ARLINGTON — Among the youngest entrepreneurs running a successful business in Snohomish County are recent Arlington High School graduates Craig Davis and Conner Cave.
Three years ago, the friends teamed up to launch Vitalire, creating an entrepreneurial venture that’s growing almost too fast for them to keep pace with the orders for their high quality outdoor and sports clothing.
“Vitalire means to live life with passion,” said Davis, 21. “Our apparel represents an active outdoor lifestyle and an appreciation for the wonderful Northwest area we call home.”
Designed for snowboarders, wakeboarders and everyone else who loves the Pacific Northwest, their T-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts are decorated with custom designs that have caught a lot of attention in the marketplace.
“It started when we were seniors and we silk-screened a sweatshirt with big letters promoting ‘The Evergreen State’ for Craig and myself and few friends,” said Cave, 20. “It got a lot of attention at school. Everyone wanted one.”
When they realized how strong demand was for their product, and what a broad market there would in the Northwest, they decided to form their own business.
“We just kind of fell into it by accident,” Davis said. “Now we’re into our third year and looking for a larger location to expand our production.”
Started in a home garage, Vitalire soon outgrew that space. Earlier this year, they signed a six-month lease for a small, 250-square-foot office on the second floor of a downtown Arlington office building on Olympic Avenue. Using that space for running the business and setting up their website, www.vitalire.com, the two young men had their products imprinted by a third-party supplier.
“When we opened this downtown office we thought it was huge, more space than we would ever need,” Davis said. “Now, with the business growing, we’re already out of space here so we’re moving to a warehouse in the Westar Properties business park at the Arlington Airport,” Davis said.
With the Westar space, Cove said they’ll have space for their own silk-screening equipment, materials and inventory.
The business may be small but it already runs things according to three established core principles: Maintaining superior quality in their products, including printing their designs on extremely high quality fleece; promoting sustainability in their manufacturing by producing products without compromising resources; and emphasizing the “extreme importance” of supporting community charities.
In Vitalire’s first year in business, Davis and Cave sponsored Arlington’s first Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society, an event that set a record nationally for funds raised by a first-year effort. They’re now in their third year of supporting that annual event.
When they boast on their website that “Vitalire is made up of a young, passionate group of Pacific Northwest locals looking to make a difference through the way we work and live,” they mean it. Even their business name, Vitalire, refers more to their guiding philosophy than it does to their products, which also leaves plenty of room for developing new lines of merchandise without being limited by their business name.
Says one of the prominent messages on their website: “We are more than just a clothing company, we are a genuine Northwest brand and we care about much more than just profit margins.”
They’ve also joined the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce, all part of taking their business and growth seriously.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in business or marketing,” said Davis, who recalls being inspired by seeing his mother’s involvement in her cleaning business. “Just the idea of being responsible for yourself and your own success is an idea I like.”
While Davis prefers the marketing and organizational side of the business, Cave puts his creativity to work on the manufacturing process.
“Like Craig, I had that drive to do stuff on my own and work for myself, being able to create things,” Cave said. “Also, we have a few local artists who do designs for us. One of our most popular designs is a totem pole of Northwest symbols, created by Ryan Klein in Stanwood.”
Besides snowboards, Vitalire’s product markets extend to wakeboarding and surfboarding, mountain biking and hydro boats.
“We already have 10 sponsored athletes who wear our clothing, including Ian Wood of Maltby, a professional snowboarder all year long, at Stevens Pass and other Northwest snow venues in the winter and in Chile during the Northwest summer, when Chile has its winter season,” Cave said.
Athletes chosen to wear Vitalire clothing have to be more than just athletes, the two men emphasize. They have to be “good people, too.”
When Davis and Cave started out, they spent a “lot of time and money” to build a quality website that sells merchandise through Paypal and major credit cards. Most of the sales are in the Northwest but they’ve also shipped products to New York, Ohio, Canada, Italy and Turkey.
“It’s interesting that our first design, the Evergreen State, is still our top seller, hands down,” Davis said.
Their products also are marketed through four Northwest retail outlets, including Smokey Point Cycle Barn in Marysville, Grizzly Sports in Monroe, Hidden Wave Boardshop in Burlington and Revolution Snow and Skate in Wenatchee.