Providing Companies ‘Legos’ to Manage Online Business

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – The folks at ZaneRay Group are fully capable of managing your website, but they’d rather offer you the toolkit and let you do it. And they’re confident that the toolkit will work, because they built it.

ZaneRay Group is a full-service Web development company on First Street East in Whitefish, boasting a client list that includes Patagonia, Nixon Watches, Horny Toad and Competitive Cyclist. “Full service” means the company “offers everything from consulting, graphic and user interface design, complex Java programming, systems integration, to hosting and SEO strategies,” according to its website.

From the back end to the front end of a site, ZaneRay can do it all. But because the company has spent many years building its own software, or its “toolkit,” as co-founder Henry Roberts calls it, ZaneRay is able to create a site and then pass along the appropriate tools and knowledge so the company can run the site itself.

Roberts said one employee out of the 15-employee staff works specifically on Patagonia’s site, whereas half the staff used to be dedicated to Patagonia, one of the world’s leading outdoor apparel companies. Using ZaneRay’s software, Patagonia can run its own site, for the most part.

Roberts said his company spent years building its own software, though the extra hours didn’t generate any revenue at the time. He uses a children’s analogy, saying that ZaneRay offers a company Legos to build its own custom toy castle, while similar companies offer an already-built toy castle.

“With that toolkit, they can think outside the box,” Roberts said. “They can be more flexible.”

ZaneRay Group incorporated in 1999 in Kalispell. The company started in the Whipps Building, moved to the KM Building and then moved to Whitefish, where it outgrew several locations before moving into its First Street spot. It’s about to outgrow its current building too, Roberts said.

The company’s original founders were Roberts, Reed Gregerson, Dean Hamilton and Keith Brown. Roberts, Gregerson and Hamilton are still with the company.

When the group formed, each founder brought his own clientele – Gregerson was a consultant for Patagonia. In some ways, ZaneRay was a startup with a veteran company’s resume. That’s why the founders started the company: They knew they had enough work to take the next step, Roberts said.

ZaneRay doesn’t advertise and has never got a loan, Roberts said. That allows the company to focus on its work at hand, instead of spending time searching for new clients. And the clients always seem to come. ZaneRay adds one or two employees per year, a steady growth that Roberts attributes to word of mouth and reputation.

“We knew there was enough work to do what we do,” Roberts said. “We’ve never borrowed a dime; we’ve always made money.”

He added: “We grow when the phone rings.”

With growth has come client diversity. Traditionally known for its work with outdoor-oriented companies, ZaneRay has taken on clients such as Nixon Watches and M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans. M.S. Rau Antiques is one of the largest antique dealers in the world, offering goods ranging from Vincent van Gogh paintings to Paul Revere silverworks. Roberts concedes it’s an unlikely transition.

But the outdoor industry remains ZaneRay’s foundation, which Roberts said is sensible for its Montana location. Roberts recalled a time when an executive from Sage, the fly-fishing company, traveled to Whitefish for a meeting.

“We had a meeting in the morning,” Roberts said. “Then we all went fishing. The Montana thing works well there.”

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