Thursday, August 24, 2000
Steamboat Springs One of the Yampa Valley's homegrown agricultural businesses could soon be busting out of the local retail market with a new product geared toward corporate buyers.
Since 1997, Routt County Woolens has bought wool from local sheep ranchers to make into high-quality, limited-edition blankets. In 1999, the business added yarn, and this year the company has added an innovative new product.
"We've come up with a lightweight washable throw in five colors," said Susan Shoemaker, one of five owners.
"You can take them on picnics, keep them in your car," she said.
Not so unusual, but the local business is selling them in lots of dozens to corporations with their specific logo on it.
"The city is buying so many and putting their spur on it. The (Steamboat Grand) is also buying the throws with their logo on it and giving it to their new owners," Shoemaker said.
Now the company is in negotiations with its first big buyer outside of the Yampa Valley Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
CSU "thought it was a great thing," Shoemaker said. "We always get that feedback." The great feedback may be prompted by the company's unusual mission.
Routt County Woolens products can be ordered year-round on the group's Web site at www.coloradowool.net
or by telephone at (970) 871-6363.
"The mission of our company is to stabilize the market for wool producers and we decided to start with Routt County," said co-owner Nancy Mucklow. "We're trying to give them an incentive to stay in business."
And boy are they. This year, wool was selling on the market for about 38 cents a pound. Routt County Woolens is paying local sheep ranchers nearly double that.
But it's paying off for everyone involved. Sales have doubled since 1997. Company officials wouldn't disclose numbers, but say they've been profitable from the start.
The owners, all of whom run sheep, say people are more willing to buy locally-made products if they believe it is doing some good. Others agree.
"I think the community understands that if you buy local, you support the local farming and ranching community," said Ellen Stein director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving the agricultural heritage of the Yampa Valley.
"I don't know of any other resort area that is actively working to preserve agriculture, except maybe Crested Butte," Stein said.
Charnel Wille is one of the dozen local sheep owners helped by Routt County Woolens.
"It gives us a chance to sell our wool locally. It's more cost efficient for us," Wille said. Otherwise, Wille and others would have to take their wool to Fort Collins or pool it into a cooperative.
"Transporting the wool makes the cost higher," Wille said.
Not to mention the prices aren't as good, she added.
But best of all, said Wille, "It's fun to know your wool is actually in a product" you can see in the local stores.
George Brown is the only co-owner whose main income comes from his sheep ranch.
"We never have a shortage of ideas of what we'd like to do, or try to increase our ability to use more wool," Brown said.
"We hope to come out with new products every couple of years. We're a pretty cautious bunch and we don't want to extend ourselves beyond what we could handle," Brown added.
The limited-edition blankets only 600-700 will be made will be available in local retail stores after Nov. 15. The patterns are never repeated once they're sold out.