BuiltOregon

Category - Issue 1

A small step towards big things

It was about 7 months ago when the idea for Built Oregon started to take shape.

Mitch and Terry, after teaming up to look into a coworking space, realized that a bigger impact could come from being a storytelling voice for entrepreneurship across Oregon—not a voice defined by one location or industry vertical.

In a Jerry Maguire moment, and possibly over a few pints of good Oregon beer, Mitch crafted the original Built Oregon mission statement. It was a reflection of what he and Terry envisioned and  a statement about the opportunity they saw around the idea of developing a digital magazine that told the story of entrepreneurship and innovation that is happening all across Oregon.

Storytelling to raise the awareness about what is happening in Oregon.

Storytelling to instigate conversations around the innovation community, which includes everything from food & beverage to sustainable farming and onto biotech and consumer products.

Storytelling that helps to connect entrepreneurial communities, regions, and the state.

They sent the mission statement to Rick looking for feedback. What they got in return was more than just feedback, it was one of the core leaders of the entrepreneurial community wanting to join them on this journey.

With that, the founding team was in place.

They dove into the concept and created a kickstarter campaign, with an incredible video as the focal point.

318.

318 people backed the campaign and helped us beat our goal by $12,000.

Then they got accepted into the Oregon Storyboard accelerator and were off to the races.

Discussions began. “What stories to do first?”, “Who will we get to write the stories across the state?”, “What will be the overall editorial direction of Built Oregon going forward?” There were many questions that needed to be answered. But none that would be new to any of the entrepreneurs we are looking to shine a light on.

So here we are.

After 7 months of concepting, crowdfunding, discussions, and excitement our first issue is out. Some of the stories are extensions of the video we produced. And others are of companies from across Oregon. What we hope is that these stories lay the groundwork for what we want to accomplish with Built Oregon.

To support the entrepreneurs across Oregon, instigate conversations, and create connections that fuel cross industry collaborations, and ultimately accelerate the economy forwards.

But this is just the first step. Our big things include an issue every month and events around the state in 2015. We hope that you enjoy issue one and continue to join us on this journey.

Brewing the next great beer town

For months, a group of guys in Salem, Oregon, would meet up on Thursday nights, jokingly calling it “choir practice,” but much of the time the talk turned to one topic: beer.

Most of them were brewing on their own and thought their beers were not only pretty good, but also better than a lot of the craft brews on the market.

“We were basically sitting around daring each other to do this,” says Matt Killikelly, now one of the owners of Santiam Brewing. “Eventually you run out of excuses.”

Santiam Brewing launched in July 2012 with nine locals as equal partners in the business, most of them also serving as employees.

The craft brewery, now one of six in Salem, makes many varieties of beer, as well as a number of cask ales and oak-barrel-aged beers.

Though the choir practice guys had drive and plenty of ideas, it was a quick process once they took the dare.

“It was about 18 months from when we decided to start a brewery to when we served our first glass,” says Killikelly.

As quickly as they started, they found success.

In 2013 and 2014, its Pirate Stout has won the Oregon Garden People’s Choice Award. Its the product of one of Santiam’s other specialties, barrel-aged beers. This one is aged in barrels that once contained Rogue Distillery Dark Rum and also has a “brief encounter” with some coconut before its placed in kegs.

Brew more beer

Santiam’s partners each have a role in the business, but basically each of them is an equal, whether they’re the head brewer, the manager of the tasting room, the legal adviser or, as Killikelly is, the sales manager.

eIMG_7906“There are some corporate titles, but only because running a corporation requires it,” Killikelly says. “They’re meaningless in a group of partners where all are equal and no one is anyone’s boss.”

The lack of titles may be seen as unusual, but it’s worked for them. Almost since its opening, Santiam Brewing has been in expansion mode.

“Once you start a brewery, it’s a neverending growth curve,” says Killikelly. “You make more beer, you get a bigger clientele, and bigger market share … so you make more beer.”

To that end, in October, the brewery converted to a ten-barrel system, and its three-and-a-half barrel system sits in its workspace off McGilchrist and 19th streets, waiting to be sold to a new owner. Meanwhile, the shiny new tanks reach toward the ceiling, dominating the space and serving as a symbol for the greater demand for Santiam’s brews.

“We started out as a brewpub that sold some beer on wholesale,” says Killikelly. “Now we’re turning into a production brewery with a tasting room.”

Their expanded space includes the tasting room, the physical plant containing the brewing equipment, and a grain room that’s walled off to keep the dust from the barley contained. There’s also a laboratory where samples are tested for yeast production, among other things. In another building across the way, Santiam has office space and product storage.

The art of the cask

But the real work is done in the tanks, and—for its most specialized brews—the casks and the barrels.

“The cask-conditioned ales and barrel-conditioned ales and sours are ‘beer geek treats,’ that is, things that make beer geeks happy,” Killikelly says. “We love beer, so we go the extra mile to make unusual beers.”

Santiam’s tasting room typically offers four cask-conditioned ales, and they’re the real deal.

“We create it the old way,” Killikelly says. “We put it in the cask with a little extra sugar and yeast and let it do its thing.”

eIMG_7899“Its thing” is a secondary fermentation that naturally carbonates the beer without having to force carbon dioxide into it and allows it to be served at 52 degrees instead of chilled down to numbing refrigerator temperatures.

Not everyone who claims to be selling such brews is telling the truth.

“It’s annoying to us that others are selling ‘cask-conditioned’ beers and then filling them with carbon dioxide in a bright tank,” Killikelly says. “If I just get clear bright beer, it’s not conditioned. You want to see sediment from secondary fermentation.”

Every bit of extra time and energy is worth it to create Santiam’s small, carefully attended batches.

“There is a differential, whether your taste buds appreciate it or not,” Killikelly says. “There is a lot of flavor for the same amount of product.”

Getting the chance to taste these flavors in all their many varieties is driving a change in the beer market — and not just the craft beer market, he adds.

Variety is the spice of life

“Craft beer drinkers want to try different beers, not drink the same thing over and over again,” Killikelly says. “Brand loyalty drinkers are going down.”

For proof, look no further than the supermarket shelves, where even Budweiser, Coors and Miller are starting to vary their products in response to this demand.

“They have the market share, for now, but not the future.”

Santiam’s own market looks to be continuing its growth curve.

“The next big thing is our Golden Sultan being accepted for the Portland Holiday Ale Festival,” Killikelly says of the event, which ran December 3-7, 2014, at Pioneer Courthouse Square. “It’s a very big deal to get a beer into that event.”

But on a larger scale, Santiam Brewing has a bigger dare in mind: to help build Salem’s reputation as a craft beer town.

“Portland has a great reputation, of course,” Killikelly says, “and then Eugene is growing and Bend, too. Salem didn’t, but now we’re getting the news out.”

One of the first steps is working with the other brewers in town to revive the Salem Brewery Association, which went quiet in the 1950s or so. The group started meeting again in early November.

Next is to create a Salem brew festival—to complement, not compete with the existing Cinco de Micro and Oregon Garden’s Brewfest—and to put the proceeds toward a “Drink Local” campaign.

“We’re trying to carve out that reputation here,” Killikelly says.

For more information visit, http://www.santiambrewing.com or like Santiam Brewing on Facebook.

Finding a market at the market

Portland’s artisan ice cream craze all started, really, with love for a local farmers market.

In 2004, Lisa Herlinger was working at Milo’s City Cafe on Northeast Broadway in Portland when she started doing a farmers market booth with the Portland Chefs Collaborative.

“This is so awesome,” she thought. “I love being on the site of the farmers market.”

Herlinger loved it so much, in fact, that she began racking her brain for a way to participate on a more regular basis. The problem was that she’d gone to culinary school and had no intention of becoming a farmer.

“I thought, okay, what can I do?” Herlinger said. “What can I do to sell something at the farmers market? Because I love it and I’m not going to be a farmer.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 9.00.38 PMAnd then an idea struck, inspired by childhood memories: ice cream sandwiches. But not just any ice cream sandwiches—artisan ice cream and cookies made by hand from locally-sourced ingredients. A look around the market revealed no ice cream, so Herlinger applied as a vendor and got in.

Milo’s had taught Herlinger how to make stovetop ice cream, and now they allowed her to use their commercially licensed kitchen in the evenings to start her business. In the beginning, Herlinger did everything herself, from picking up ingredients at dairies and coffee roasters and farms to crafting her ice cream base and baking cookies to selling at the market.

