SportDOG is well known to the bird-hunting world. Their entrenchment in the market would seem to lend itself to a company that has been around for decades. Interestingly enough, however, this isn't the case. In fact, the actual SportDOG brand showed up on the scene in 2003 and has grown to prominence in just over a decade, a testament to the minds behind the brand.
One of those minds belongs to VP Lance Tracy. Tracy's path to SportDOG started with a company called Innotek. About the same time Innotek began, so did another company called Radio Systems. This is where Tracy's career path would lead him; however, as he recalls, Radio Systems did not have much of a presence in the sporting dog world.
"In 2001 an investment group took over at Innotek, where I was working. I was pretty fortunate that I had a background in the industry because it gave me the chance to go to Willie Wallace, Radio Systems COO, and discuss how I might help them. It became clear that the sporting dog category was where I would focus. Essentially I got the chance to launch SportDOG and build it from the ground up."
Under Tracy's guidance, along with help from recently recruited sales guru Steve Kelley, SportDOG developed several e-collars with a specific consumer in mind. "We didn't have a lot of money at the time, so we had to produce a great product with mass appeal. That meant lower prices that would get people's attention, but that wasn't enough. From the beginning, we envisioned ourselves as a brand for hunters," Tracy said.
That first year SportDOG unveiled seven new products at SHOT Show in Las Vegas. The following year's lineup included the SD400, the remote trainer that really put the company on the map.
You might assume Lance Tracy was born with an over-under in his hand and a bird dog at his side, but that's not the case. "I was born in Los Angeles, where, as you can guess, there aren't a lot of hunting opportunities," he says. "But I did spend plenty of time toting my BB gun around trying to shoot blackbirds that lived in an oil refinery near my childhood home."
City-dwelling blackbirds are better than nothing for a boy with a hunting inclination, but Tracy didn't get to truly flex his hunting muscles until his parents relocated to Huntington, Ind., when he was in the sixth grade. "Northern Indiana is rural, so that was where I had my first real chance to fish and hunt," he recalls. "We hunted whitetails a lot, but also groundhogs because of all of the agriculture."
Throughout his formative years and well into his 20s, Tracy owned a bevy of dogs but did not own a true bird dog until he was 25. That's when he picked up a golden retriever, although he still didn't take to upland hunting with a vengeance.
"English setter breeder Ed Rader had a lot to do with my transition to being a hardcore bird hunter," Tracy notes. "The very first time I hunted behind a setter, that was it. There is something about the way a setter looks; they are just so elegant in the field. I thought that's the dog I'd like to have." That particular dog happened to be named King Louie.
King Louie ended up fathering a litter out of which Tracy would choose his first English setter, Ripley. Tracy has added other setters to his family, hunting his favorite gamebird — quail.
"I've hunted Africa, Argentina, Canada, Mexico and all over the U.S., but I still love quail hunting the best," he says. "Four out of every five hunts I go on will be quail hunts because I simply love being out there with my dogs. For me, spending some time at Sinkola Plantation in Thomasville, Ga., is as good as it gets."
Present & Future
Tracy made up for those early days in L.A. with an undying love for all hunting and especially upland birds. This bodes well for SportDOG's future, but he is quick to point out the success of the company rests on many shoulders, not just his.
"At SportDOG we are very picky about who gets to join our team. I'm a brand geek at heart and feel strongly that anyone who joins our team must represent the brand right. That is why we've picked up folks like Steve Kelley, Jim Morehouse, Darrel Douglas, Clay Thompson and Josh Miller. All of them live to hunt and they represent our brand with the exact image we want to project."
Those key workers, and many others, are responsible for many things at SportDOG, the most important of which is the end product that makes its way to the consumer. That product line, which started with the original seven, has grown considerably over the last 11 years. Today's line-up includes the latest e-collars, of course, but also bark control collars and tracking collars.
All of these are designed for hunting dogs, which should seem obvious but is perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of a company like SportDOG. Many of the players in the e-collar business also cater to other animals, other pets, and vastly diverse products. This often means someone who wouldn't know a grouse from a musk-ox is designing a product for pets that makes a camo-transition to the sporting dog world without actually changing anything.
SportDOG doesn't do that, and this was among several points Tracy drove home.
"We have some really cool stuff coming out with mapping software from DeLorme," he says. "It's going to change the industry as far as what people think e-collars are capable of.
"We are going to keep innovating new technology for the upland hunter, the waterfowl hunter, or anyone who hunts with dogs. We won't stray into other worlds that involve cats or llamas or whatever; we will stay true to our course and cater to our consumers who are sporting dog lovers."
Tracy's assurance that SportDOG will not waiver in its direction is both reassuring and not at all surprising. There is a reason SportDOG has risen to the top so quickly, and because of that, there is no reason to doubt they will stay there.
That's good news for everyone but the birds.