TailsInc.com

Issues

Local Pet Entrepreneurs Share Their Secrets to Success

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Lots of people have good ideas. Cool concepts for products and gadgets are written on bar napkins across America every night—with only a tiny percentage ever going father than that. Starting a business and putting your idea out there for the masses to critique takes heart, courage, time, money, and a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work that most cannot even imagine.

TAILS spoke with some unique and talented women in the pet industry who are working to make their dreams a reality.

Anabell Salazar

moxino photo2

Moxino Collars: Handmade dog collars
Etsy.com/shop/MoxinoCollars
Established: 2013
First Job: Food runner/cashier
Job you had before starting your business: Catering operations manager

What was your inspiration for creating your first product?
My rescued Pit Bulls Moxie and Dino. Moxino (their “Brangelina” name) have always played a bit rough; they always seemed to tear each other’s collars apart. A few of their collars withstood the test of time, but others not so much. That’s what lead me to start taking them apart to see for myself what worked and what didn’t.

How long did it take you to make your first prototype? How has it changed/evolved since that first one?
My first prototype was made from the best of the recycled webbing, hardware, and buckles that were left over from my dissection of collars. I had some fabric and I sewed it all together and the rest is history. Of course, now I use all new heavy duty materials. A little known fact is that my first collar was actually made for one of my foster puppies, not my own dogs.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
If you would have asked me this question previously, when I also had another job, then my answer would have been my family. Now I can honestly say that I’m one lucky girl because I no longer have this problem. I love my job!

What is the most rewarding thing about being in the pet industry?
The pet industry is so much fun because you get to interact with pet lovers. I’m always learning something new because most pet lovers are always willing to share stories about their furry loved ones.

moxinoWhat was the most unexpected thing you learned owning your own business?
The thing that surprised me the most is how quickly the word can spread about a product regardless of whether it’s good or bad, all thanks to the power of the Internet.

What do you wish you knew before you started?
I wish I would have planned better and reached out to other collar makers for some advice. I’ve learned so much the hard way because I didn’t do what I always recommend for others to do: If you don’t know, find someone who does and just ask.

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
I’m happy I didn’t know how much paperwork is involved with running a business. I hate paperwork but I’m finally getting better at it.

Who is your greatest mentor and why?
My greatest mentors are my parents. Both my parents have always been hard working people and they have definitely instilled that in me. They always have, and continue to, help me in any way they can. I am very lucky to still have them both and I love them very much.

Is there a favorite quote you use to keep you focused/motivated?
If you can believe it, you can achieve it!

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
One of the many reasons I got into the collar business was to be able to donate to the dog rescue groups I volunteer for. I currently foster puppies for Project Rescue Chicago, and I’ve worked with Be Fido’s Friends and Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue. I also volunteer for the Trio Animal Foundation. I know the financial struggles the rescue groups face daily and I want to do what I can to help them because they inspire me every day.

What is your least favorite part of owning your own business?
Having to say no sometimes. I would love to be able to donate to everybody that asks but this is still a very young business and the finances can be challenging.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business or product?
I still get goose bumps when people tell me how much they love my durable collars or how I donate to dog rescues.

What is your superpower?
My love for dogs. They truly keep me going.

How does your product help solve a problem and/or make people and their pet’s lives better?
I use the best materials available to me to make the most durable collars for my customers. It gives my customers peace of mind knowing that the collar functions the way it should even when their dogs play rough. I also offer custom sizing and I have one-of-a-kind, custom-printed Chicago fabrics.

What is one thing no one knows about you?
I’m a total foodie and I hum when eating something really good. My husband and son pointed it out to me so I try not to do it in public.

What do you still dream of doing?
I haven’t vacationed in years but I hope to be able to go to a beach in Mexico with a few of my girlfriends soon. Or a trip to Italy or Spain.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My good friend Tootsie always says you should do what makes you happy because you only live once and no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.

What do you specifically love about having a business based in Chicago?
I love the one-on-one interaction I get from the small business owners that carry my collars. They’re all great people to work with. I always get valuable feedback from them and we get to toss around some ideas on what works and what doesn‘t. I’m a Chicago native and I can honestly say that there is no other city I would rather be in.

If you did not own your current business, what would you be doing?
I would probably be still working in the restaurant industry.

