Patrick Kruse, founder
& Otis, top dog
Ruff Wear, Bend
Credit Otis the dog as Ruff Wear’s muse. Otis, with his feet beat up after running on rocky river banks. Otis, who fell out of his lifejacket while being ferried across a rapids-filled river. And credit Otis as chief prototype tester for nearly all of the products that followed: boots, packs, life vests, first-aid kits.
Patrick Kruse didn’t start with dogs. At 16, he tested out of high school and left Southern California to work for several years on charter boats in the Caribbean and South America — experience he used to start a boat-maintenance business and kayaking-gear business when he got back to California.
In the mid 1990s, about the time Kruse was eyeballing Bend for its rivers and mountains to play in, a friend challenged him to make a dog’s water dish for backpacking. Thirty-two dollars’ worth of research later, Kruse was showing off collapsible bowls at trade shows, and testing his new ideas on an Australian cattle dog puppy. Last year, Kruse turned 45, Otis turned 11, and Ruff Wear’s sales were $5 million.
Kruse always has tried to work in the environment he plays in, turning existing products into something that people involved in adventure sports could use. With Ruff Wear, he bases ideas on customer input. Now his canine customers go beyond the adventure market to include seeing-eye dogs, military dogs in Iraq and bomb-squad dogs.
“It was always fun,” Kruse says, “but this gives what we do more value. It substantiates what we’re doing.”
— Abraham Hyatt