The Colorado company makes its pet products from the same type of rope used by rock climbers, and everything comes with a lifetime guarantee.
When San Francisco software account executive Sam Alter started a side hustle making and selling dog leashes in 2015, he had no idea where his avocation would one day lead him.
After his three closest friends died in separate shocking situations (overdose, car accident, suicide) by the time he was 25, Alter began to contemplate whether the high-tech life in San Francisco could truly make him happy.
He withdrew from the limelight of the city and began spending nearly every weekend in the mountains and deserts of California with his closest companion Atlas, his 2-year-old black Labrador Retriever.
“I needed to get away from the city and was just spending a lot of time with my dog because, frankly, he’s my friend,” Alter said. “He was the only reason I was leaving the house every day.”
The quality time he spent with his Labrador puppy convinced Alter that he should leave the security of his tech industry job and pursue his side gig full time.
So, in 2019, after a year of travelling across America in a custom van, Alter, his girlfriend and their two 80-pound Labrador Retrievers settled down in Golden, Colorado to establish a permanent home for the Atlas Pet Company.
“My adventures with Atlas convinced me there was a need for higher quality American-made dog gear,” Alter said. “I was spending a lot of time with Atlas, and I just felt like everything I used for our walks was not high quality. Everything was poor quality and made-in-China stuff that was sold for as cheap as possible.
“When I started this business, I knew I couldn’t compete with China on low prices or compete with them on fast shipping around the world, but I knew I had to compete on quality. I have the far better-quality products that are manufactured right here in Colorado.”
Most dog leashes, harnesses and collars offered for cheap online or in the big box stores are manufactured overseas in places like China, and sold at inexpensive price points so they can be repurchased repeatedly when they wear out. But Alter has eschewed this throw-away model by creating leashes, collars and harnesses that are repairable and come with a 100% lifetime guarantee.
If a dog chews through an Atlas brand leash, consumers can just send it back to the company where it will be repaired free of charge.
Now at the age of 35, Alter and a 10-year-old Atlas are leading a team of seven employees at a 3,000 square foot manufacturing facility located along the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It has not always been easy trying to compete with the import market, but Alter was determined to have all his products assembled right in Colorado with the finest materials.
Atlas Pet Company leashes are made of top-quality rope used by professional rock climbers worldwide. This climbing rope can stretch which allows climbers a safe hold when falling a short distance off the rock wall.
“If that rope is the only thing holding a climber to the wall and that rope does not stretch there is a good chance the climber breaks his back,” Alter said. “This is the rope we use for our leashes, and it comes from the German company Edelrid, which invented it. It’s a dynamic rope that will stretch 10 or 12 percent when pulled by weight.
“This rope we use has a very different feel than most leashes when you are holding it with a dog on the other end because when they go to lunge for a squirrel it will give so you won’t feel like your dog is pulling your arm out of its socket.
“This climbing rope we use is very expensive, but I’ve always taken the approach of buying better material because I think all these little details add up. It’s a pretty simple product but you use it every day.”
Alter has targeted his products toward a younger generation of dog owners who treat their pets like family. Baby boomers and older generations often acquired their pets only after they were married, bought a house, and had children. Even then, dogs were often relegated to the little wooden doghouse in the backyard.
“We are treating dogs a lot better today than we did 25 or 30 years ago because single, young adults view them as children,” said Alter. “Younger dog owners are living in the city, working full time, and walking their dogs in a way that wasn’t that normal years ago. Living in New York City or San Francisco and walking around those sidewalks, a smaller person wants to feel comfortable walking an 80-pound dog without getting pulled into the street.”
The Atlas Pet Company offers four assorted styles of durable leashes that come in seven different colors priced in the $75 range. There are also four distinctive styles of dog collars, which retail at $50. Atlas also offers three distinct types of harnesses, with an average price of $100.
There are additional dog accessories including poop bags, pouches, bowls, and doggie bandanas for sale on the Atlas Pet Company website.
The Atlas Pet Company has increased its sales year over year and got an extra boost during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, because the company had enough material to make new leashes and collars while all the discount pet gear was stuck on a container ship somewhere between the United States and China.
“This past year, 2023, I’ve done much better than expected in sales,” Alter said. “The pandemic was a big boost, and because so many people were buying online for the first time and us having such a higher quality product than what they sell in the stores, word of mouth was generated from new people. When you read the reviews, the quality is mentioned in most of them.
“You look at other dog leash companies where they say they are selling a climbing rope leash, it’s not actually climbing rope. It’s just cheap rope that looks like climbing rope. You never know what you might get from a leash or collar made in China.”
Alter is cognizant of the unfair competition he faces from cheap knockoffs, but when it comes to spending money on our dogs, he knows that quality will always win out. By doing his best for fellow dog owners, Alter is improving the lives of many a man’s best friend.
“People don’t want something cheap if it is something you are using every day like your dog leash,” Alter said. “We are not competing with China on the cheap market. We never wanted to be the cheapest, we just wanted to be the best.
“The whole idea around our products is that I have a dog I need to walk every day, so let’s think about their comfort, not just mine. Along with that it comes back to using better materials and to just provide a better experience than what other brands were doing.
“The argument is if you buy a $5,000 Goldendoodle, you are not going to buy the cheapest dog leash, you are going to search for the best leash you can get,” Alter said. “And that leash is made right here in Colorado, in America.”