“I was working literally crazy, crazy hours,” Herlinger confessed. “And I’d make like 75 sandwiches a week and sell them at the market.”

But all that work paid off: The ice cream sandwiches were a hit, and Ruby Jewel was born.

As the summer wound down, fans of Herlinger’s creations wanted to know how they could get their hands on their favorite treats during the market’s off-season. In the midst of doing research on the state of artisan ice cream sandwiches in the commercial market — result: there weren’t any to speak of — Herlinger entered and won the Food Innovation Center’s first Food Fight, netting herself $2,500 worth of services from FIC including use of their kitchen, access to their packaging lab, and advice from food experts.

From there, Ruby Jewel was able to launch into grocery stores such as New Seasons Markets and Whole Foods Markets in Oregon and Washington (with Herlinger acting as both ice cream maker and salesperson). The following years had Herlinger hiring her first employees—including sister Becky and production gal Alice—setting up a dedicated production facility, and opening an ice cream shop on Mississippi Avenue in North Portland. In 2014, Ruby Jewel has two scoop shops and can be found in grocery stores in Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Texas.

Over ten years into it, they’re about to outgrow their current production space. Herlinger has also just hired her first salaried employee, an operations manager.

“I spread myself way too thin,” Herlinger admits. “But with these new additions, I can focus my energy on product development and sales. We’re definitely at the next stage of growth.”

Growth, indeed. From local farmers market to international grocery chain, Ruby Jewel is a story of passion, creative thinking, and collaboration — oh, and ice cream. Let’s not forget the ice cream.

For more information, visit http://www.rubyjewel.com, follow Ruby Jewel on Twitter, like Ruby Jewel on Facebook, or follow Ruby Jewel on Instagram.

A turn for the better

You could say the folks at Rolf Prima are reinventing the wheel, but undoubtedly, they’ve heard that one before.

That’s because it’s basically true.

The company, based in Eugene, Oregon, makes some of the most respected specialty bike wheels out there.

In 1997, original founder Rolf Dietrich patented his wheel ideas, including a new paired-spoke technology, which, according to rolfprima.com, “neutralizes the left and right outward pulling forces,” allowing for lighter rims and fewer spokes in total.

eIMG_7940“It started a revolutions in wheels,” says current owner Brian Roddy. “You might say, ‘Oh, wow, it’s rounder,’ but it’s about the weight, the strength, the aerodynamics, the materials … You can save weight to make it faster.”

Dietrich licensed his wheels through Trek in 1997, and the company made them for several years, during which Rolf wheels made their debut in the Tour de France in 1999.

Changing lanes

In 2001, Dietrich’s license with Trek expired, and he decided he wanted to start his own business, possibly in Ohio. He got in contact with three engineers he’d worked with at Trek, who by then had moved to Eugene to work at Burley. Roddy was one of the trio.

“In 2002, when Rolf wanted to start a separate company, the three of us were already here, and we said no to Toledo,” Roddy says.

Eugene it was. That began the era of Rolf wheels being built in Oregon.

Dietrich’s team added some new technologies over the years and began winning notice for them, but not widely.

“In mid-2005, we were best in class, but we were terrible at telling that story,” Roddy says. “We expected people would come find us. We weren’t aggressive. We didn’t introduce new things, and the market changed without us.”

By 2009, Dietrich was ready to retire, and Roddy’s fellow partners wanted to move on, so he bought them out and became the sole owner of Rolf Prima and reconfigured the business.

“In 2009, we refocused on product development as a company,” he says. “But we also spent more energy on making a concerted effort to tell our story.

“Making the best thing in a vacuum turns out to not be a great business practice.”

The company expanded its product lines, adding in 2010 single-speed and CX models and in 2012 all-Carbon Clincher road models, an alloy mountain model and more.

Crafting new wheels

But the keyword in the company’s story turns out to be “handmade.”

“We’re built in the United States, hand-built in Eugene,” says Brooke Stahley, marketing manager. “We’ve been manufacturing in the U.S. since the start.”

As such, they’re not competing with most of the wheels available in the U.S., which are largely made by machine.

eIMG_7920“It’s not just wheel assembly,” Roddy says. “It’s very much a science of getting the tension of the spokes just right. You can just put the parts together and it looks just like a wheel, but try to ride on it, and it’s going to come unglued.”

The people making those minute adjustments couldn’t be more invested in the product.

“Cyclists build our wheels,” Roddy says. “Our builders actually race, and they know, in a group race, you never want to hear, ‘There’s a problem with my wheel.’ ”

The main reason they’ve kept all their production local is to maintain that level of control over their product and its quality.

“In the bike industry, it seemed like all companies went overseas by the mid-2000s,” Roddy says. “We could join the race to the bottom and have the sales get higher, but …”

“We stayed true to ourselves,” Stahley says.

Build local

Forget outsourcing. Instead, the Rolf Prima team has been making strides toward bringing even more of its production processes in-house.

For a long time, they could not find a U.S. source for rims.

“We had a subcontractor in Taiwan, and one vendor was totally messing with it and delaying again and again, and then introduced almost the exact same rim themselves,” Roddy says.

They scrapped it 100 percent and moved on, and then in 2013, they learned of a company that had once made rims in the U.S. that was selling all of its equipment.

eIMG_7915Rolf Prima bought the equipment and moved it to Eugene, and earlier this year, in-house rims went into full production.

“We’d have gladly always made the rims here,” Roddy says, “but we couldn’t before.”

Now, an aluminum extrusion of 15 feet long goes into a roller, and out comes a double circle of metal that will be cut to create two rims.

Another machine is programmed to drill the holes for the spokes, in whatever configuration this particular wheel might need.

“For an all-silver rim, we can do the whole thing in-house,” Roddy says. “Working flat-out, we could make a whole wheel by the afternoon.”

That’s not how it’s done, firstly for efficiency reasons. But also because most of the rims are anodized, a process that takes place outside of their workshop, but nearby at Quality Metal Finishing Inc., another Eugene business.

Nearly every part of a Rolf Prima wheel but the spokes, which hail from Belgium, is U.S.-made.

Bringing another aspect of production under their roof means space is at a premium.

“Our limiting factor now is the ability to store,” Roddy says.

Becoming a bigger wheel in the community

They’re looking for new digs, but staying local of course, while they continue to build their place in the community.

“We’ve been here for twelve years now, and we’ve been the best-kept secret in the bike industry for seven of them,” Roddy says.

But that is changing.

Everyone at the company is an avid cyclist, and they participate in many of Eugene and beyond’s cycling events.

“Engineer Joel is at all the races,” Stahley adds.

Rolf Prima also sponsors a local “factory team,” a training group that wears the company’s gear at events and races under its name, in turn receiving special pricing on wheels.

The company’s story is certainly spreading, as its number of local fans has grown.

“It used to be, we’d see someone in town on our wheels, and we knew who it was,” Stahley says. “Now, we don’t always know.”

But whoever that cyclist might be, they should know they’re invited to come to Rolf and get a look at how their wheels were crafted.

“We’ve gotten lots of support from Oregon bike shops, especially in Eugene,” Roddy says. “We’ve made people understand: This was made here, right down the street. Now we can show them around, and they love that.”

For more information, visit http://www.rolfprima.com, follow Rolf Prima on Twitter, like Rolf Prima on Facebook, or follow Rolf Prima on Instagram.

Craftsmanship meets impact

The old Quonset hut situated near the I-5 freeway has been a fixture for decades in this southern Oregon town, but the energy level and innovation taking place inside is entirely new.

The Quonset also represents a calculated gamble that not only can manufacturing re-energize this rural Oregon community with good jobs and high return on investment, but that the business within – Roguewood Furniture Company– can compete with venture capital dollars that are most often associated with 21st century technology rather than old-school product making.

Harmony in discord

But don’t tell Elizabeth Bauer this gamble isn’t prudent. Her whole business is built on taking discordant ideas like this one: scaleable investment in rural manufacturing, or like this one: sustainable forest products, and making them not only meaningful, but profitable and of high community value.

20141021_Roguewood_0162Bauer, 37, is the president and founder of Gilded Rogue, an Ashland, Ore. investment company that launched last year. It has since purchased three southern Oregon businesses, including Roguewood and its retro Quonset hut.

“This is a good company that just needed a little bit of love,” she says of Roguewood.

