So long to a Chico institution

Woof & Poof owner announces décor manufacturer will be shutting its doors.

First it was the increase in employee health insurance costs. Then came the bump in California's minimum wage. Add in a seemingly nonsensical citation from the state's Department of Consumer Affairs and it became clear that the challenges were just too overwhelming for Woof & Poof, a 40-year-old Chico institution, to continue.

CEO and owner Roger Hart, his wife, Sabrina, and sister Linda Gonzalez took over ownership of Woof & Poof, which currently employs 15, 2 1/2 years ago after the passing of founder Jacki Headley in 2012. Headley started the business in 1975, and since then, Woof & Poof's stuffed Santas, decorative pillows and household décor have developed a fan-following with nationwide distribution in 600 stores.

But the popularity of the Chico-made items are no match for what Hart said are “insurmountable” obstacles. Without mincing words, Hart said although there are a variety of factors pressing down on the Chico manufacturer, the largest hardship is being based in California.

“It's virtually impossible for us to compete. The high cost of doing business in California puts us at a distinct disadvantage competitively,” Hart said.

Hart continued, saying the rising costs of doing business in the state would require him to raise product prices by 40 percent, and as a wholesaler, Woof & Poof sells to gift stores, which are struggling themselves to bring in customers.

The last straw was a state citation over the font size and type on the company's decorative pillows to conform with requirements for pillows made for sleeping. Hart said the fine was eventually waived, but the Department of Consumer Affairs said the changes—which Hart said would be expensive—still needed to be made, with the looming threat that the state could seize the company's inventory if they weren't.

Though Hart said some advised him of taking Woof & Poof production offshore to increase profit margins, he felt that the option wasn't right. Instead, the family is closing up shop. Manufacturing has ceased and the remaining inventory will continue to be sold in retail outlets, locally at downtown's Made in Chico.

Hart said he doesn't know what the next move is for him professionally, but one thing is for certain in his mind: if he stays doing business in California, he's going to be facing an uphill battle.