show

First, I met with Wookie Fields, founder of Jae Fields, a local Portland streetwear brand. Working out of a small studio on NW 5th and Couch, Wookie is a one man show and handles everything, including sales, branding, marketing, patterning, and designing. “The idea behind Jae Fields is to bring quality and premium apparel with the right fabric for the right occasions”. His collection includes a wide variety of elongated tees, quality denim and joggers; all of which I have a weak spot for. But what sets him apart is the durable and stretchy fabric he uses in his t-shirts that contribute to his standard of “versatility and functionality”. Creating high quality yet wearable apparel at a reasonable price point allows Jae Fields to stand out in the streetwear industry.

1610974_1137211819627442_505780576469448928_nWhen asked about the current Portland streetwear scene, Wookie says, “There isn’t one, and that’s what makes us so unique”. I asked Wookie what he likes about being in Portland, and he explains “everyone supports each other”. Connections are very important in the fashion industry, and in Portland there is a lot of support from both the public and fellow designers; however, there is no organized support structure for designers. This is apparent at Portland Fashion Week, one of the most popular fashion weeks in the U.S, where the connections and community are still going through some growing pains.

“It is really hard to get to know [the designers]. They make, present, and they’re done”. If Portland Fashion Week were to leverage their connections and popularity, a lot of local designers like Wookie would benefit. When asked about the future of the streetwear industry, Wookie simply says “Staying alive”. To elaborate, the streetwear industry is becoming saturated with more and more brands, some with potential, and some going nowhere. “It’s so easy to start a brand, but not many people have the knowledge to keep the company going (where the “staying alive” part comes in). It’s going to be more about the story you tell and who wears it. Not what you sell but how you sell it.” By the looks of it, Wookie has both under his belt.

Bridge & Burn keeps it simple

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.27.30 PMNext I met with Erik Prowell, founder of Bridge & Burn, a Portland based outerwear apparel brand with a focus on simplicity. Erik was born and raised in Bend, Oregon, so the northwest style can definitely be seen in his clothing. Erik started his clothing venture while creating graphic T-shirts, where he met a local manufacturer that opened the opportunity for him to start his brand, Bridge & Burn.

The inspiration behind Bridge & Burn was to create simple, clean, and timeless outerwear. From their wide collection of plaid shirts to their khaki windbreakers, Bridge & Burn combines a comfortable feel with an Oregon aesthetic. When asked about starting a brand in Portland, Erik explains, “[Portland] is the most supportive community. I mean everyone is willing to help each other.” Just as Wookie had mentioned, there is a lot of support from the design community and local boutiques.

With retail connections and support from brands he met during trade shows, Erik was easily able to get into many retailers, and transition smoothly into the market. Although there are many talented and supportive designers in Portland, Erik sees a lack of proper infrastructure for these designers to create and produce streetwear products, as he still struggles to find a reliable local manufacturer. The future of Portland apparel is really to create a solid foundation and support system for aspiring designers, so the Portland fashion scene can grow.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.25.43 PMSo what are the next steps for Bridge & Burn? “I’m just trying to build a really solid team… and slowly grow the company.” Bridge & Burn started out small with only five jackets for men and five for women, but has slowly expanded their line to include T-shirts and pants. With warmer weather becoming more common as well, Bridge & Burn has been expanding out of just raincoats and windbreakers.

Erik offers a little advice for young designers like myself: “At the end of the day you just really have to believe in yourself, and it’s not easy at all. You have to believe in your vision and hustle.”

After all this digging and research, one theme stays common throughout: The Portland fashion scene is growing. There are a lot of small shops and boutiques out there, but there is also a lot of hidden talent to be explored. The only way that talent can be unlocked is if they have enough support and resources. Established brands in the area need to engage up and coming designers, and the rest of us need to show our support for small brands by following them on social media, sharing with friends, and maybe even buying their clothing. As teens, fashion and style are part of who we are, but we also have the power and responsibility to create trends and support new ideas and clothing. If we stay on this path, Portland will be the future of the fashion industry and the place to be for creatives and designers from around the country.

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

For more information on Bridge & Burn visit www.bridgeandburn.com or follow them on instagram, Pinterest, and twitter.

To stay updated with my company, Blue Market,  follow us on instagram and twitter.

 

 

 

Creating a community around feed and pet supplies

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Dani Wright was on the path to become a veterinarian. But with two boys in school and college tuition looming, she knew that those plans had to be put on hold.

However, when one door closes, another one opens.

dani2Dani was born and raised in Springfield, Oregon. Her parents still live in the area and it’s where she went to school. It’s where she has raised her kids, and been involved as a Boy Scouts and 4H leader. In other words, Springfield is home, and that’s where she saw an opportunity to create a business in the community she loves.

“ I started my retail experience as a tire salesman at Montgomery Ward, where I was saving money for veterinary school. But then I got married and life changed a bit.” She adds, “ I then worked at Safeway as a floral designer before moving on to the local feed store.”

It’s at the feed store where she saw an opportunity to combine her community roots and retail experience with her interest in animals.

