Rory Carr

RC Products' founder Rory Carr and Miller, wearing the brand

How a B.C. company went from making sports accessories to pet paraphernalia

RC Products Ltd., which makes pet gear in a South Vancouver warehouse, doesn’t have a doorbell or buzzer, but arrivals don’t go unnoticed. Knock once, and a chorus of barking dogs announces your presence.

There are usually about 10 pooches in the office, says Rory Carr, the company’s founder and president. In the open area, custom-built desk-high pens with gates surround each workstation.

“If you’ve got a dog that’s got a little anxiety, they’re contained and they’re safe and it’s enough space that they’re not claustrophic,” observes Carr, who is mild-mannered and soft-spoken, unlike the canines. “They’re a little loud at times,” he admits. “If one dog starts barking, then they all start barking. [But] if you’re having an off day, you can just stop and spend a minute with your dog and it sort of puts things in perspective.”

“Everything we do enhances the bond between pets and their guardians,” reads the slogan painted on the wall, but that wasn’t always the firm’s goal. In 1986, Carr started making straps to tighten the tops of ski boots after mistakenly ordering 10,000, instead of 1,000, yards of nylon webbing for the Vancouver Can-Ski shop where he worked. He launched RC Power Products a year later and eventually branched out into other items, including Looney Tunes watch straps and keychains through a sublicensee arrangement with a Toronto company, which suggested adding dog products. Carr tried selling these through Tisol pet stores without success but realized how big the pet market was. Tisol let him switch the Looney Toons items for his own branded leashes and collars—and by 1995 he was in the pet business.

At RC Products, fashion has gone to the dogs (and cats)

RC Jacket

17

Sizes for the Cascade dog coat

RC Collar

40

Dog collar patterns

25

Cat collar patterns

The company shipped its last sports order in early 2017 and now focuses entirely on its pet brands: RC Pet Products (collars, leashes, coats, sweaters); Canine Equipment (performance gear); Canine Friendly (safety and travel items); and RC Pets Toys. The leashes and collars are made at the 110-employee Vancouver facility, the clothing is designed in Vancouver and manufactured in China, and the toys are handsewn in Nepal, providing stable jobs for local women. The company also supports cat and dog rescue organizations through its Carlos’ Cause program.

Carr believes what differentiates RC Products is variety and fit. Coats are “fashion-forwardish,” he explains, but most important is freedom of movement. Notices on the company’s Facebook page invite owners to bring their dogs to be measured so RC Products can determine where it needs to make adjustments.

Last year the business celebrated its 30th anniversary and shipped 1.2 million pieces to specialty pet stores in the U.S. and Canada, among them the Bosley’s by Pet Valu in New Westminster. “If a customer has something that’s not working for them, RC Pets is fantastic at taking care of it,” says franchise owner Karima Jivraj, adding that the collars and leashes last forever.

Compared to a ski business, “the pet industry is, more than most industries, less economy-driven,” Carr notes. “You’ve got to be on trend, [and] we sell raincoats for dogs so we’re somewhat weather-dependent, but if you’re in Vancouver and you’re selling raincoats for dogs, you’re pretty safe.”