Ruff Wear president Will Blount (left) and founder Patrick Kruse pioneered the market for outdoor supplies for dogs. The company has been debt free since 2003 and has increased payroll every year since its founding 15 years ago.
The outdoor sports analogy makes sense in Blount’s case. An avid backcountry skier, fly fisherman and kayaker, he moved to Bend with his wife 10 years ago after suffering through an endless traffic jam in Denver (too big) and a brief experiment with McCall, Idaho (too small). He landed his job at Ruff Wear by impressing founder Patrick Kruse with his composure on a whitewater river trip. Kruse was shifting from kayak gear to dog gear — an easy market choice when you consider the numbers: 18,000 kayakers and 40 million dogs.
Ruff Wear started with collapsible dog bowls made from the same materials used to keep tents dry. It has expanded into dog toys, dog life jackets and so on. The newest product is for joring, or skiing/skateboarding along behind a harnessed dog.
Part of the Ruff Wear marketing strategy involves running free dog-washing stations during an annual celebration of the Appalachian hiking trail in Virginia. Another initiative involves distributing free Ruff Wear chew toys to star avalanche dogs. The business recently opened a 10,000-square-foot warehouse on Bend’s east side. Blount notes with pride that the company has been debt free since 2003 and has grown payroll and benefits every year since its inception 15 years ago.
Not far from Ruff Wear headquarters in Bend’s Northwest hills, a once-obscure tech company called GL Solutions is running out of room faster than G5 is downtown. The business recently doubled from 40 people to 80 people after a well-publicized hiring binge that founder Bill Moseley says brought 900 applicants. “In three years we’ll be 250 people,” Moseley predicts.
The new jobs are to fulfill the largest contract GL Solutions has won: a $9 million deal to help North Carolina manage its health services system. It’s complex, laborious stuff (especially when compared to heading out to the high country to test out doggy boots) — but talk about opportunity. The goal of Moseley’s software business is to shake up government agencies and make them more efficient.
Moseley has a master’s degree in public administration and a law degree. He was a public sector employee with a mission to improve the Oregon Department of Justice’s information technology system when he decided to go into business making government work better, working from Lake Oswego for a few years before moving to Bend.
In Bend, Moseley kept the business going by borrowing money from friends and family and paying himself a meager salary. He and his team built five iterations of their software, and wrestled with new complexities with each new client. “In government the operating rules are established in statutes,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if it makes sense.”
On the positive side, the challenge of building software for everyone from the Oregon Board of Accountancy to the Wyoming Board of Geology kept large competitors out of the game. GL Solutions has agency clients in 18 states, and Moseley predicts strong growth as taxpayers continue to demand government reforms. He plans to remain in Bend because he considers it an excellent environment for growing businesses —especially after the recession. “Bend was getting to be a place where middle-class people couldn’t afford to live anymore,” he says. “I was happy to see housing prices fall.”