Bauer came out of the grocery industry where she worked as a CFO for massive company with 2,700 employees and annual sales of nearly half a billion dollars. She said her time in corporate finance taught her that many businesses are lacking the language to compete for investment dollars.

“I’d hear all the time,” she says. “There is nothing to invest in. I know it isn’t true but I realized they are speaking different languages.”

Which lead to those seemingly discordant terms being merged together in an old-school business model that can attract cutting-edge investment dollars.

Embracing rural Oregon

“There is a lot of angel money for startups, but not as much for ready-to-scale investment. That’s our sweet spot,” Bauer says. “We’re really about accelerating. We’re trying to get companies out of that first stage and into stage 2 or 3 expansion.”

Bauer said the mission is straightforward and simple. They are looking for companies within the rural Pacific Northwest that have potential sales growth and potential social impact.

Both, she insists, are critical.

“The impact is built into the costs, say, like the wood we use,” she says, because compromising local impact would dissolve the mission. Each company under the Gilded Rogue umbrella must be focused on “benefiting a social issue and making a difference in the world,” according the company’s website.

Building on what works

“The do-good stuff is more than a slogan in the daily operations of Roguewood. It translates in observable ways into the work place, just as when Quin Wilson, a Roguewood furniture designer, returned from a hunt for reclaimed wood. Wilson described the value of the large beams he brought back like trophies of his latest expedition.

20141008_20141007_Roguewood_0175-3I got this out of a saw mill they are tearing down in Klammath Falls,” he said.

He struggled to hold the massive beam—perhaps a 2×12 to an inexpert eye—on its end.

“See how tight that grain is. New timber today may have as much as 1/3 of an inch gap. But this is so much higher quality…” Wilson explained, then segued seamlessly into his plans for converting the beams into a new artisan table.

Wilson plans to smooth out the grain (“just a little, so it’s smooth, but still looks right”) and fill in some holes. On the spot he bought a significant amount of the wood on site and dragged plenty back in his truck.

“How much?” Bauer asked.

“$2.50 a square.”

“Very nice,” she said.

Wilson was also excited about a new wood he’s exploring as a potential product.

“I just found another type of wood I think we might want to take a look at. It is yew wood. It’s a salvage wood. It has a lot of potential,” he reported.

Bauer encouraged him to take a look. No micromanaging here. That freedom, Bauer says later is a big factor in Roguewood’s plan. Bauer, who is now serving as the company’s CEO, is building the business around the craftsmanship and quality that already existed. The employees will be the eventual owners, so autonomy now—with a guiding hand on the business side—is critical. Empowerment is a big part of the growth strategy.

“It’s like putting floaties on a company instead of tossing them into the deep end,” Bauer says.

Economic Rebound

Based on the early explosive growth under Bauer’s leadership, Roguewood won’t need the floaties for long. The word is out in the community as well. Former employees are returning, applications in hand.

“I shouldn’t have left,” one man says as he quickly dropped off his application.
Inside the Quonset hut energy and activity hums. Different sections are used for making different products. The smell of steel saws burning through hard wood mixes with the noise of machines in high gear. But the relaxed vibe of the work represents more high-school woodworking class than high-pressured manufacturing.

In October Roguewood hit $250,000 in sales and ramped up to 60 employees, up from $120,000 in sales and 17 employees back in July. November sales will hit $350,000, Bauer says.

“We just need to get them out the door,” she says of recent sales.

November will also be the first month of a new strategic partnership with Sawyer Paddles and Oars, which agreed to move its manufacturing into the Roguewood site. Employees will be able to cross-train in both furniture manufacturing and paddles, according to Sawyer President Peter Newport.

“I think Liz is an amazing leader,” Newport says.

The partnership fits with what industry experts say is the future of American manufacturing. John Bova, director, MTN Capital Partners LLC, told Industry Week streamlining is the future of American manufacturing.

“The types of decisions that needed to be made include streamlining of go to market, successful new product introductions from a strong pipeline and steady global business investment. Those will be key characteristics for manufacturers poised for higher growth levels,” Bova said.

Lead with sales

It’s all part of the process Bauer envisioned when she first focused on Roguewood.

“Sales came first,” Bauer says. “Then came the employees. Now we’re connecting all the dots,” said Mariam McVeigh, Roguewood’s director of sales. She shares that the arrival of Bauer and her team has infused the company with creative energy.

20141021_Roguewood_0472“It’s like my handcuffs came off,” she says. “The potential always has been there. We have the product and quality and we have the reputation. Now we have the possibility.”

McVeigh used her personal connection to an employer at the Wild River Brewing Company to land a new account. Shaun Hoback, manager of the brewing company, said he just signed a contract with Roguewood for new dining room tables and matching décor that includes old photos of the mills in town and new sustainable products made there including Sawyer paddles.

“Those paddles are gorgeous,” Hoback said. “We want to connect first and foremost with local companies. But the story behind the wood, the company, the industry here, all plays a part in why we want to do business with them.”

Bauer also brought in a team of professionals to help Roguewood organize its front office. One of those is Sam Leaber, systems administrator for Gilded Rogue, on loan to Roguewood.

“Companies don’t always know what they need until it all goes wrong,” he says.

By having Leaber available, Roguewood can improve its online presence without the added cost of a full-time IT guy. Bauer’s husband also pops in, helping out with any number of tasks as needed.

“The more we do this kind of stuff,” Bauer says, arms sweeping across the spartan office space, “the more they can do what they do best, building a great product.”

Significant impact

For all the business savvy, the mission remains impact-centered, much like Wilson’s hunt for reclaimed wood and Bauer’s determination to build a solid, permanent workforce. It also is evident in the exit strategy Bauer has in mind, which is to eventually sell the company to the employees themselves.

Because the company was undervalued and is now getting the lift it needed it should soon hit industry standards, Bauer says. That realized growth will allow the employees to buy her out. It means a company will sustain in the community that gave it life and will benefit that community long after Bauer is on to other projects.

20141023_roguewood_0240-2Bauer knows profits are critical. But unlike much of the venture capital world that is looking for the explosive dividends of tech companies that require 10 times the amount invested in returns, Bauer says the same return can be realized with a lower rate of growth with fewer failed investments.

“There are a lot of companies out there that don’t fit the 10x model,” Bauer says. “But we sort of put them together to outperform that model. We don’t have the eight in ten failure rate to absorb. It allows us to succeed.”

It also allows them to continue to make an impact, like donating money to the Ashland-based Lomakatsi non-profit that educates children about forest health. For every piece of furniture Roguewood sells, Lomakaski is given money to plant a tree, Bauer says.

Bauer says the company must excel and the impact must be reflected in the product, which “drives money into impact.”

She says the overall aim of the company is connecting the diverse artisan craftsmakers in the Pacific Northwest to the burgeoning market of clients across the globe.

“If we can do wood products right, in a sustainable way, here in Southern Oregon, in timber country, well that’s a great model for everyone,” Bauer says.

A model Bauer is willing to gamble on.

For more information, visit http://www.roguewood.com, follow Roguewood on Twitter, or like Roguewood on Facebook.

A knight in shining armor, on a Dark Horse

Mike Richardson has stopped the interview to take issue with the reporter’s cell phone and audio recorder.

“This is what you need,” he says, holding out the latest iteration of Apple’s iPhone. He snaps a photo of his visitor and touts its resolution and color quality.

“The older you get, the more you have to point out to people that you’re staying on top of things,” he jokes.

No one doubts that Richardson is on top of things these days. As founder, president and publisher of the Milwaukie, Oregon-based Dark Horse, the Oregon-born maverick has built a multi-million dollar entertainment empire by doing business as anything but usual.

Presenting… Dark Horse

Founded in 1986, Dark Horse has made its mark on the industry with a roster of edgy characters and gripping storylines that have transcended traditional comic book frames into films, television, merchandise and more.

DHP3 #7 REGULAR CVRThe creepy, kooky family includes creations like The Mask, Hellboy, Sin City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Conan, Star Wars and many more—making Dark Horse the third-largest comics publisher, trailing only DC and Marvel.

Today, Dark Horse employs about 150 people, including employees at four Things from Another World retail shops, and works with nearly 1,000 other artists and writers. Its Dark Horse Entertainment television and motion picture division, which has produced 28 films and TV series, has a dozen more projects in development, including Dark Matter, a 13-episode series based on the graphic novels that will air in spring 2015 on the SyFy network, and Tarzan, coming to the big screen in summer 2016.