Paula Etchison

Paula

The High Hopes for Pets Company: All natural dog treats
HighHopesForPets.com
Established: 2010
First Job: Tennis instructor
Job you had before starting your business: Director of Innovation for ConAgra’s frozen food portfolio

What was your inspiration for creating your first product?
I carried the idea of creating a birthday kit for dogs in my head for 10 years, and after too much time spent working for big companies, I decided it was time to do my own thing. I also believe in giving back, so starting High Hopes was an easy choice.

How long did it take you to make your first prototype? How has it changed/evolved since that first one?
My nutritionist (Dr. Willard) and I made the first prototype in my kitchen in 30 days (my kitties loved getting into the cupcake mix that first day, and even now, they still try to steal the mix!). Because it’s all human-grade ingredients, we tested the product, too. Over the last 3 years, I’ve had my share of cupcakes!

hp_new_birthdayOn the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
I think about how the more we accomplish, the more we can give back. 

What is the most rewarding thing about being in the pet industry?
Combining my passion for business with something I truly love—animals.

What was the most unexpected thing you learned owning your own business?
That the types of stress are so different, and that I’m much happier managing them (versus working for a big company).

What do you wish you knew before you started?
How much I love it—I wish I had started earlier!

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
That the fortune of good luck and timing always play a role no matter how hard you work.

What book has inspired you the most?
I’ve been so focused that I haven’t had time to read a good book lately…thanks for reminding me!

Who is your greatest mentor and why?
My father, who always gave me unconditional love, and taught me about compassion, following your heart and doing the right thing.

Is there a favorite quote you use to keep you focused/motivated?
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” From Shawshank Redemption.

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
I’m a HUGE list maker!

What is your least favorite part of owning your own business?
The bureaucratic tasks of running the business.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business or product?
That we care.

What is your superpower?
My energy and tenacity.

How does your product help solve a problem and/or make people and their pet’s lives better?
Like super-premium pet foods, our treats tend to be more nutritious and include higher protein levels derived from animal protein sources. Doggies love them, and moms and dads can feel good about their nutrition and that they are giving back to help dogs who are less fortunate.

What is one thing no one knows about you?
I’m super sensitive and shy.

What do you still dream of doing?
As the company grows, I’d like to put greater focus on prevention through education, especially with young children. Compassion is such an under-rated skill, and if we can get to the children early to nurture the human-animal bond, maybe we can help prevent some of the animal cruelty out there and get more pets adopted.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who was it from?
Early on in my career, I had a boss who cared enough to be very honest with me about a lack of discipline in my thinking skills. It was the most brutal feedback I’ve ever received (he actually made me cry), but he was so right. What would have been a crippling hurdle to future success has turned out to be one of my greatest strengths. I worked really hard to improve my skills and will always be eternally grateful. The best thing was I saw him many years later and got to thank him for it. I try to pay it forward with people I mentor too—in a nice way.

What do you specifically love about having a business based in Chicago?
I think Chicago is one of the coolest cities on the planet. There’s so much diversity, and it is a city full of doggie lovers! What’s not to love?

If you did not own your current business, what would you be doing?
I’d have to figure that one out. I know I can’t go back, which is another factor that drives me to make this business a success every

Bobbi Panter

bobbi panter with bebe and Cece.local products

Bobbi Panter Pet Products: All natural shampoos and conditioners
BobbiPanter.com
Established: 2004
First Job: Clerk at a dry cleaner in Wheaton, IL
Job you had before starting your business:  Actor/writer, TV and Second City

What was your inspiration for creating your first product?
My dog, Bobo, had eye surgery and they used steroids which destroyed her skin and fur and changed her demeanor.

How long did it take you to make your first prototype?
2 ½ years.

How has it changed/evolved since that first one?
Improved formula, changing packaging, added new products.

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
Love my family…it makes me feel settled.

How does your product help solve a problem and/or make people and their pet’s lives better?
All of my products are salt free, tear free, and very high in essential oils that are allowed to penetrate the skin and fur because of the no salt. Each product is designed for specific problems like Itchy Dog, Stinky Dog, Bad Hair Day Dog, etc. with oils that solve that problem. Stinky Dog removes skunk in one wash because the oils go into the skin. Itchy Dog helps so many dogs that have been scratching for years! I love the emails I get from customers that my products have helped.

bobbipanter

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
The thought of helping all the animals with my problem solving formulas and just looking at Bebe and Cece, my dogs and spokesmodels (Bobo has since passed).

