Ruffneck Scarves scores with soccer fans
Baseball fans have caps. Football gets jerseys. Soccer has ... scarves? Jeff McIntyre, president of Ruffneck Scarves in Seattle, wants to...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Founders: Jeff McIntyre and Erin O'Brien
Revenues: More than $2 million
Teams: Seattle Sounders, Portland Timber, Vancouver (B.C.) Whitecaps, LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, Chelsea, Manchester United
Baseball fans have caps. Football gets jerseys. Soccer has ... scarves?
Jeff McIntyre, president of Ruffneck Scarves in Seattle, wants to make the scarf as synonymous with soccer in America as it is in Europe
"Next to the soccer ball, it's the most iconic item," he said.
McIntyre and Erin O'Brien, two soccer fans working as sales analysts at Microsoft, often watched games from their cubicles on a small TV. Both were Sounders season-ticket holders long before the team became part of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2008.
To add to his collection of soccer scarves, McIntyre said he used to pay $30 to ship a scarf from overseas, where they were common.
In 2007 the two decided to start their own custom-scarf company, with a name chosen to "give the scarf a more manly feel," said McIntyre.
Ruffneck Wear has grown from $40,000 in annual revenue to more than $2 million last year.
It has partnered with the Sounders FC for three years, and every season-ticket holder gets a special-edition scarf attached to his or her ticket for opening day.
In just a few short years, the company has created thousands of different scarves; they are manufactured in the United Kingdom and Portugal.
O'Brien said 95 percent of Ruffneck's work is custom scarves for professional soccer teams like Sounders FC. But the company also serves school teams. Garfield High School recently placed an order and the University of Washington has been a client for a few years.
The company makes scarves for some teams in the U.K. (Chelsea, Manchester United) and Canada (Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC).
McIntyre and O'Brien recently traveled to the U.K. to see if there was any more room for Ruffneck in that soccer-saturated country's fans.
At any game, said O'Brien, "98.5 percent, at least, had a soccer scarf on."
He'd like to see that habit catch on here.
McIntyre and O'Brien have made a point of traveling to all MLS cities to help get the Ruffneck name out.
Their business pitch isn't traditionally done across a conference table.
"We go to all the MLS cities, meet supporter groups at the pubs, buy the first round of beers for everybody, and start seeding ourselves that way," McIntyre said. "We want to create an atmosphere where people go crazy for the sport."
He said some fans haven't been as receptive to Ruffneck due to traditional soccer rivalries.
"The Portland Timbers buy scarves from us themselves, but the supporters' group, Timbers' Army, won't buy scarves from us because they hate us, because we're from Seattle."
What's next? O'Brien said the two are looking to spread soccer scarves into the NCAA and partner with colleges across the country.
"It's about the soccer fanatic lifestyle, the guy that gets tingles when the opening game is three days away," McIntyre said. "We're just guys selling that passion."
Nick Visser: 206-464-3263 or firstname.lastname@example.org