This year may go down as the best in company history—no small feat considering that it accomplished the same in 2013 with a 25-percent increase in revenues.

Bookstore and digital sales have been strong, buoyed in part by stories based on video game properties like The Legend of Zelda. All-ages titles based on the popular game Plants vs. Zombies, written by Eisner-award winning author Paul Tobin, have caught on faster than a zombie invasion, selling over 500,000 copies in the past year.

The merchandise division Dark Horse Deluxe caught lightning in a bottle with the official Game of Thrones character figurines, of which Richardson says they can barely make fast enough to keep pace with demand.

buffyOther plans include expanding its stable of contributing “mainstream” authors. Fight Club 2, a 10-issue sequel, will be written by author Chuck Palahniuk, while an upcoming edition of Dark Horse Presents will include a story by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. Meanwhile, the Joss Whedon “Whedonverse,” which includes longtime favorites Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel & Faith, Serenity, and others, continues to expand, as do the Japanese manga publications and partnerships.

Even now, on the eve of losing his highest profile license, Richardson sets his sights higher.

Origin stories

“In this country—underline that—you’re going to eat, and you’re going to have a place to stay,” Richardson says. “It might not be the best place to stay and it might not be the best food you could find in the best restaurant, but you can eat and you can sleep.” And therein lies freedom to pursue your dreams.

A Milwaukie, Oregon, native, Richardson earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Portland State University in 1977, where the 6’ 9” student lettered in basketball alongside basketball legend Freeman Williams (whose 3,245 career point total trails only Pistol Pete Maravich among all-time NCAA Division I men’s players).

When Richardson’s wife, Karie, became pregnant, he took the somewhat unconventional step of quitting his job as furniture package designer—and encouraging his wife to leave hers as well.

“I quit because I didn’t want to work for someone else.”

Together they moved to Bend, Oregon, where Richardson leased a 400-square-foot retail space. He worked construction jobs building houses while getting his store ready.

Pegasus Comics opened on New Year’s Day, 1980, even though he was still getting the space ready.

“My wife said, ‘Why don’t you be open while you’re doing this?’ So I walked over and flipped the sign around to ‘Open.’”

Our hero’s journey

Like many small business owners, Richardson struggled at the outset.

A month in, his landlord offered to let him out of the lease “because how could I make money in comics?” Late that winter, his friends staged an intervention, where they tried to get Mike to take his old job back. He was not deterred. “It didn’t matter. I knew where I was going. Every day was better than the last day and every week better than the last week.”

Richardson treated the store like a real business “rather than a hobby shop” and advertised on television and radio. He focused on building cash flow and expanding his business. He learned accounting. In the meantime, his wife worked as a waitress to support the family.

“I didn’t take home a regular income for seven years—I put it all in the business. We lived in a duplex that was the cheapest one I could find and socially, when we met new people and they came to our place we never saw them again. I didn’t care—I was into building my business.”

Creator rights

From those early days, Richardson would fly in comic book artists for in-store promotions, and then take them out to dinner.

“They all complained about the same thing: They’d create these characters but they didn’t own them.” This was nothing new, Richardson says the practice harkens “clear back to [Jerry] Siegel and [Joe] Shuster—they created Superman—got paid a few hundred bucks and were let go a few years later out their own door.”

Frustrated by a lack of quality content available to comic sellers, Richardson decided to try something different.

“We offered creators complete ownership over their material—and we paid them Marvel and DC rates.”

His comic book company launched in 1986 with the anthology Dark Horse Presents #1.

The issue introduced Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, a speechwriter who transforms into a one-ton creature (a seven-foot-tall likeness stands just inside the entryway at the Dark Horse offices). The early catalog generated sales, buzz, and industry awards, and Dark Horse was off and running. His logo, a black knight chess piece, confirmed his status as an outsider to be reckoned with.

Own your work

Not long after, Richardson inked a deal with Frank Miller, one of the biggest names in comics, best-known for his work reinvigorating franchises such as Daredevil and that other Dark Knight, Batman. Miller’s work led to the seminal series Sin City, and helped attract other A-level talents like Mike Mignola.

“You can own it. We’ll pay you to produce it. And we’ll be partners in it. If you decide to leave, you can leave.”

That’s the pitch Richardson makes to artists and writers who crave financial independence and creative control.

“I’ll go up to a creator from one of the big two [DC/Marvel] and ask what they’re working on. ‘Oh, Spider-Man.’ Well, why don’t you do something for Dark Horse?”

“They ask me why they would do that, and I ask them, ‘Who did Spider-Man ten years ago?’ They don’t know. ‘Who did Sin City 20 years ago? Oh that’s Frank Miller. Who did Hellboy 20 years ago? That’s Mike Mignola.’ And the light goes on.”

Today, many companies in the industry have followed this approach.

“If you have the talent to do it, you should be out creating your own material,” Richardson says.

The Force will not be with you, always

Many Star Wars fans rejoiced at Disney’s $4 billion 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm, Ltd., which signaled new hope and new films for the venerable franchise. The announcement from Disney, whose holdings already included Marvel Comics, even included the long-awaited release date for Episode VII.

For Dark Horse, it signaled the beginning of the end to a two-decades-long partnership with George Lucas, during which time it had published multitudes of properties related to the Star Wars universe. (A framed thank-you note from Lucas hangs in the Dark Horse lobby.)

The transfer of rights to Disney and Marvel takes place in January 2015. Aside from running closeout specials on Star Wars merchandise, Dark Horse has set its sights on backfilling the loss with deals Richardson was hustling to make while at New York Comic Con this October.

He acknowledges the outsized presence of The Force in his catalog, but hastens to point out that this represents only six percent of the bottom line—an amount that entails a tremendous amount of work and energy to maintain.

“I’m not happy about it, but these big licenses coming in will more than make up for Star Wars.”

Aliens and Predators and BRAAIIINSSS

Licenses have been a way of balancing creator-owned content almost since the inception of Dark Horse.

“Our diversity is what has kept us going,” Richardson says. “Trust me: I’d like a Batman or a Superman. But our Batman is Hellboy. Our Superman is Sin City. Our Spiderman is The Goon.”

Those properties build up faithful and sustaining audiences over time, but in the meantime, Richardson saw a need to fill a financial and creative gap.

“Let’s take our favorite movies and make sequels in comic book form.”

Aliens Fire and Stone TPB 4x6The idea was simple enough, but in the late-1980s, movie tie-ins were typically low-budget cash-grabs that did little to extend storylines or expand imaginations. Then came Aliens, Dark Horse’s follow-up to the Ridley Scott blockbuster, and soon thereafter, Predator. These series sold hundreds of thousands of copies while engaging new readers with the comic book form.

With Dark Horse at the helm, the company pushed the properties even further, creating an unholy mash-up: Alien vs. Predator, selling sold copies “in the millions” Richardson says, and the AvP franchise was born.

This fall, Dark Horse announced the latest AvP installment. This time, the “A” is for Archie and his pals Jughead, Betty, and Veronica who will face off against “P”—which is still the Predator.

“If Archie approves some of the covers I’ve seen, I’ll be shocked,” Richardson laughs.

Shocking, indeed.

Today, these property licenses are big business for books, comics, and merchandise at Dark Horse. Other big sellers include Tomb Raider with Lara Croft, Plants vs. Zombies, and even Tim Burton’s “Tragic Toys for Girls and Boys,” a line of figurines designed by the iconic filmmaker.

Despite comics’ traditional status as “low culture,” Richardson has always approached the form as worthy of craft and quality. When a coloring shop once returned an issue with sub-par results, he called the owner to complain. “What do you care? It’s only comics,” the owner replied. “That was the last job he ever got from me,” Richardson says. Instead, he spent the money to bring coloring operations in-house, building a system from scratch.

Browsing the digital racks

“Every generation has an affinity for the technology of its time. The rest of us can grab onto it, but never understand it the way they can, and maybe never see the same kind of potential.” These digital natives don’t just live with this technology, “They live inside it.”

That’s Richardson’s roundabout way of explaining his ongoing pursuit of digital platforms for comic books.

The days of picking up the latest in a comic series at the corner drugstore have long-since passed. The market for these “floppies”—32 pages with two staples—has given way to more immediate content online and omnibus collections that can be read more like a novel.