What is the most rewarding thing about being in the pet industry?
All of the feedback from customers with pictures of their dogs.

What was the most unexpected thing you learned owning your own business?
You have to learn as you go along to solve problems that you never even thought of, from legal and accounting issues to a clogged toilet in the office.

What do you wish you knew before you started?
Looking back, a business partner who had experience would have helped avoid a lot of mistakes.

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
How much work it would be and the sacrifices I’d have to make in order to be successful.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Respect and treat people the same whether they are the janitor or president of the company AND always do your best in whatever you do.

Who was it from?
My dad.

What book has inspired you the most?
So many…The Secret, Think Big Act Small, Donald Trump’s books, Kevin O’Leary from the Shark Tank’s book and daily inspirational books by Joel Osteen.

Who is your greatest mentor and why?
My father, who is gone now too…at the same time as Bobo. He was the greatest salesman I have ever known. His advice and words come into my head every day. I get to talk about him all the time. I even named my flea and tick shampoo after him: Charlie Dog! His picture is on the back and the dog on the front looks like him. I always say, he would much rather have a martini named after him but dog shampoo is all I do.

Is there a favorite quote you use to keep you focused/motivated?
It is what it is.

What is your superpower?
God, my family, and caffeine.

What do you still dream of doing?
Designing clothes

What is your least favorite part of owning your own business?
Firing employees.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business or product?
Being picked out of 10,000 products to go on QVC!

What is one thing no one knows about you?
I wanted to be a race car driver.

What do you specifically love about having a business based in Chicago?
It’s close to home and Chicago has a great support system and great people!

If you did not own your current business, what would you be doing?
Right this minute…reading a book on the beach!

Linda Carr

Buster biscuits

Buster Brown Biscuits: Homemade jerky and baked treats
BusterBrownBiscuits.com
Established: 2013
First Job: Toy department salesperson at Wieboldt’s department store
Job you had before starting your business: In my “day job” I am a manufacturer’s rep. I aspire to make Buster Brown Biscuits my full-time job.

What was your inspiration for creating your first product?
In 2007 Toby, my Labrador, began to experience severe intestinal issues. After many diet changes and medication that didn’t improve the situation, I started to research dog nutrition and put him on a home cooked diet. I know first-hand how challenging it can be to deal with food allergies and sensitivities. I am gluten-intolerant and unable to have sugar. I enjoy cooking and experimenting in the kitchen and I have spent years developing recipes that do not compromise my own health.

Toby was later diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). I worked to develop food and treat options that he could safely enjoy, and soon realized that my expertise and experience could benefit the growing numbers of dogs who can’t eat what is commercially available to them.

busterbrownHow long did it take you to make your first prototype? How has it changed/evolved since that first one?
I worked on different recipes for months. I wanted my treats to support overall health so I experimented with different herbs like chamomile, parsley, and mint. In addition, I included spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and rosemary. All of these ingredients help soothe the stomach, are easily digestible, and have anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. They are also a good source of vitamins.

With each new batch, I would pass them on to friend’s and neighbor’s dogs, agility and nosework dogs, and even dogs that I met at the vet’s office. Once I decided on the flavors, I obtained the required guaranteed analysis information needed for the packaging labels, and got Buster Brown Biscuits licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. I have since added a variety of jerkies which have become very popular. So when I’m not baking, I am dehydrating meat proteins!

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
My ‘kids,’ Toby and Callie. They come in when the alarm goes off, jump on the bed to greet me, then lie down for a few minutes to snuggle before we start the day with a walk. With so much to do I don’t usually have too difficult a time getting out of bed, but starting my day with them sure makes the effort worth it!

What is the most rewarding thing about being in the pet industry?
Being surrounded by the pets and the pet parents. It warms my heart when I see the dogs enjoying a piece of jerky or one of my dog treat cookies and knowing that the ingredients are beneficial to their health. Our pets add so much pleasure to our lives, I’m grateful for the opportunity to produce a treat that people with pets can provide for their pleasure. I also really enjoy the conversations with the pet parents who are willing to share some fun stories.

