The Montana company saw so much new business during the pandemic it opened another factory.
Millions of Americans began working from home during the dog days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interaction with colleagues, friends and family members has been minimal for many homebound workers. To combat loneliness and boredom, a record number of Americans have turned to “man’s best friend.”
More than 23 million American households – approximately 1 in 5 nationwide – adopted a pet in 2021 according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Topping the pet list are dogs, who are most likely to help fill in those lonely hours and provide a mental health boost.
Dogs provided joy and comfort to the pandemic human condition for the past two years, and now is the perfect time to become “dog’s best friend” and return the favor to our four-legged buddies. Saturday is the 4th Annual National Make A Dog’s Day, which encourages everyone to do something special for that cherished family dog in their lives.
If you already are a dog owner, purchasing a new toy might just be the pathway to your canine’s heart.
West Paw is a dog product manufacturer located in Bozeman, Montana that produces top-quality, American-made dog toys, beds, leashes, collars and treats. Its plastic dog toys are eco-friendly with an emphasis on sustainability and producing safe, non-toxic, FDA compliant puppy friendly products.
West Paw is a family-owned business launched in 1996 by company owner, president and CEO Spencer Williams. The company has had steady growth during the past 26 years and even had to open a second factory during the pandemic because of consumer demand.
In addition to the company headquarters, a 12,000 square-foot facility in Bozeman, West Paw also now manufactures through its injection molding process at a 9,000 square-foot factory in Columbia Falls, Montana, located about four hours north of Bozeman.
“The pandemic was a big boost for us,” said Andy Wunsch, West Paw’s vice president of Marketing and Sales. “The pet industry is very large to begin with, and then early in the pandemic when people were at home, they realized they not only had to occupy their dogs while they were trying to get work done at home but there were millions of new puppies that joined houses early in the pandemic.
“During the early days of the pandemic, there was a spike in pet products that took off and we just ran out of capacity here in Bozeman. West Paw has always been focused on creating jobs in Montana, so we had the chance to purchase one of our contract manufacturers in Columbia Falls outright so we did that in the summer of 2021.”
Although West Paw makes products for most all a dog’s needs, its injection molded plastic toys are by far the company’s biggest seller. The company offers a product line of nearly 300 different toys that includes puzzle and rough chew toys as well as the basic play toys.
West Paw’s toys are made with Seaflex, an exclusive blend of recycled ocean-bound plastic and zero-waste Zogoflex. All the plastic toys are BPA-free, phthalate-free and Latex-free and are FDA compliant.
“Zogoflex is our proprietary material in our injection molding side and is fully recyclable in a close-looped system,” Wunsch said. “Seaflex is a new material that we launched in June of last year, around World Ocean Day. It is plastic that is very likely to make it to the river and then make it to the ocean. It is all collected, repackaged, and sent here where it is repurposed. It is mixed with Zogoflex to make the Seaflex dog toys line of products.
“We’ve been able to recycle and utilize the plastic from over 16 million bottles that would likely have ended up in the ocean.”
West Paw employs more than 80 people in its two facilities, two-thirds of whom are directly involved in the manufacturing process. All products except one – a doggie treat pouch – are manufactured in the United States. The company sources 89 percent of its materials from American-based vendors.
Surprisingly, West Paw sells most of its products through brick-and-mortar stores. The majority of its business comes from the 3,500 retail outlets that feature its accessories.
“We do a little selling online through Amazon and Chewy, but the bulk of our business is through pet stores,” Wunsch said. “Most people usually have to buy a bag of dog food about every 30 days, so the stores get quite a bit of traffic. We have great retail partners in the U.S., Canada and also distribute to 48 countries around the world.
“We are not in the big box stores, but we work with Petco, Amazon, Chewy, Pet Supplies Plus, Mud Bay and then we work with thousands of single store and multi-store family operated businesses as well.
“We’re roughly 25 percent online and 75 percent retail. A lot of that has to do that bag of dog food. If you are downtown you pick up a bag of dog food and might buy a toy or two and some dog treats, so a significant number of independent retailers are doing very, very well.”
The pet market was a $120 billion industry in 2020 and 2021, with pet accessories such as toys making up approximately $35 billion of the market share.
West Paw’s best selling dog toy is called the Toppl, which is both a treat and puzzle toy that can be used both as a slow feeder for those puppies that eat too much, too fast and a puzzle to stimulate the dogs thinking.
“You can build treats and things and insert them into the hard plastic which will definitely keep your dog’s attention,” Wunsch said. “For me, I make mine with treats on the bottom and fill it with chicken broth and freeze it. I might give it to my dog in the morning while I read the paper. It takes them about 30 minutes to solve so it is great if you have to jump on a call and you need your dog to be quiet because he is trying to figure out the puzzle and get to the treat inside.
“On the play side, our Zisc frisbee or Sailz frisbee is great, because it has a hole in the middle of the disc and half the time when your dog picks it up the nose pops out of the front of that hole, and they run it back to you. Its is the greatest thing ever. They have so much fun with the Zisc and Sailz.
“And the Drifty is a plastic bone that is much easier on the dog’s teeth and gums. It’s a great fetch toy, a great tug toy and a chew toy for moderate chewers. Sticks can actually be very dangerous for dogs with wood chips, splinters and things getting stuck in their mouths. So, we kind of tried to reinvent the stick with a plastic toy that is like a bone.”
Most of West Paw toys come in three assorted color schemes and all of the playthings float on water. The doggie baubles come with a “Love It” guarantee that is convenient because there are just some dogs that break everything even though West Paw has a Chew Squad of about 200 dogs that test the products for durability.
“We are in it to make the best dog toys that there are in the world and (CEO) Spencer’s been a dog owner his entire life,” Wunsch said.
“There is a significant amount of dog toys made overseas, but we try to focus on what we really do well, which is making durable, sustainable dog toys here in Montana. Spencer has been focused on making our products in America for the 26 years he has been in business and is proud to create jobs and help the communities we serve.”
West Paw American-made dog toys are sold online and in more than 3,500 retailers across the United States.