“ I was experienced in the the feed and pet industry and always wanted to be a veterinarian. However, the Feed and Pet store I had been working at for 14 years, and had planned on buying, was not going to be for sale. I had met a potential silent partner with matching funds that believed in me, and McKenzie Feed was born.”

Opportunity knocks

After working in the local feed industry for 14 years, Dani had some insights into the opportunity of opening her own feed store around Springfield.

“ Of two area feed stores, one had sold and one had closed due to family and management issues, respectively. I was able to locate approximately halfway between each of those locations.” So with a desired location in mind and the local need for a new feed and pet store evident, Dani started the process of building what would become McKenzie Feed.

“ I went to the downtown center and chamber and met with an SBDC counselor about the practical aspects of opening a feed store.”

While her industry knowledge and work ethic would have given her the drive to open and succeed, the SBDC provided invaluable help in navigating all of the intricacies – from financing to marketing.

“ The SBDC is a great and continual help. Gary Smith provides insights and practical knowledge for balancing your business, socially networking, marketing and economics.” Dani adds, “ I had tried to buy 10 different locations and with each foray into a new location I worked with everyone from local and city government to finance people. The SBDC provided the resources that allowed me to navigate the various balance sheets, business plans and P&L statements needed to keep the process moving forwards – it was basically spreadsheets galore.”

With all of the paperwork done, and financing provided by Continental Bank and the SBA, Dani dialed in on the location and bought the old Grays Garden Center at 4441 Main St in 2004, and McKenzie Feed and Saddlery was born.storefront2

But as any entrepreneur knows, how things ultimately work out is never as you planned.

“ Funny story – I had rented a smaller space and was in the process of opening when a much bigger space one block away opened up, so I moved before I opened and then ten years later I bought and moved back a block and a half. Crazy. Location, location ,location.”

In 2009 they changed the name to McKenzie Feed and Pet Supplies, which was based largely on the economic downturn that occurred in 2008/09. As a commodity store, Dani was able to see the downturn coming about 6 months ahead of when it hit the area hard. The slight change in the name and focus allowed them to lower the risk around horses and livestock, which people tend to get out of in rough economic times, and increase dog and cat products as those owners tend to have discretionary money for their pets.

A focus on customer service

Given the choices around where the consumer can purchase their pet food, McKenzie Feed has found not only a niche that needed filling in the area, but a customer centered philosophy that has allowed them to retain and grow their business.

‘We can help’ is not only a motto, but the way each and every employee engages customers and the community.

“Customer service and caring is what keeps our people buying with us. Every customer is greeted and all food is carried out. Our computer system keeps track of your purchases and we’ve even had customers call from their vet to find out what food they should feed their pet.” she adds “ We get thanks from people who have tried all kinds of treatments to treat symptoms pets have, like itching, smelling, and scratching.We can solve many issues with simple nutrition.”

The McKenzie Feed team, which has grown from 3 to 11, know that what they sell in their store directly affects the well being of the animals they care so much about. Therefore, there is a constant focus to only stock the best supplies for their customer’s pets.

11707_1009025795781769_9182961654834213890_n“With so many recalls on pet foods in recent years, we are proud to say none of our food has ever been recalled. We make educated choices and will not carry anything that I will not personally feed and guarantee.”

Part of this focus centers around personally knowing the suppliers of their products.

“ I have very good relationships with all my vendors.The vendors established great credit terms with me as I was ramping up business, but more importantly, provide great products. The feed company CHS is in Harrisburg, Oregon and Valley Feed is in McMinnville, Oregon. We also sell our customers local eggs, fresh goat milk, honey, vinegar and local bones from Knee Deep Cattle Co., and Hawley Ranch. Our number one Oregon product is Mink Sheen Shampoo from Salem, OR. It’s an amazing shampoo for dogs, cats, and horses.”

In recent years there has been an uptick and interest in raising small livestock like chickens and dairy goats, and while the interest has been good for business, Dani and her staff also realize that educating and answering all of their customer’s questions is critical, since many of these folks are first-time livestock owners.

“ Chickens are very mainstream now, along with a few dairy goats. We offer advice on natural feeding and organic offerings. In addition to the one on one advice, McKenzie Feed also has a series of educational classes for dogs, chickens, flea and worm prevention, feed, and feeding.” Dani adds, “ We also have vendors who give samples and pet food education classes around raw, freeze-dried and specialty food use.”11900091_1082837715067243_1829485255193033665_o

The passion around helping the people and animals they serve emanates from their location, and much of this can be traced back to Dani and her reasons for doing what she does on a daily basis.

“ I live my love. I have my own dogs, a horse, chickens, cows and cats. I want to make every person’s dream of owning their own pet as good as possible through offering affordable practical help and sharing of knowledge. With God and SBDC ‘s help I run my business with good practices , a healthy bottom line and time for me. My business does not run me. “

For more information, visit www.mckenziefeed.com or like them on facebook.

For more information on the SBDC, visit www.bizcenter.org.