From Pet Store Basement to 400,000-Square-Foot Manufacturing Plant

What do horse feed baskets and dog collars have in common? In the case of Tom Stout, one of the original co-founders of Coastal Pet Products, making horse feed baskets from poly ski rope inspired him to make dog collars from the same type of material – at a time when dog collars were only available in leather, and always had been.

At the time, Tom owned a pet shop called Alliance Pet and being a tinkerer at heart, he loved spending time in the basement of the pet shop experimenting with new products.

“He moved faster than the speed of sound if he had an idea,” brother Jim Stout says.

Lucky for him, there was enough interest in some of these products from other pet stores that he brought on two partners and tried to make a go of it. But it wasn’t until brother Jim started helping out with sales from his home in Massachusetts that the company – at the time called Mustang Products – took off.

The new orders, from large wholesalers, were more than Tom and his partners could hand manufacture in the basement of his pet store. The orders were also larger than his partners were looking to get involved in.

So, Tom and Jim went out on their own, forming Coastal Pet Products in October of 1968 with a budget of $300 to get themselves started.

(Jim chose the name “Coastal” because as a farm boy growing up in Ohio, he’d always been fascinated by the Atlantic Ocean. Today, he jokes it’s perfect because the company sells products coast to coast.)

By 1974, Coastal Pet was big enough to require its own manufacturing facility and a staff of 10.

Nothing lasts forever, however, and Tom left the business in the early 70s. But he left behind a legacy of and passion for innovation, two of which would forever change the company.

The first was a move away from poly ski rope in 1975 to making collars and other products out of a nylon webbing. That was really the turning point, Jim says. In 1977, Jim cemented his place in pet industry history, inventing a new type of curved buckle that was more comfortable for the dog wearing it. Called the Kanine Buckle, it is now the industry standard for all metal buckles. (Years later, Jim would also invent other pet restraint products.)

Today, Coastal Pet has moved well beyond dog collars, leashes and harnesses, manufacturing and wholesaling dog and cat toys, cat accessories, pet travel products, and more.

From his early days, Jim has emphasized quality. Coastal Pet was stress testing their products well before other manufacturers. By learning to identify the weak points of their products, they could further innovate new versions that were stronger and longer lasting. 

One story Jim likes to tell that highlights the quality of Coastal’s products is of a woman whose dog jumped off a bridge while chasing birds. The harness held up to the weight of the dog hanging over the bridge and she was able to pull him up, no harm done. Similarly, one Coastal's car seat harnesses saved the life of a cowboy’s “little dog” when his truck hit a beef cow in the road. The cowboy and truck weren’t so lucky. He broke his wrist and the truck was totaled. But his dog was fine.

Today, the 400,000-square-foot Coastal Pet manufacturing facility and overall business is run by Jim’s daughter Kim, who he jokes got her start in sales when she was six years old selling sweet corn on the road near her grandfather’s farm. Jim hangs in the background, pitching in whenever he’s needed.