At age 40, Osprey continues to lead with innovations

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 10:50 PM
Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Iain Berdzar, right, and Don Roberts prepare a shipment of backpacks at Osprey Packs. Started in 1974 by Mike Pfotenhauer in a rental home in Santa Cruz, Calif., the company is turning 40 years old. It now has 108 employees worldwide and is headquarted on a hilltop in Cortez.
Sam Green/Cortez Journal

The original Osprey backpack from 1975 has changed dramatically over the years.
Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Sam Mix discusses one of the newer models of Osprey Packs. The company celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Mike Pfotenhauer, Marilyn Jones and one unknown person at the Dolores Factory circa 1990.
Mike Pfotenhauer in 1974.
Osprey's production staff in Vietnam.
Courtesy of Osprey Packs

Osprey has a production facility in Vietnam. Last year, 1.5 units were manufactured there.

In 1974, the Osprey was on the endangered species list. Mike Pfotenhauer recalled seeing it as a boy in the wilds of Wyoming. It was a unique bird. One he admired.

"Most of my competitors have named their companies after themselves," said Pfotenhauer, founder and lead designer of Osprey Packs. "I didn't care to use my name, plus it's quite difficult to spell."

When he opened a retail backpack shop at his Santa Cruz, Calif., rental home 40 years ago, Pfotenhauer said he never imagined Osprey would ever be much more than a cottage boutique. Now headquartered on a hilltop in Cortez, Osprey Packs, a global leader in manufacturing gear-carrying equipment, celebrates its ruby anniversary in 2014.

"Osprey is 40 years old thanks to all of the people who have dedicated themselves to making the company the best they could," Pfotenhauer penned via email from the company's Mill Valley, Calif., design studio. "I think of them when I celebrate our 40 years."

Maintaining control of the enterprise throughout the company's history, Pfotenhauer said in reminiscing over a near half-century in business, he has stayed focused on allowing capabilities to match demand and maintaining and sustaining organic growth - the same ideals that guided the company starting in 1974.

As a young entrepreneur, Pfotenhauer said he was always evolving and trying to reinvent the business, and he partly attributes the company's longevity to continuously improving and redesigning its products.

"That's been going on for 40 years without any letup," he said. "Our gear gets better and better, and our customers look to us for innovation and great customer service."

Forty years ago, company growth was more a matter of survival, but today, Osprey is a global enterprise. An estimated 1.5 million units were manufactured from its production facility in Vietnam last year. Those products, including a long line of outdoor packs specifically designed for hikers, skiers and bikers, were sold around the world.

"Osprey's global growth has been especially rewarding," he said.

Company commitment

Osprey's packs come with a lifetime warranty, one the company calls an "Almighty Guarantee: Any Reason, Any Product, Any Era" - even if a squirrel chews through a pack or an airline employee rips off a strap.

All Osprey-sponsored athletes are encouraged to help the environment by donating $2 for every pack purchased to select nonprofit organizations. Sam Mix, the company's outdoor marketing manager, said the Pro Deal Program celebrated another banner year in 2013.

"Last year, we raised over $15,000 from our Pro Deal donations," Mix said.

Mix said the Pro Deal funds were divvied between multiple nonprofit environmental groups: Conservation Colorado, American Whitewater, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation and Mountain2Mountain, Wilderness Volunteers, The Wilderness Society and The Alaska Wilderness League.

The company is also mindful of the local community. Osprey holds both a spring and fall local's only sale, and last year's proceeds of nearly $7,000 were donated to the Four Corners Child Advocacy Center, Mountain Studies Institute, Southwest Colorado Canyon Association and Dolores River Anglers Chapter 145 of Trout Unlimited.

The future

Osprey is also committed to its position as a major economic driver in the Four Corners. Last year, the world's top manufacturer of gear-carrying equipment grew its workforce by more than a third, adding 22 new employees to its headquarter operations in Cortez. Osprey's 110 global employees, including 85 locally, are paid a living wage at the minimum, said Osprey CEO Tom Barney.

"We're building a stronger foundation for the business by investing in our team members," he said.

In 2014, the business expects to expand its labor force even more. Barney said at least nine new employees would be hired in the coming year, including a new chief operations officer and a creative director.

The need to increase its workforce is due in part to greater awareness the company has received from industry accolades. Last year, Osprey was honored with Men's Journal's Gear of the Year Award for the Ozone 22 wheeled travel pack, Outside magazine Gear of the Year Award for the Xena 85 women's technical backpack, Outdoor Gear TV Gear of the Year Award for the Raptor 14 hydration pack and Outdoor Gear Lab Editor's Choice Award for the Aura Series women's technical pack.

"We've survived because we've focused on our strengths, but we now have a target on our backs," Barney said.