As a publisher and a retailer, Richardson sees this digital step as inevitable, and one that other companies will have to take eventually. Rather than joining some 75 publishers on the industry-leading Comixology platform, Dark Horse spent a considerable sum to create its own digital storefront and app.

Leading the charge

Richardson doesn’t fear getting ahead of the curve on this. Dark Horse fully embraced the social media network MySpace as a platform for original content back in the late-2000s (those stories have since been collected and anthologized in paperback).

His goal is nothing short of “the entire Dark Horse library available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, in every deliverable form of distribution in existence, in every country in the world, in seven languages. If people want to anticipate what we’re going to do in the future, that’s our grand vision.”

And with improvements in technology, this creates a better reading experience anyway, says Richardson. “Comics readers today are more likely to be 25 than 12, and they’d rather have a book on a shelf than a comic in a box.” His preference? “I like it both ways.”

While Dark Horse has made an industry-wide impact with its focus on creator rights, it’s also had a pronounced impact regionally. When it began in Portland 28 years ago, “there was no comic books industry” out here, Richardson says. Dark Horse drew a crowd of creators for the coloring, lettering, illustration, writing and more, and many of those went on to create their own companies or characters.

Meanwhile, interest in comics continues to grow nationally as well as here in Oregon. Portland’s own Rose City Comic Con has ballooned from just 4,100 attendees in its first year to approximately 20,000 in its third, while the DIY ethos of comics and publishing, as a form for storytelling and creative expression, fits within the rising maker movement as well as the ecosystem of content creators working in the digital space.

Still working

atomic-legionWhat’s most surprising about the fact that Mike Richardson still writes is that he has time to do so. But, this is the man who first envisioned The Mask, among other characters. On his desk is a copy of The Atomic Legion, a new collection that he’s written, chronicling the adventures of a familiar-yet-forgotten set of superheroes.

He also finally completed Ronin 47, a retelling of “Japan’s Alamo,” that he has researched and studied off-and-on for 20 years, including visits to temples and graves. Working with longtime Dark Horse collaborator Stan Sakai, the two produced the five-issue series, which was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2014.

Richardson stays busy outside of work. Although he’s never illustrated any of Dark Horse’s comics, he’s taken up drawing again. He’s trying to improve his electric guitar skills. His basketball team won the championship at the 2013 World Master’s Games in Turin, Italy, and he finished restoring a 1973 red Corvette that he spent three years finding parts for.

He’s a grandfather now (or in his words, “father with daughter with daughter,” and when asked how long he plans to stay at Dark Horse: “Right now? Until I’m dead.” He clarifies: “40 years.”

“I’m a storyteller,” Richardson says. That defines what he does, and the ways in which he does it. He encourages others to take the same kinds of chances because, well, why not?

“The odds of anybody being alive are infinitesimal—if you calculate the odds, you’ll see that it’s impossible for you to sit here. And to be here, in a time when we can live a decent life, when most people in history didn’t get that chance? We are so lucky.”

“I just want to take advantage of that to do something and leave something behind that means something. Let’s inspire people. Let’s do great things.”

“That’s the fight.”

For more information, visit http://www.darkhorse.com, follow Dark Horse on Twitter, like Dark Horse on Facebook, or follow Dark Horse on Instagram.

(Image courtesy Erik Urdahl/PSU. Used with permission.)

A deeper connection

At the edge of the Wallowa Valley, circled by the awe-inspiring Wallowa Mountains, Cory Carman raises cattle.

It could be just as simple as that, but it isn’t.

For four generations Cory’s family has been raising cattle in Wallowa County, each doing things a little bit differently than the generation before; Cory Carman is no exception to that rule.

Cory raises grassfed registered Herefords and Angus cattle alongside her uncle Kent Carman and husband Dave Flynn on Carman Ranch. She is raising her three children, Roan, Ione and Emmett on the very same ranch her great-grandfather Fritz Weinhard started raising cattle on in 1935.

She nurtures the very same land her grandparents, Ruth and Hoy Carman cared for, and she continues the family tradition her dad, Garth, lost his life for in a farming accident in 1993.

Homecoming

Cory’s uncle Kent and grandmother Ruth had been operating the ranch for many years while Cory was away at college. After graduating from Stanford and spending time on Capitol Hill working with the Ways and Means Committee, then managing several restaurants in LA, Cory decided to take a break from the cities and head back home to the ranch for the summer in 2003. The time had come for her to clear her mind, and figure out what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life.

6877653307_7eb1be7815_oLittle did she realize then, but the ranch seemed to be calling her home. Cory soon realized it was a lot of ranch for just two people to manage, and she was asking a lot of her grandmother and uncle to save it for her until she was ready to come home and take over.

“Once I had a proper career, I knew I would come back to the ranch,” said Cory. It wasn’t until she saw just how much work was on the shoulders of her uncle and grandmother, that she realized it was now, or never. “If I wanted to be here in 20 years, I needed to start contributing that day, or let go. A cattle ranch isn’t something you just put on hold.”

From that moment forward, Cory has been immersed in the cattle ranching business, but Carman Ranch is not a typical cattle operation, and Cory is not a typical rancher. Many cattle operations raise the cattle, load them into semi-trucks, and then send them to auction.

The process continues with the beef being reloaded into trailers, where they are sent to be processed at slaughter houses. The end result is meat that has been subjected to stress, time and time again. This practice works for many ranchers, and most of us are accustomed to buying this type of beef from our local grocery store, but this cattle processing practice does not suit Cory, who is involved throughout the entire life cycle of her cattle.

Part and parcel

Cory is a hands-on rancher: from birth, to pasture, to summer graze land, she is there to watch the cattle thrive as they meander across the meadows of the ranch. Cory’s cows spend their entire life on the ranch foraging on famous Wallowa Valley grass and grass hay.

6877656945_5bac54b4c3_o“We are committed to preserving the natural environment and providing our customers with healthy and delicious beef,” said Cory, who believes in low input farming practices, which includes eliminating chemical fertilizers. The deep-rooted perennial grasses that the Carman Ranch cattle graze on stores carbon in the soil, which also helps to remove it from the atmosphere.

Carman Ranch was the first Oregon ranch to earn grassfed beef certification from Food Alliance, the most comprehensive third-party certification program for sustainably produced food in North America. Food Alliances grassfed certification guarantees that animals eat only grass, never any grain or grain by-products, nor do they receive hormones or antibiotics of any kind. Food Alliance certification also ensures that Carman Ranch meets rigorous criteria for safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, protection of wildlife habitat, and healthy and humane animal treatment.

At the end of fall, as the cattle mature to around 18 months, it is time to call in the local butcher, Kevin Silvieria, a highly regarded craftsman in his trade. Quickly, humanely, and free from the stress of the typical beef processing scenario, the animals are harvested on the same land they were born on. Silvieria, of Valley Meat Services, then drives the meat all of three miles to his shop in Wallowa where he cuts it to Cory’s specifications.

Facilitating connection

This could be the end of the story, but once again it is only the beginning.

“People want a connection to their food again,” said Cory.

Cory knew instinctively there was a market for grassfed beef in Oregon, before there was a market for grassfed beef in the state. Her years of restaurant experience in Los Angeles gave her insight to what customers, who were beginning to become more and more health-conscious, were looking for, so she set out to create the market that would welcome her own 100% grassfed beef.

Contributing to the Oregon economy

In 2009, with packages of Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef, fresh from Valley Meat Services, Cory traveled to Portland where she met with chefs from popular restaurants. One can only imagine the sense of pride, with a touch of butterflies, she must have felt as she approached her first chef. She told each of them the benefits of her grassfed beef, which is free of hormones and antibiotics. With one taste of the beef, all reservations are pushed aside.

Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef is now an ever-present staple on many restaurants throughout Portland, including Dick’s Kitchen.

3730060144_f0c4239728_o“We wanted to have a 100% grass-fed beef hamburger on our menu, mainly because of the health benefits of eating beef raised this way.” said Barbara Stutz, of Dick’s Kitchen. “We wanted people to be able to enjoy the classics without any guilt, and actually be feeding their bodies with great nutrition. We did tastings from several different ranches and found the taste of Carman Ranch beef to be far superior. We also wanted to use a product that was environmentally conscious.

“It turns out that grass fed beef, raised the way they do at Carman Ranch, helps to reverse carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use. For us it was a win-win. We really respect ranchers that understand the difference and go the extra mile to produce beef this way, the combination of grasses that make up the diet for the cattle create an amazingly flavorful product.”

