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Rooted firmly on Oak Street, Kerrits expands

Kerrits Activewear traditionally includes packets of carrot seeds with customers’ purchases, but the store’s rarely glimpsed underbelly is anything but seedy.

In fact, the cavernous area below the retail store houses the corporation’s new distribution center, an expansion that could rope in another $2 million in sales annually.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Kerrits C.E.O. Kerri Kent. “We started shipping in August, and there are lots of employment opportunities. We need to up our staffing for this venture.”

Kent noted that when people think of Kerrits, they usually focus on the retail section. But there’s more to the 17-year-old business than what customers see on ground level.

Seven years ago, Kerrits moved to its current location after hopping between other downtown and port locations. The 7,200-square-foot building houses the retail store and offices, a pattern development area upstairs, and storage and shipping areas downstairs.

There are also plans to open a room of sewing machines with a window where customers can drop off repairs and have custom work done. Previously, such work had to be shipped off-site, and the expansion should create a brisk overall process.

Meanwhile, the downstairs shipping area will be used to distribute Kerrits’ burgeoning equestrian line.

“During the last 11 years we had a distributor shipping it for us,” said Kent. “Now we’re taking that on ourselves, to give better service to the trade.”

Kerrits ships to around 350 equestrian retailers across the country, and Kent hopes that they will soon expand their foreign markets to include Europe and Australia. Already Kerrits ships to Canada and Mexico, and their Web business accounts for about 10 percent of the company’s sales (www.kerrits.com).

“We’re a very successful brand on the market,” said Kent, “and it made sense to bring the distribution back home.”

Kerrits’ larger lines are produced in Vancouver and Portland, but the corporation employs as many local sewers as it can, many of whom work out of their homes.

Kent, a horse enthusiast and rider herself, began developing equestrian products in addition to Kerrits’ retail and swimwear lines when she was approached to design a line for a company that eventually became their first distributor.

Since then, Kerrits has become more involved in the equestrian community, sponsoring the Hood River Classic, professional riders, pony clubs, handicapped riding programs, and other local events like the Hood River Hotel’s fashion show and Christmas project.

“We’re proud to be a sponsor of the Classic,” said Kent. “It brings equestrians to Hood River, and it helps other businesses and the hospital.”

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