Business Focus: Catching up with Portland Design Works

Posted by on June 23rd, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Portland Design Works-60

Erik Olson (L) and Dan Powell
of Portland Design Works.
(Photos © J. Maus)

It’s been almost a year since we first reported on Portland Design Works. The company was started by Erik Olson, a former general manager of Wisconsin-based bike accessory juggernaut Planet Bike. Olson has since brought on another ex-Planet Bike staffer, Dan Powell, to be his partner.

Portland Design Works officially launched for business this past January and they didn’t start actually selling product until March. I got the lowdown on how things are going from Dan and Erik when they swung by our office a few weeks back.

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My first question was, of course, “How’s business?” According to Dan, “things couldn’t be going any better.” He says even though they’ve done very little marketing and advertising, people are seeking them out and shops are calling with inquiries. They chalk it up to word-of-mouth and some positive coverage of their products on Web.

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The “poco pump”
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Dapper Dan grips

Part of the reason for the good buzz is likely due to the distinctive and aesthetically appealing products. Erik and Dan have nailed the look and packaging of their products, and more importantly, they work well too.

3wrencho tool
(Photo: Portland Design Works)

Doing particularly well, they say, is their 3wrencho tool. The 3wrencho ($20 retail) is a combo tire lever and axle nut remover. Popular with the sizable single-speed and track bike/fixie market, the steel tool is simple, strong, and it works. The success of the 3wrencho is particularly satisfying to Dan and Erik because it’s the first product they dreamed up — from a back-of-the-napkin sketch to full prodcution.

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Dan Powell

PDW’s grips have also started to take off. I’ve got a pair of the leather Dapper Dan Ergo grips and they are quite nice.

The guys also brought by one of their new, all-metal, frame pumps. It’s a real beauty with a CNC’d aluminum head, a forged lever and a bamboo handle.

But Dan and Erik realize that good products alone won’t ensure a successful business. They’ve also been very careful with their expenses as they flesh out their product line and commit to more and more distributors. Both originally from Wisconsin, they’ve taken on the Portland spirit.

They’ve started to screen their own T-shirts, they donate 1% of their sales to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and they use computers from Free Geek. Their 2,000 square foot space in Southeast Portland serves as one-half office and one-half warehouse (where they do all their own packing and shipping).

Portland’s growing bike industry has also been an important influence on the company. Dan and Erik say they recently got valuable product design feedback from bike builder Ira Ryan and they’ve started a semi-regular BBQ/networking get together with friends from Portland’s Ruckus Components (a fledgling carbon fiber component maker) and others in the local bike industry.

Next up for Portland Design Works is a line of cargo racks. Once those are introduced, Dan and Erik say they’ll focus on marketing and setting up more distributors. They’ve already got dealers and distributors in Japan, Australia, Canada and England, and they’re looking to add more in Europe.

Dan says at this point, his company is so new that some distributors, “are waiting to see how we do before they start ordering from us.” Judging from what I’ve seen, they should get their orders in now.

Check out more from Portland Design Works at

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Portland Design Works’ cool bike tools | thegraffiKsauceJoe Doebele (Joe Bike)Shawn Smallevan ross Recent comment authors
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it’s not ‘all metal’ if its got a bamboo handle


It’s “all metal” in the Ronnie James Dio sense.

Bill Stites

Nice to see a slow-build for a homegrown company doing some beautiful products. By that I mean, a careful and considered model for growing the way they want to grow.
I’ve seen the Dapper grips in JoeBike’s shop, and they are … as they say back in NY … ‘gorgeous’.

Keep rockin’ on the hot design work.


Wow, so they manufacture this stuff in Portland?!? Great!


Cool article. Nice to see small startups making headway and those DD ergo grips look wicked cool! I’d like to get my hands on those (yeah, bad pun intended!).


evan ross

sexy products and nice guys. I have nothing but good things to say about these friendly people who are serious about function. Go PDW.

Shawn Small

Great guys that are putting out great products. Also great to share space with!

Joe Doebele (Joe Bike)

And they’re Pynchon fans.



No, they design the stuff in portland, but is still manufactured in asia.