“Our customers recognize that there is a flavor difference between grass fed beef and commercially produced beef and they enjoy the out and out yummy flavor. Many are thrilled to be able to eat a great burger that is also good for them and some are just happy that it is a great tasting juicy burger.”

In addition to her grassfed beef adorning the pages of menus throughout Portland, Carman Ranch, in conjunction with McClaran Ranch, also from Wallowa County, offers customers a chance to buy a portion of a cow to stock their freezers with through a cow sharing program. The Carman Ranch Buying Club also offers communities in the greater Portland area a chance to buy a smaller portion of the 100% grassfed beef at several locations throughout the city on specified days of the week.

“Growing up in Wallowa County, especially on a ranch, gave me a sense of responsibility and a sense of curiosity. It gave me a sense of independence,” said Cory.

Her love for the ranching lifestyle is just as strong as the generations that came before her, but her way of getting it done is just about as unique as she is.

For more information, visit http://www.carmanranch.com, follow Carman Ranch on Twitter, or like Carman Ranch on Facebook.

An overnight success, 20 years in the making

It’s rare to use the words “hot tub” and “great idea” in the same sentence. But those two seemingly incongruous terms came together on a pivotal day in August 2010. Lem James relaxed in the hot tub with his son discussing business and life, which wasn’t unusual for the pair.

Lem had spent the last several years seeking the perfect startup idea—a niche idea to be exact, so the conversation focused on startup ideas to opportunities. He had watched and compared businesses inside very competitive markets and niche markets. But nothing had quite fit the mold.

All it was needed was a spark.

“Hey Dad, why don’t you build those concrete ping pong tables you saw in Germany?”

And that was all it took.

Lem recognized a viable product and innovative idea.  Permanent, outdoor table tennis tables took something familiar and turned it on its head. Lem liked the purposeful creativity of combining ping pong and concrete—two things that didn’t seem to mesh—to create a new outdoor experience in public places.

But this would be more than a niche market; it would be wide open without any competitors and an immediate customer focus; Parks & Recreation.

From a fleeting idea, a permanent table

Normally, “outdoor” ping pong tables need to be set up every day and put away at night. This, combined with play, causes them to wear out every few years. Left outside, table tennis tables deteriorate rapidly.

A concrete table, however, can stay outside through harsh weather and doesn’t need to be set up and taken down at all. This was the key.

Concrete tables could save money for parks, military bases, community centers, and even home owners. Using concrete completely redefines where table tennis works. Instead of backyards and garages, tables can be installed in parks and outdoor school yards.

Forming a business as sturdy as its product

Within a week, Lem had AutoCAD sketches and plans to build forms. As he shared his idea, however, others raised concerns. Who would buy these concrete tables? Wouldn’t shipping costs eat up any profit? Who would even think to search for a product like this? America just wasn’t familiar with the idea. It was a luxury item and, in 2010, we were in a recession.

P1020652With his work experience, Lem knew parks across the country and beyond would be interested, and he knew the channels to reach them. As for shipping, that’s a normal cost of doing business. Even when others shared their concerns, the passion grew.

“Every once in a while, we had to do a gut check because they were putting out a few quotes but nothing was selling yet,” said Lem. “We had to hone in on our product and our marketing to put our products out there to our target markets without traditional advertising. We began selling a table here and there. Then, once we could put enough story and photographs together to show tables in parks, schools and nice backyards, sales started rolling.

“It’s frustrating to watch potentially good businesses start and poke around, and then evaporate before they even get the traction to move forward. I’ve watched several businesses fail to launch in this manner. Many times so much time gets spent on making a perfect product that marketing and sales get ignored.

“A lot of these businesses get launched by very smart successful people, but people who don’t need the business to succeed. They have other successes that are easy to fall back on. Early on, a friend asked what my back up plan was. I said plan A was to succeed wildly, and plan B was to succeed mildly. There was no backup plan to fail. If we ran into failure, we would plan around it and continue. Don’t quit.”

During the first year, the company focused on developing and improving the tables, adding steel nets, integral concrete dye to offer color options, and making other refinements. Concrete chess tables were a natural addition to the product line, and these weren’t as foreign to the American market. The playing squares are marble inlaid tiles in a background of polished, exposed aggregate concrete in an array of color options, including recycled glass.

Why Oregon?

The entrepreneurial community in Oregon supported Bravado from an early stage, including the Roseburg Small Business Development Center and Young Entrepreneur Society (YES), a Roseburg group that supports new innovation.

These groups provided the cross pollination of ideas, which has been central to Bravado’s product development and marketing. In addition, they provided crucial support to a founder with a unique concept. Lem was able to pitch ideas and get feedback from a unique cross section of business thinkers and fellow entrepreneurs.

Oregon is also home to an array of groups, like Portland based City Repair, who are great supporters of the placemaking movement. City Repair builds community projects—like turning an intersection into a public park. They describes placemaking as “a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection.”Permanent outdoor games—especially table tennis—fit in perfectly with placemaking by providing the community a gathering point where everyone can play.

Best of both worlds

As Lem perfected the engineering and production of the ping pong tables, his mind began to turn to other product opportunities based on the company motto, “Everybody plays!”

Cornhole, a simple, but not very well known game immediately came to mind. The bean bag game was easy to adapt to concrete and place as a permanent feature in parks, while also creating a more entry level product line. Foosball was added to the product line after a table tennis fan sent a picture of a similar table in Paris. While the actual forming and production took some fine tuning, the actual game itself is to pick up and learn.

Foosball and cornhole allow almost anyone to begin playing and then develop mastery over time—just like the sport that inspired the original product.

Work that inspires activity

Lem shares a contagious enthusiasm for his products and the games they facilitate. it’s not just about selling something and making money. These tables are on the cutting edge in concrete work, the placemaking movement, and the sport of table tennis.

Bravado Outdoor’s table tops are recognized in the concrete industry for design and finish work and have been featured by different suppliers. The tables are another example of combining two different disciplines: concrete engineering and concrete countertop finish work.

These publicly available tables support the developing of ping pong in America, and integrate into the urban placemaking design movement; where sidewalks, corners or small urban spaces are turned into an oasis where people can gather. Where an old empty lot can become a miniature neighborhood gathering spot with ping pong and chess as the focal points.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.25.47 PMThe sport of table tennis, in particular, has been a second tier sport in North America, usually played in garages and basements. But Bravado is taking table tennis into the outdoors and public places, putting the sport front and center and giving more people across America and the chance to hone their skills. The Bravado team strongly believes that by making table tennis more accessible, the level of play will be raised—ultimately helping the US become more competitive on the international scene.

Lofty goal? Sure. But the accessibility of basketball courts in parks and urban areas has definitely played a central role in the development of many top players, and while there is a big difference between basketball and table tennis in regards to the idea of being a competitive sport, accessibility and awareness are still critical development steps.

And once in place, these tables will be around for years to come. No nets to replace or backboards to repair. No play structures to fix. No swing chains to replace. Just hours of enjoyment by kids and adults alike.

And much like the products they have developed, Bravado has created a solid company, firmly grounded in the community that supported them from the beginning.

For more information, visit http://www.concretetabletennis.com, follow Bravado on Twitter, or like Bravado on Facebook.

A harmonious collaboration of people, nature, and business

Tom Bedell is not the stereotypical image of a serial entrepreneur. In fact, he embodies the look of a modern-day hippie, equipped most days with a navy headband and blue jeans. But don’t be fooled. Bedell owns Bend-based Two Old Hippies Stringed Instruments, one of the largest acoustic guitar and mandolin designers and manufacturers in the country.

“Deep in my heart I wanted to have a workshop here in the United States of America where we could design and build our own instruments. And that was my dream,” he said.

On Nov. 30, 2010, that dream became a reality when he purchased Breedlove Guitars in Bend.

“What’s my favorite thing about coming to work every day? I get to design [guitars],” he said. “ I get to go into the wood stacks and pick out pieces of wood and dream about what they might sound like.”

Auspicious beginnings

Bedell started his entrepreneurial journey at the age of fourteen in 1964, the same year The Beatles made their first live American television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

breed 5“The whole world changed in terms of music and Rock and Roll,” Bedell said. “In every town across America there was a garage band on every block. We all had guitars, we had these little amplifiers. Most of us weren’t any good, but it was the lifestyle … It became the beginning of a whole social-change movement … and music was the vehicle to express all of that. It was the way that poetry came to life in everybody’s life.”

