Pet Food Entrepreneur The Buzz


Doggie treats bring to mind a box of dry biscuits from a grocery store shelf or pet store. But along with an increased awareness of human health issues came a need for special bakeries for our canine friends. These bakeries -- touting all-natural, sugar- and fat-free snacks for pets -- are catering to pet lovers all over North America.

A Biscuit Cutter and a Vision

It all started in 1990 when a pair of entrepreneurial spirits scraped up 59 cents to purchase a biscuit cutter. "We didn't have any savings or baking experience, just a vision," says Dan Dye, co-owner of the Kansas City-based Three Dog Bakery, in The Columbian. That vision was inspired by a trio of dogs -- Gracie the Great Dane, Dottie the Dalmatian and Sarah the black lab mix -- rescued from the pound.

"I couldn't pronounce 40 of the 50 ingredients in the biscuits we were buying for them," says Mark Beckloff, the other half of the Three Dog team. "I wanted treats with ingredients I could identify." The duo's lifelong love for dogs led them to set out on a mission: to develop the world's best dog biscuit and get them to as many dogs as possible.

"It's a very rewarding business for us," says Beckloff, who began selling biscuits on lunch breaks and weekends from his "real" job. "The greatest thing is that we have about 70 employees who we're providing for. That really is the most rewarding aspect of running our company."

The Menu

The menu at Three Dog Bakery includes delicacies like Mutt Muffins, Scotty Biscottis, St. Bernard Bars (peanut butter squares with yogurt frosting), Collie Flowers and 50 other kinds of sugar-free pooch pastries. The goodies are all low fat, made from wheat flour dough baked with garlic, peanut butter or honey cinnamon. Some are dipped in unsweetened carob or sprinkled with spices and cheese.

On the downside, Beckloff says that unlike his past job at a pharmaceutical firm, there's no such thing as punching out at 5 p.m. "There are constant pressures and it's very stressful. You can't just leave at 5 and not be thinking about the business. We're working and creating jobs for other people, so there's a lot more responsibility involved."

When Beckloff and Dye interview people who want licenses to run their own Three Dog Bakeries, the pair looks for certain qualities.

"We look for people who love dogs. No cat people allowed!" jokes Beckloff. "People going into this emerging field need to be creative and definitely possess an entrepreneurial spirit. If you don't have the inner drive to succeed, then there's no way to overcome the bleak and dark times, when throwing in the towel is the easiest way to go."

Other Three Doggers

The mother-daughter team of Anne and Jane Rogers recently opened a Three Dog Bakery in New Orleans' French Quarter. "Business is good," says Anne, who got the idea from a magazine article about the Three Dog team. "We've had a tremendous response thus far." Anne and Jane add a special touch to their store by hosting dog parties, weddings and "yappy" hours.

For anyone looking to start their own doggie bakery, Beckloff has a warning. "In the beginning, we were totally losing money. But getting all of those 'pawsitive' reviews about our treats really kept us going. We had no business experience whatsoever -- just a dream and a belief that we could succeed."

Going into business was a big jump for both partners. Dye worked in marketing and copy writing. Beckloff is a former accountant.

"Our backgrounds complemented each other very well, and our pairing up has really worked out," says Beckloff. "With one of us handling the financial end of the business, and the other taking care of the marketing and advertising, we couldn't lose."

The pair has written a book chronicling their entrepreneurial adventure entitled, Short Tails and Treats from Three Dog Bakery. They've been on the Conan O'Brien Show, the Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show, and had write-ups in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

"I think the timing was just right for us," says Beckloff. "Dogs claimed their places as important members of the family, and pet owners finally realized that they need the healthiest food and snacks available."

Competition

Three Dog Bakery was the original doggie bakery, but now several other entrepreneurs have entered the all-natural treat business. With names like Bone Appetite, Treats! and Merrick Pet Delicatessen, they too have found pet lovers very receptive to healthy pet snacks.

Making biscuits is not the only way to bite out a piece of the doggie food market for yourself. For example, Vancouver resident Moneca Litton wrote The Doggie Biscuit Book. It contains recipes for dozen of healthy meals and snacks for pooches.

The demand for such recipes has also been noted by Joyce and Aonghas MacLeoid. They run the Tibetan Spaniel Network, an Internet site devoted to this exotic breed. They say they've included the recipes simply to comply with all the requests for them!

So whether you're looking to open your own doggie bakery or embark on a related business endeavor, it's apparent that a real desire to succeed combined with a keen business sense is what makes entrepreneurial dreams come true. Read, listen, absorb advice from those who have been there (like the Three Dog owners), and research the field before taking a bite.

Links

Three Dog Bakery
Visit the original doggie bakery online

Merrick Pet Deli
Offering a line of all-natural pet treats and chews, delicatessen-style