BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: ALPINE OUTFITTERS
Reprinted from the March/April 2006 Mushing Magazine.©Mushing Magazine 2006Alpine Outfitters was opened in 1988 by Becky and Joe Loveless of Roy, WA. Becky started making custom harnesses in a spare bedroom with a few rolls of webbing and a very old, 1930’s era, sewing machine bought with proceeds from selling her car. Business began to grow and folks from all over purchased Becky’s custom harnesses and Joe’s custom ganglines. In 1999, it was clear that the business had outgrown the couple. They were completely overwhelmed with trying to run the business end as well as the manufacturing end. Becky went in search of someone to partner up with. At that time, Carmen Rasmussen had just left her job as a County Jail Counselor and was looking for a business to run while staying home with her small children. Carmen, a novice dog musher, crossed paths with Becky for the “business match made in heaven”. It was a fateful joining that changed the face of Alpine Outfitters for good, as well as forging a terrific friendship and partnership.Carmen purchased the retail end of the business, while Becky kept the manufacturing end. Becky was then able to spend her whole time sewing and manufacturing, also doing research and development into new products and materials.Alpine Outfitters has no store front but is mostly web-based with most of the orders coming in online from www.alpineoutfitters.net. Mail/phone orders are also available with a free hard copy catalog for those who don’t have internet access or who want to pour over the catalog off line.Known for providing custom sled dog gear, virtually all of the harnesses are custom sized and colored. Ganglines are made with whatever colors and configurations desired and other custom features include information sewn on the harnesses and collars. Striving to provide the best customer service possible, they are proud of a quick order turnaround and little extras like free bumper stickers, calendars, or dog cookies with orders. All this makes Alpine Outfitters stand out in the area of customer service.Becky has the creativity and the willingness to provide custom designs and this has allowed Alpine Outfitters to make a variety of new products possible. Early in the partnership, Becky teamed up with several disabled people who wanted their dogs to pull their wheelchairs. The standard service dog harnesses were not comfortable for pulling and the X back harness was challenging to use for someone with limited mobility. Becky put her creative juices to work and designed a harness that blended the service dog harness and the traditional X back, creating the first Urban Trail Harness. A strong partnership with Daphne Lewis of Seattle’s DogScooter.com allowed the Urban Trail Harness to become the choice for people who were dog scootering. The design was easy to use and easier to custom fit. With an upward pull angle, the harness accommodated the scooter/bike naturally due to a more forward connection point. Partnering together with Becky’s ability to create new products, Alpine Outfitters came up with the Scooter Line, which became a quick and easy way for folks to attach their dogs to their scooters or bikes. The Scooter Lines and Urban Trail Harnesses have become top sellers as the sport of dog scootering took off all over the country, including areas of the south not normally known for sled dog sports.Carmen and Becky discovered that some of their own dogs ran remarkably better in the Urban Trail Harness. Both running competitive teams, Carmen in local sprint races and Becky and Joe run longer distance races including the Pedigree Stage Stop Race, the idea of increasing performance with the harness was attractive. The Urban Trail Harness, however, wasn’t suitable for use in a gangline due to the short connection point on the back. So, Becky went back to work to perfect a design that would bring the advantages of the Urban Trail Harness into a gangline configuration. The result was today’s Performance Hybrid Harness – a hybrid between the traditional X back and the Urban Trail harness. Alpine Outfitters sells to customers all over the country and around the world. Many customers are recreational mushers and dog scooterers, while many other customers are competitive dog mushers in more traditional places like Alaska and Minnesota. Another group of customers are hunting dog and agility sports enthusiasts who use the Urban Trail Harness and other products in their own sport. Alpine Outfitters made all the sled dog equipment for the Disney movie “Snow Dogs” and the Universal Studios movie “Chili Dogs”. They also made the tracking harnesses for the local police department’s K9 dogs as they needed some custom features that were not available on standard K9 harnesses. Alpine Outfitters is always working on new ideas and making changes to make products better for their customers. Several of their products (such as the soft snap quick release for skijoring and the gangline storage bag) have come from good suggestions from customers who asked for a product to be developed. Alpine Outfitters is always open to ideas and suggestions and always happy to see photos of customers and dogs. Customers are considered part of the family. Newly created products include AlpiZinc, a zinc gluconate powder to help with zinc deficiency in dogs, and a sprinting-focused X back harness based on a design custom made for Alaska’s Arleigh Reynolds. New products show up every few months as customers make suggestions or as Becky figures out a way to make a “better mousetrap.”Carmen continues to race in local sprint races, dividing her time between the dogs, the business, being on the local City Council and her children’s sporting activities. Becky and Joe have run the Montana Race to the Sky race, local and regional sprint races, the Wyoming Stage Stop race, and both are ISDRA medalists for dryland racing.If you’re ever in the Seattle area, look them up. There is always fresh Starbuck’s coffee on hand!