Filled with passion for guitars and music, Bedell wanted to become a part of the industry and started importing guitars from Japan.

He turned to his father, who owned a fishing tackle company called Pure Fishing that Bedell would later go on to inherit, for resources. Bedell sent a telex to Pure Fishing’s purchasing agent in Japan. He asked him to go to Hiroshima, the epicenter of musical instruments, and find a source for guitars. The agent obliged, which birthed the start of Bedell Guitars.

“I just went through (the catalogues) and picked the instruments that looked of interest and ordered some samples,” Bedell said. “I didn’t know much about how to price them. So, I just doubled the prices, which meant that I was at half the price of the main businesses that were around then.”

An ever-changing tune

Bedell’s first workplace looked nothing like Two Old Hippies’ headquarters does today.

His sister helped put his brand name on his guitars and he hired a friend with a driver’s license to take him to different music stores to start wholesaling guitars.

“My parents’ basement was my warehouse. My sister was my quality production person. My friend was my driver and delivery guy. And I was the salesman,” he said.

breed1Today, Bedell employs 135 people and leases three different buildings, totaling 50,000 square feet on the east side of Bend off American Loop. He expects his 2014 payroll to reach about $5.35 million and estimates his company will produce about 5,000 instruments next year.

The company sells three brands: Breedlove, an acoustic guitar label that strives to be innovative and has been manufactured in Bend since 1990; Bedell Guitars, 1960s classic-model guitars built using sustainably-sourced woods; and Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments, one of the top mandolin companies in the country, which Two Old Hippies acquired in November 2012.

The acoustic guitar market has been strong for several years, Erin Block, research analyst for the National Association of Music Merchants, wrote in an email.

“Sales increased by 13.3 percent and the number of units sold increased by 2.7 percent from 2012 to 2013,” Block wrote. “When you look at the 5-year trend, sales have increased 54.1 percent.”

Employees first

In nearly four years, Bedell grew Breedlove from 50 to 135 employees. And this year, he said the company grew by 40 percent.

Bedell attributes his success to following his father’s rules of operating a business:

breed 4“The whole reason that we’re in business is to create opportunities for the people that make up the company,” he said. “It’s not about the company, it’s about the people. The reason we are here is to create a culture and lifestyle and opportunities for the people that are our company. It’s not for shareholders. It’s not for money. It’s not for profit.”

If the employees of Two Old Hippies Stringed Instruments come first, Bedell said the company will succeed because everybody will have an investment in the success of the company.

“It’s their life. It’s their lifestyle. It’s how they support their families. It’s how they live,” he said.

When Bedell first took over Breedlove, he said one of his biggest challenges was shifting the company’s culture.

“The culture was very much a hierarchical. It was very much a power culture,” Bedell said. “I wanted to create an entrepreneurial culture where people were empowered, where people felt they could do their best work and be themselves, but yet had a set of values that they shared that had a commitment to one another.”

Like many entrepreneurs today, Bedell started with humble beginnings. In 1966, two years after Bedell ordered his first guitar samples from Japan, he opened his first retail store in Iowa.

“Some of the stores I was selling to weren’t paying their bills, so I would pick up equipment at their store to get a credit,” he said. “I had all of this equipment and then, later that fall, I opened my second store.”

Bedell started going to school half days and running his business in the afternoons and evenings.

“It was a glorious life,” he said. “So, in my golden years, I wanted to return to that wonderful life and become a teenager again,” he said, referring to operating Two Old Hippies Stringed Instruments.

In February of 2009, Bedell and his wife, Molly, acquired a local music store in Aspen, Colorado, and named it Two Old Hippies.

“We just thought it would be fun to run a music store,” he said. “But Molly and I both have a terminal illness that we have to work. We’re going to work until we die.”

While his wife operated the Two Old Hippies boutique that still sells accessories, clothing, as well as guitars, Bedell went to Asia to design and build his own line of Bedell Guitars. By fall, he had developed a wholesale business and started selling Bedell Guitars throughout the country.

But that wasn’t enough. Bedell wanted to make guitars in the U.S.

Embracing opportunity

“I had my eyes and ears network open to where might and opportunity come along and one of the companies I got to know were the folks here at Breedlove,” he said. “Unfortunately Breedlove had fallen on tough times and so the owner had no choice but to sell it and came to me with an opportunity. I was just thrilled to death. This is a dream come true.”

Bedell has earned a reputation for always following his dreams.

“I think I always followed them. I don’t know that I always got them,” he said. “Life is real, right? You have your ups and you have your downs and you have reality that you don’t want to deal with, but you have to.”

breed3The key to his success, Bedell said, is never giving up.

“Everybody has reasons to quit. There are 10,000 reasons to stop; why you’re going to fail, why you shouldn’t pursue it, versus a handful of dreams about how you can succeed,” he said. “The people that succeed are the ones that persevere through all the reasons to not win, and win.”

In the next five years, Bedell said his goal is to make Bend the number-one place in the world for a consumer to buy the finest guitar available.

“I would love to have a showcase place where musicians from all over the world can come and they could really study their play style and their music and we could design guitars specific for them, that are custom for their style of music and their play,” he said.

Bedell said he and the co-hippies, his employees, are going to bring that dream to life.

“Every barrier and every challenge that gets in the way of that, we’re going to find a way around it, over it, through it, past it and it’s not an option,” he said. “You have to have this sense of future, this sense of hope, this sense of knowledge that you know it’s up to you, whether you succeed or whether you don’t. It’s not up to all the other people or things, or excuses, or barriers of frustrations that pop their head up.”

“Life is like a whack-a-mole,” he said. “And you have to keep whacking at it.”

For more information, visit http://breedlovemusic.com, follow Breedlove on Twitter, or like Breedlove on Facebook.

Fording the rapids of Oregon entrepreneurship

Peter Newport laughs. “I do chaos.”

In addition to the many roles he plays—from budding Gold Hill, Oregon, mayor to president of Sawyer Paddles and Oars—Chief Pot-Stirrer is also in Newport’s personal mix.

Newport is the former chief executive of Breedlove Guitar Company, a renowned custom instrument maker based out of Bend, Oregon. After selling the company in 2010, Newport moved to southern Oregon and bought Sawyer Paddles and Oars.

And it’s that fast-paced, 100-percent, year-over-year growth path that he helped generate at Breedlove that Newport wants to repeat with the similarly renowned custom paddle maker in Talent, Oregon.

But in the three years he’s been at Sawyer, the growth trajectory is slower than what Newport thrived on with Breedlove.

“We are growing Sawyer slower than we grew with Breedlove,” Newport said. “I’m engineered for 100 percent growth. I don’t have a whole lot of patience and it’s painfully slow. We’ll start ramping up our growth in the coming years.”

Nothing a little chaos can’t stir up

Tracking down the man known as “Crazy Pete” isn’t easy, especially in the middle of shifting manufacturing operations to Grants Pass, Oregon. in a partnership with custom furniture company Roguewood.

In fact, it seems wherever sawdust is flying and gorgeous wood products are crafted in Oregon, Newport can be found.

“He should be here later today,” Roguewood CEO Elizabeth Bauer says on a Monday afternoon. “Pete is just awesome. He’s a superstar.”

The next day at the Sawyer shop in Talent, Newport is again missing in action.

“He started real early this morning and I don’t expect him back anytime soon,” co-owner Zac Kauffman, says. “Things are a bit crazy around here right now.”

The company is making significant advancements, including the strategic partnership with Roguewood. It’s a partnership that has the two companies combining equipment and employees in the same facility — a temporarily chaotic move that will likely create an even higher level of product quality and consistency.
“Our peak seasons are opposite. It’s going to be beautiful. It will allow us to keep a steady workforce year round. We’re hoping if we cross-train on furniture and paddles and oars we can switch for whatever orders we need to get out the door,” Newport says.

Man in the middle

"Crazy Pete" Newport

“Crazy Pete” Newport

Any significant change will find Newport directly in the thick of it.

“Wherever the bottleneck is, that’s where I like to be,” Newport says a few days later, when he finally slows enough to talk.

In short, he wants more chaos because — for a die-hard kayaker turned entrepreneur who is now in the business of making fantastic paddles and oars – turbulence is not only expected but welcomed.
“I was taught how to communicate that type of chaos,” Newport says. “It leads to a fair amount of time in meetings but everybody’s on the same page.”

