Posted: August 16, 2013, 1:00 p.m. EDT
West Paw Design founder Spencer Williams shares his drive to manufacture eco-friendly products and how such products affect the pet market.
By Marissa Heflin
A love for pets was one motivation behind Spencer Williams founding West Paw Design in 1996. Another was a desire to enter the manufacturing business and to say "we made something useful” at the end of each day.
The Bozeman, Mont.-based company focuses on eco-friendly dog and cat toys, dog and cat beds, and dog sweaters, all of which can be found at more than 2,800 U.S. specialty retailers and online at www.westpawdesign.com. The products also are sold in more than 25 countries across the globe. Natural Pet Product Merchandiser spoke with Williams about why being eco-friendly is so important and about the company’s upcoming new products hitting market shelves.
Spencer Williams founded West Paw Design and stresses the importance of eco-friendly products and processes. Courtesy of West Paw Design
NPPM: Why is it important to you to have products that are eco-friendly and made in the USA?
SW: For us, it comes down to safety and responsibility. All of us at West Paw Design care deeply about pet safety and want to create products that are nontoxic and in line with our values. By manufacturing our products in the USA, we’re able to ensure the safety and quality of the products on the spot. This is obviously a lot easier when our offices are in the same building as our manufacturing facility.
We also consider the environment and the ecological impact of our manufacturing practices and products. West Paw Design manufactures products in a state-of-the-art facility using the latest developments in energy-efficient design. Additionally, we use recycled, recyclable, sustainable and organic materials in our products. Not only are our products eco-friendly, but they’re also durable. When customers buy toys that their dog or cat can’t destroy quickly, fewer toys will go into the landfill.
NPPM: What does "eco-friendly” mean to you? Can you give some examples of how the products encompass this?
SW: Eco-friendly means being responsible to the planet every step of the way—from the facility to the raw materials and finally the finished product. It’s one thing to make recyclable products, but if we’re not manufacturing them in an environmentally responsible manner, then it negates a lot of the work we do.
This is why we constructed a state-of-the-art facility in Montana using the latest developments in energy-efficient design. The building was designed so that the original 20-foot-high back walls of the building could be moved back and reused in the new structure, reclaiming 175 tons of concrete. Our building and land plot is capable of an additional expansion with the same cost and concrete savings.
As far as our products, every single one of our beds and stuffed fabric toys is filled with super soft IntelliLoft fiber or batting. To date, West Paw Design has helped to divert more than 5.4 million bottles from landfills. Creating products that use IntelliLoft recycled material can use up to eight times less energy than it takes to manufacture the same material new.
In November 2012, we introduced a near-zero-waste product called the Black Hurley, which uses up to 120 pounds per week of previously not reusable Zogoflex materials. We do this by combining multicolored materials we aren’t able to recycle into one of our standard bright colors and adding a touch of black colorant. The additional Black Hurley toys help us continue growing our Join the Loop program whereby we recycle all customer returns of Zogoflex toys.
We use recyclable or recycled products whenever possible. Our ReKnitz dog sweaters are made from reclaimed cotton. This means that though cotton is a crop resource, our sweaters are made from crops already grown and harvested that would otherwise go to waste. This reduces waste, adds no new chemicals and saves water. We use products such as hemp in our new Hemp Bed Collection. Hemp is considered a low-impact agricultural product; it is a naturally durable and renewable resource that can be grown without pesticides or agricultural chemicals. Last, we use U.S.-grown catnip in our cat toys that is USDA certified organic.
NPPM: What are your thoughts on today’s market for eco-friendly products? Has the market changed since the company started?
SW: Since we started 17 years ago, there are a lot more eco-friendly pet toy manufacturers on the market. In my opinion, anything a company or an industry does to help the greater good is a wonderful thing. I would just advise consumers to educate themselves on a company’s manufacturing practices. Like any industry, companies greenwash their claims, so consumers should ask themselves, "What truly makes a product or a company green?” For example, what are the company’s manufacturing processes? How much waste do they produce?
West Paw Design
Location: Bozeman, Mont.
Owner: Spencer Williams
Years in Business: 17
Area of Distribution/Business: International
Sales Growth (year to year): 10 to 20 percent
Company Mission: West Paw Design is an environmentally green company that cares about the sustainability of the environment and believes in making a positive impact in and beyond the pet industry. Driven by a passion for pets and the joy they bring, West Paw Design seeks the most innovative designs using the best possible materials, resulting in a meaningful value for its customers.
Product/Business Lines: Dog and cat toys, dog and cat beds, and dog sweaters.
NPPM: How does West Paw Design differentiate itself from its competitors?
SW: Most of all, it’s the people we hire. We hire people from varied backgrounds who possess unique skills. By hiring people who come from different industries, we’re more innovative, and we’re smarter about our processes. We listen to and learn from each other, and this makes us better and different.
Another differentiator is that we stand behind our products. Our Zogoflex dog toys come with a lifetime money back or replacement guarantee. We are so confident in the durability of these products because we do our injection molding on site. This gives us the ability to inspect each toy we make. Lastly, as an American manufacturer, we strive to buy domestically sourced, eco-friendly materials whenever possible.
It is important that we support other American industries, such as organically grown agricultural products. This helps the marketplace as a whole and creates a demand. This is buying local on a global scale.
NPPM: Are there other ways your company is making a commitment to the environment?
SW: We reuse materials and repurpose produce boxes for storage. The paper packaging used for Zogoflex toys and pet beds is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. We also use soy-based ink and postconsumer/postmanufacturing plastic, as well as offer a closed-loop recycling program so that qualified products never need to be thrown away. Through our Join the Loop program, customers can send back recyclable products (such as our Zogoflex toys), and we’ll cover the recycling costs.
NPPM: Are there any new products or product lines?
SW: We recently launched the Heyday Bed with microsuede. This new bed has a microsuede cover, and like all our beds, it’s stuffed with IntelliLoft. Because this bed is made with microsuede, it’s easy to clean, and it’s durable. We’re also conscious of our beds’ aesthetic. This bed comes in modern colors and patterns that complement our customers’ home décor.
We also introduced two products to our near-zero-waste black Zogoflex collection. <HOME>
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