The Associated Press
February 23, 2009
BEND, Ore. -- Rick Fredland was worried that his dog might one day hurt himself by snagging his collar.
A dog belonging to a friend accidentally hung itself after its traditional collar was snagged on a fence, and Fredland had heard countless other similar stories.
Fredland -- who has lived with his wife, Noelle, in Bend for two years -- owned his own rock climbing store in Southern California. So he began using climbing materials to work on a dog collar that was safer.
"We had no intention of being in the pet industry," Fredland said. "We just heard all these horror stories and started trying all these safety products, and they didn't really work. We had a climbing shop in L.A., and I started taking webbing home and elastic and I started sewing collars for our dog."
And Fredland's company, Tazlab (named after Fredland's now 8-year-old Australian Shepherd, Tasman), was born.
He fitted the collars with an elastic piece that stretches the collar if a dog gets its collar stuck. That allows the dog to slide free of the collar without choking.
With the help of a friend, Fredland and his wife decided to take the collar to market.
"And finally I was like, 'There has to be a market for this,' " Fredland said. "I got a friend involved who was really good at colors, and was a designer by trade, and he made them pretty. And we just went into business."
Turns out, there are a lot of dog owners that share Fredland's original concern.
Now, the collars come in eight colors and more than a dozen sizes at a retail price of around $15 per collar.
From a small warehouse in southeast Bend, Tazlab has expanded its product offerings to include safety leashes and other dog-related products, which are mostly manufactured in China to save cost.
Tazlab is currently shopping for a U.S.-based company to manufacture his wares that, at the same time, will allow Tazlab to keep its prices competitive, Fredland says.
Tazlab's growth has been undeniable. The company, which wholesales its products to mostly independent retailers and sells direct through its Web site, has more than doubled its sales from January 2008 to the same month in 2009, Fredland says.
"They have really been getting more of a national market," said Amie Brown, the owner of Bend's Downtown Doggie, which sells Tazlab's entire line of products.
Brown says Tazlab's safety collar, meant to be a quick release, is far different than most safety collars that break away when enough pressure is applied.
"They really have a unique product as far as the construction of it," Brown said. "Of course, there's thousands of companies and probably I only deal with 2 percent of them. But I haven't seen another product like that."
Tazlab has expanded beyond safety products.
The company's hottest item is a silicon travel dog bowl that at first glance looks like a traditional bowl. But the difference is the lightweight item folds up so dog owners can bring the dish wherever they take their pooch.
"We sell those like crazy," Brown said. "People just love it, even if they aren't planning to travel. They just think it is a cool bowl."
Tazlab's growth has come at a time of economic upheaval. He hopes to add an employee or two this year.
But Fredland does not feel the company -- which has one employee beyond the owner -- has passed the point where it will safely navigate through the turmoil.
Still, he is hopeful.
He said orders from independent stores have definitely slowed down, but "there is so much room for us to increase our presence that we can still grow -- even if our existing accounts are slower."
Fredland, a former customer service trainer for Patagonia, has borrowed much of his business philosophy from the well-regarded outdoor clothier, including a focus on customer service.
And Fredland has his eyes on the future.
For instance, after years of resisting, Fredland is planning to make his safety collars adjustable, so a retailer won't have to carry more than a dozen sizes.
Tazlab's next product will be a doggie bag, similar to a diaper bag for dogs, that pet owners can stow everything a dog on the go could need. That includes the silicon doggie dish, which is included in the bag.
And his intention is to expand distribution this year.
"We've just scratched the surface of where we can get this all out there," Fredland said. "Our whole focus is on innovation. If somebody asked what business are you in, I would say the innovation business. Because that's what I love to do."