Bend, Oregon’s Outdoor Industry Gains Traction with Outdoor Roundtable & Bend Outdoor Worx

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Recreation rules the roost in Central Oregon. Choose your sport, we’ve got it. And while the high desert has been a powerful magnet for those hitting the trails, rivers or slopes, the outdoor business sector has been quietly navigating its way through the industry without much emphasis on community or collaboration, until now.

Two important organizations have formed in Bend to give traction to the business of the outdoors. The Outdoor Round Table and Bend Outdoor Worx are poised to unite the existing community of retailers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, wholesalers, reps, designers and consultants to not only support and elevate the existing industry, but also attract new outdoor businesses to the area.

The Outdoor Round Table

Formed two years ago, the Outdoor Round Table was originally envisioned as a group that could support the Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) mission of recruiting new outdoor companies to the area. Specifically targeting the Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show in Salt Lake City, the group comprised of key outdoor company leaders and retired outdoor executives helped EDCO make key recruiting contacts at the Summer and Winter OR Shows.

“After the January 2014 Outdoor Retailer Show we felt that the Outdoor Round Table could be much more effective if we formed a group that had the goal of connecting and cultivating the outdoor community [already existing]in Central Oregon,” commented Round Table Chair Van Schoessler, sales manager for Stanley and Pacific Market International.

“Rather than concentrate on recruiting new companies we realized that we should be taking care of the entrepreneurs and businesses that already exist in Central Oregon. By pulling current and new companies together into a cohesive group we could build a strong outdoor industry community.”

With an impressive line-up of local outdoor companies already present like Ruffwear, Hydroflask, KIALOA Paddles and Metolius Climbing, and newer companies like Gobi Gear, TurboPUP and Cairn, the Round Table members have an incredible range of perspective and insight into the industry.

“The idea is that through working together members can help new companies get launched, give guidance to medium sized companies to get to the next level and to challenge the larger companies to continue to grow and thrive and give back to the community,” Schoessler said.

While the group is trying to establish whether their focus should be on Bend, Central Oregon or Oregon as a whole, the mission of connection and cultivation of the outdoor community has already lead to an exciting new outdoor business incubator, Bend Outdoor Worx (BOW).

“The Outdoor Round Table started the conversation, and we grabbed it and took it to the next level,” explained Bend Outdoor Worx founder Gary Bracelin. Envisioned to provide resources to emerging or developing outdoor industry companies in the form of mentorships, infrastructure and industry connections, BOW launched its inaugural program in August.

“Gary Bracelin and his group are members of the Outdoor Round Table and are one tool that is available to members,” Schoessler explained. “Other tools are SBDC, EDCO, Grow Oregon and Business Oregon. These organizations are all on board to help members launch and grow their outdoor businesses by tackling business plans, securing financing, building go-to market plans, connecting to sales organizations, etc.”

The Round Table meets every other month, the next taking place at Hydroflask headquarters on September 24. Each session includes a tour and brief discussion of the host business’s operations, a keynote speaker from the outdoor industry and networking (with beer!). For more details on the group or upcoming meeting contact Schoessler at Van. Schoessler@pmi-worldwide.com.

Bend Outdoor Worx

The collaborative inspiration behind the Outdoor Roundtable has manifested in an exciting new incubator for outdoor companies, Bend Outdoor Worx. Launched in April 2014, founder Gary Bracelin has partnered with five other industry experts, Eric Meade, Rick Fredland, Justin Rae, Will Blount and Howard Allred, to create a three to four month business accelerator program aimed at utilizing the experience and success of the partner/mentors to assist new or developing outdoor businesses.

“If I were to start a business this would be my dream team,” Bracelin said. “We have all been in the industry a long time, and I approached individuals that had a specific skill set.” Meade is a business strategist and the former CEO of Entre Prises, Fredland is the founder and CEO of Silipint, Rae a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley, Blount the president of RuffWear and Allred is the former CFO for Specialized Bicycle Components and TaylorMade Golf.

He explained the BOW structure will include a process of discovery meetings, analyzation and curriculum building in order to determine individual company needs. From there support will be arranged from legal assistance, financial planning, marketing, logistics, sales, marketing and product development.

“Bend is this Mecca of the outdoors, but are there successful outdoor companies here? We have a handful, but there are a bunch of aspiring outdoor companies too,” Bracelin said. “Many outdoor companies come here to test their products, shoot their commercials, and go home.

“We want to take BOW companies and make them more sustainable and bankable, but also help make Bend the hub of the outdoor industry that it should be. Why not Bend?”

The first three companies to go through the BOW program include Cairn, a monthly subscription service for outdoor enthusiasts; Homeschool Technical Apparel, a technical snowboard apparel business; and Free Range Backpacks, a minimalist backpack manufacture.

Rob Little, founder of Cairn, relocated to Bend earlier this year and began the process of vetting his business idea when he heard about the incubator. “These are six very experienced individuals who have collectively founded, owned and operated small, medium and large businesses,” Little commented. “They have an incredible amount of knowledge in all aspects of running a business, and I hope to utilize the mentoring and advising components specific to running a start up.”

“It was pretty obvious to me how much they had to offer,” stated Tosch Roy, founder of Free Range Backpacks. “I don’t have any business experience and [BOW] is really interested in helping…For me this is all a big learning experience I want to talk the talk, make the connections and develop access to production financing or investors.”

Danny Clancey of Homeschool Technical Apparel came to the group from a slightly different direction. Having founded his business over two years ago in Portland he has already participated in the incubator, Portland Seed Fund.

“As a brand we have been in the market for several years and that gives us a different perspective than some of the other companies in the class,” he commented. “I also felt there was a strong need for something like this in Bend.

“I am interested in moving the business here at some point in the future, but feel there needs to be organized support for the outdoor space and infrastructure before that could happen. BOW is one way to accomplish those goals.

The message from everyone involved in either the Outdoor Round Table or Bend Outdoor Worx is clear: Bend should be a leader in the outdoor industry, and these two groups are intent on making that happen.

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Renee is the Art Director for Cascade Publications, and Editor for Cascade A&E Magazine.

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