Finding a Niche. And another. And another.

Like many entrepreneurs, Newport spent a fair amount of time finding his own direction. His central Oregon upbringing weathered into him a love for the state, love for the extreme outdoor sports the region is known for, and love of music and love of adventure. All of these facets, in one way or another, have shaped Newport’s life trajectory.

The defining moment? When he took a kayaking class, “on a dare.”

“It totally changed my life,” Newport says, “The Bend and the Oregon boating scene is pretty advanced and I had a lot of great paddlers around me and fell head over heels into kayaking and that’s pretty much all I wanted to do.”

Newport navigated through Oregon colleges, including Southern Oregon University, University of Portland, and Portland State. By 1995, he wanted to try out for the 1996 Olympics in kayaking.

“It was a longshot,” he admits, “but I ended up breaking a bunch of ribs before I could even try out. But during that time I realized… wow, pretty much everything I was trying to do got shut off within a couple of weeks. I got kinda depressed.”

He followed his wife back to school—this time for an actual education—landing at Oregon State University.

“I was so sick of school and not knowing what I wanted to do,” he says. “But, when I went to OSU I ended up finishing pretty much near the top of my class in business.”

That led to a stint with Pepsi. Newport was working for the beverage company in marketing when Bend-area business leader Jim Schell sought him out. Schell, an entrepreneur and co-author of Small Business for Dummies (who still says on his Linkedin profile that “my favorite thing to do is to connect the dots,”) enticed Newport to consider working with a Bend- area company.

“He called me up and said, ‘Crazy Pete, have I got a perfect project for you.’” Newport recalls.
Soon Newport was the general manager of Breedlove Guitar, with a plan to earn more of the company each year moving forward.

“It was nightmare for three years,” Newport said. “Then we finally figured out how to grow it profitably.”

He also began slowly buying out investors. He became the chief executive and over the course of 11 years bought out most of the partners what he calls a “a great formula for budding entrepreneurs.”
Those wonderful, chaotic, 100-percent growth years soon followed and Breedlove Guitar Company became known as an industry leader. The company’s 500,000 annual sales hit $10 million and Newport sold it.
The experience helped craft Newport’s personal vision, combining his love for Oregon, its signature products and all the state has to offer in terms of lifestyle, recreation and environment.

“I really like niches where we can execute being number 1 or number 2 in quality, so we can dominate it,” Newport says.

The question that had once depressed Newport now enthralled him. What’s next? He wondered.

Method to the “madness”

Crazy Pete isn’t all that crazy when you get right down to it.

Like most successful entrepreneurs, he’s learned to combine his passions with past experiences to build success. But Newport kept the nickname given to him decades earlier while working at Pepsi.

“One day they called me the ‘Crazy Pete ‘and it just stuck. I thought it was kinda funny because I wasn’t really that crazy. But then I saw a definition for crazy as simply being open to another point of view,” says the perpetual pot stirrer. “It also gives me a lot of license.”

whitewaterJust as riding whitewater in a kayak, Newport keeps a fixed gaze on how best to navigate. He credits a book he read that said to be truly happy as an entrepreneur one must “design your dream customer,” Newport recalls.

“That was probably the most significant hit over the head I’ve had in forty years. I read that line and that changed everything. I was so excited to get a white board out and trying to fill it out,” he says.
That effort funneling down to a list of businesses where he could work with his dream customer. The list was short. One name long in fact. Sawyer Paddles and Oars in Talent.

“I used to work at Sawyer,” he said. “I wondered if they were still kicking.”

He sent an email to the company’s owner, Bruce Bergstrom. When he didn’t hear back immediately, he called. When he got an answering machine, he started driving to southern Oregon. On the way he called again and then again until at last Bergstrom picked up.

“I said, ’Hey, teach me how to run the company and I’ll help you retire.’ And it was kinda silent for a while then he said, ‘we’re gonna need some beer.’”

They met that day in May 2011 and penciled out a plan.

“Then we made it happen,” Newport says.

Playing in unison

The similarities between Breedlove Guitars and Sawyer Paddles and Oars are hard to miss, starting with the names: both remain branded by the vision of their respective owners who lived in Oregon and saw the opportunity to stunning craftsmanship into niche products of exceptional quality.

Both needed a healthy amount of Crazy Pete’s chaos to truly scale into a leader in their respective niche market.

“I love the initial quality,” he says of Sawyer but could equally be speaking of Breedlove. “We have dramatically improved the consistency and global excellence.”

To scale these niche manufacturing businesses takes more than pot stirring. Newport again is relying on his past experiences. At Breedlove the guitars were known for its innovative graduated top and bridge truss construction. At Sawyer the company has made innovations around some of their paddles that improves their competitive edge, Newport says. The company intersected with the rapid growing Stand Up Paddleboard markets through innovation becoming the first to create a tapered oval carbon fiber shaft. The tapering cuts the weight by 30 percent, Newport says, while the oval shaping makes it less fatiguing.

“The oval allows you to relax your grip so you don’t have to work so hard to aim it where you want it to go,” he says. “It’s probably the best racing paddle in the country right now.”

Shane Perrin, founder of SUP St. Louis, backs up Newport’s claim.

Perrin says he is considering changing his entire fleet over to the Storm Stand Up Paddle, which he describes as “ultra-tough.”

Equally important is a crucial factor often associated with Sawyer.

“Made in the USA,” Perrin says. “Says it all right there. I love that they are made there in Oregon.”
According to Sarah Layton, CEO of the Corporate Strategy Institute, Inc. , quality is spurring the comeback of American manufacturing.

“We conducted an informal survey of manufacturing CEOs, and the general consensus is that manufacturing will make a comeback in the US. The reason is partly because of perceived poor quality coming out of other countries, mostly China,” she forecasted.

Perrin is proof of that trend.

sawyer-oars“It’s been sad to watch companies that originated making their products here and then source through China so they can make more money,” Perrin says. “Almost always that product’s quality declines.”
Among the other moves Newport made to launch Sawyer’s growth curve was connecting directly to those like Perrin. To do that, he aggressively recruited Kauffman whose connection to the company goes back 30 years as an outfitter and guide trainer. Newport enticed Kauffman with the opportunity of ownership through sweat equity, a typically entrepreneurial move that has worked out as well as he could have imagined.

Like Perrin, Todd Freitag, owner of Grassy Knob Guide and Outfitters in Bandon, Oregon, knew Kauffman for several years. Sawyer sponsored Freitag’s steelhead tournament and Freitag serves as a regional ambassador. He speaks with intimate knowledge of his favorite product a square v-lamb top oar.

“It’s an absolute beautiful piece of wood,” Freitag says. “When I first saw them I couldn’t believe them. It’s almost like a piece of art. When you run those oars down the river you always attract attention.”
Freitag is quick to point his fellow river rats to Sawyer.

“There’s a lot of other great products in other states to, but let’s try to employ those craftsman who are local first. There’s tons of stuff in Oregon,” Freitag says.

New rivers to run

So the age old question of what to do with his life has become increasingly clear amid the chaos, Newport says. He wants to run a $100 million company in Oregon and has a typical turbulent way to meet his goal. It starts with becoming the mayor of Gold Hill, a town of 1,200 residents that sits on less than a square mile of land in Jackson County.

“I’m a die-hard Oregonian,” he says. “I think Gold Hill will be the coolest town in the world. Ten years from now it will be known as the best place in the world… it already has the best white water on the Rogue.”

The wannabe mayor is quick to list Gold Hill’s vision and virtues, from recreational marriages, a new parks plan, a 5,000-seat amphitheater that he hopes will rival the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Ore.
“That’s where Sawyer as a brand belongs and it will become a $10 million company. Then all we need to do it cherry-pick ten other $10 million companies. As the mayor I’ll have reached my goal.”

Turbulent? Chaotic? Crazy? You bet. Doable? No doubt about it for Crazy Pete Newport. He’s seen it clearly and even drawn the whole thing up, a necessary first step for any entrepreneur with a dream, he insists.

“Anytime I start a project I take a poster board and draw a picture of the company in the future. I put it right next to my desk so anyone can see it,” he says. When we make a decision we ask, ‘does that get us closer to that picture or further away?’ It so easy to see when you have an image of what you’re going to become.”

For more information, visit http://www.paddlesandoars.com, follow Sawyer on Twitter, like Sawyer on Facebook, or follow Sawyer on Instagram.