Dog Gone it: Small Kingfield company gets its dog vests into Walmart

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A Kingfield couple has landed their tick-repellent dog vests in Wal-Mart for a sales test trial in 200 stores across the country.

It’s part of a Wal-Mart initiative to stock more Made in America products — and part of the couple’s plan to get Dog Not Gone’s name out there.

“We’re definitely excited; we’re ecstatic, really,” company co-founder Bill Swain said Thursday. “At the same time, to be honest, it’s a little scary. We’ve put (in) a lot of work and a lot of resources to get to this step. We think how else would we have ever had an opportunity like this other than to just do it.”

Swain and his wife, Julie, founded Dog Not Gone in 2005 making high-visibility dog vests and collars. Last July, they traveled to Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas, one of 2,000 people that had submitted applications and were picked to pitch at Wal-Mart’s 2015 Open Call and U.S. Manufacturing Summit.

“You get your half an hour in front of a buyer,” Swain said. “If they say yes, then you start the process. You get to where we are today.”

Wal-Mart picked one color — bright orange — in two sizes. They’ll sell under the Dog Not Gone name. The tick-repelling safety dog vests are sewn by the Swains’ other company, Maine Stitching Specialties, out of Skowhegan, which employs 22 people.

In two weeks, this first order will ship to Wal-Marts in Oregon, Texas, Florida and elsewhere across the country and start hitting shelves in mid-March.

From there, “it’s really a test to see how quickly they sell,” Swain said. “We hope we have to grow — everything is contingent upon the success of this test.”

If the numbers are good, a second test would follow at more Wal-Marts this summer. If that goes well, “with success, there we would be looking at large-percentage rollout” in March 2017, he said.

Swain anticipates needing to hire seven to 10 more stitchers if that happens.

In 2013, Wal-Mart pledged to spend an additional $250 billion on American-made products over the next 10 years to support U.S. jobs and companies.

A spokesman said he wasn’t sure how many of the 2,000 people at last summer’s Open Call were selected to move forward but that it was “a pretty good number.”

In 2015, Wal-Mart spent $76 million with Maine-based suppliers supporting, Wal-Mart estimates on its website, nearly 7,100 jobs here.

“We have other big customers and we’ve done very well with them, but Wal-Mart is a scale so much bigger than anything else we’ve done to date,” Swain said. “We see it as an opportunity to grow beyond Wal-Mart. This is really going to give us exposure to so many new customers.”

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This story was updated at 10:57 a.m. to clarify the Open Call process.

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