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 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 inside 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. “Osprey is totally product driven. Our gear gets better and better, and our customers look to us for innovation and great customer service.”
Two score 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.
Just as Pfotenhauer relied on word-of-mouth in the mid-1970s, Osprey’s message is reverberated with the aid of about a dozen or so athletes the company sponsors. One holds Osprey in such high regard that she agreed to a Cortez Journal interview while on her honeymoon in Hawaii.
“Osprey has the most caring employees,” said World Champion Extreme Skier Alison Gannett. “To them, I am more than just an athlete, an ambassador or a number. That’s what I love most.”
When on the slopes, Gannett said her go-to gear from Osprey is the Reverb backpack, a line that considers the practical utility for skiers. When on the trails, Gannett said she had to have Osprey’s Raven pack, the company’s premium line of mountain bike hydration packs tailored for a woman’s body.
All of Osprey’s packs come with a lifetime warranty, one the company calls an “Almighty Guarantee: Any Reason, Any Product, Any Era.” For Gannett, an Osprey-sponsored athlete since 1995, that assurance is true peace of mind.
“Osprey’s guarantee improves my gear-carrying experience,” said the National Geographic Woman Adventurer of the Year.
Even if a squirrel chews through a pack or an airline employee rips off a strap, the no-questions-asked promise is even more meaningful to Gannett. Also an award-winning global cooling consultant, Gannett lives on Holy Terror Farm in Paonia, where, she says, she has cut her carbon footprint in half by growing and raising almost all of her own food.
“The company’s iron-clad guarantee helps to save the planet by using less resources and decreasing needless consumption,” said Gannett, founder of the Save Our Snow Foundation.
All Osprey 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.
Osprey also benefits the environment with a specific aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the purchase of carbon offsets. The company offsets the carbon produced from all motor freight shipments, FedEx shipments along with trade show and international sales travel via the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. In 2012, Osprey’s carbon offsets totaled 578,347 pounds of carbon dioxide, an amount equal to 1,257 miles driven by the average American passenger vehicle.
“One of our goals to be environmentally responsible,” Mix said.
In addition to the environment, 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.
“Most of our local charitable organizations operate on a shoestring budget,” said Mix. “They do great work for the community, and we’re proud to help.”
Osprey is also committed to its position as a major economic driver in the Four Corners region. 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 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.
“The industry awards are outstanding,” said Mix. “They push us to do more.”
“We’ve survived, because we’ve focused on our strengths, but we now have a target on our backs,” Barney added.
Looking forward, and to remain independently owned and operated in an already crowded industry partial to conglomeration, Pfotenhauer said the company must be mindful of the seemingly increased faster pace of the ever-changing global marketplace.
“Osprey needs to continue to be flexible in adapting new ways to design, develop, build, market and sell their products,” he said.
And with new sustainable materials and processes, information technology upgrades, greater energy efficient transportation methods and improving work/life balance for employees, Pfotenhauer is hopeful Osprey will continue to bulge at the seams.
“You can expect to see a steady flow of new and innovative products from us,” he vowed. “We are never content with the gear we develop. It seems it can always be done better.”
To learn more about Osprey Packs, visit www.ospreypacks.com.