What do you wish you knew before you started your own business?
Since this is a fairly new business, it’s difficult to say…probably everything!

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
Just how difficult it is to get a new business established.

What book has inspired you the most?
I have to admit that I don’t make the time to read as often as I would like, but one book that touched my heart was Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. Mr. Pausch shared many inspiring lessons and stories with honesty and humor. A wonderful perspective of living in the moment that had me reflecting on my own life.

Who is your greatest mentor?
My mom. She was an amazing person who worked very hard her entire life. She was kind, fun to be with, loved to laugh, and joked with everyone. She believed that you should live each day to its fullest and tried to do so even when life was difficult. She had some hardships growing up and quite a few health issues, but she never let that stop her from doing anything. She taught me so much. I only wish she was still here so I could share my experience of opening this new business with her. She would have been very supportive, and being the creative person that she was, I know she would have had some good direction and ideas for me. She was an extraordinary woman whom I miss every day.

Is there a quote you love that keeps you motivated?
No, but I believe we all have what it takes to be successful, good people, as long as we don’t give up and keep working towards our goals.

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
I learned so many beneficial life lessons from living with and watching my parents. They were honest, responsible, helpful to others, worked hard every day, always took time to enjoy their family, and enjoyed life’s simple pleasures. I try to live my life by their standards in my personal and business life. I try not to take anything or anyone for granted. It may be a cliché, but life is too short so we have to try and live each day as best we can and do right by others.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business or product?
I have a client whose dog is very finicky and won’t eat many other treats. So far he has eaten all of mine with the exception of one. He was actually my favorite treat tester. If it got “Dude approved” odds were they would be acceptable to other pets.

What is your superpower?
The desire to help pets safely enjoy a quality treat and to offer any advice I can to the pet parents.

How does your product help solve a problem and/or make people and their pet’s lives better?
With the issue of so many ill pets from imported jerky products, [I’m proud] that my jerky is safe. I source meats within the US, primarily from the Midwest, and make it to order so it’s not only as fresh as possible, but it maintains as much nutritional value as possible. All of my baked treat recipes include combinations of herbs and spices to support overall health. My goal is to create homemade dog jerky and baked treat cookies that dogs love to eat with ingredients that people with pets can feel good about.

What is one thing no one knows about you?
That I was promoted in elementary school from third to fifth grade so I never attended fourth grade.

What do you still dream of doing?
Working to make this business successful and seeing my products in specialty pet stores in and around the Chicago area.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to who you are.

Who was it from?
My parents.

What do you specifically love about having a business based in Chicago?
Chicago is a very dog-friendly city and Chicago is home. It’s where I grew up, where I raised my daughter, where I met my supportive husband, where I’m watching my grandsons grow up, and where the best fans in the world are!

If you did not own your current business, what would you be doing?
Working my current full-time job as an office manager. Spending quality time with my husband Dave, whether watching a movie, discussing our day, or planning our next adventure, we really enjoy just being together. Visiting with my daughter Michelle and my two grandsons, Nicholas (2) and Ethan (5 months). I am very fortunate that they live very close so I can see them often. They are a such a joy. Taking Toby and Callie to the park, enjoying long walks, and going to whatever, nosework, agility, or obedience classes we have scheduled. Enjoying my time in the kitchen, cooking, baking, and coming up with new recipes. Getting together with friends for lunch or dinner. Volunteering with Canine Therapy Corps, Safe Humane Chicago, and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Jennifer Blaese

Jennifer Blease with Winston Mabel

Loft 312 Inc.: Eco-savvy pet products
Loft312.com
Established: 2012
First Job: A paper route that I shared with my brother
Job you had before starting your business: Sales Associate at Ann Sacks Tile & Stone

What was your inspiration for creating your first product?
I had two Border Collie rescues and could not find a convenient way to carry my poop bags. I either put them in my pocket or tied them to the leash. Since I had two dogs, it was not uncommon to be caught without a bag.

How long did it take you to make your first prototype? How has it changed/evolved since that first one?
It was just a dream until I met my husband––his father is an electrical engineer. After discussing the design, he made our first prototype in an afternoon. We hired an independent industrial designer to refine the exterior and ensure the product was consumer-friendly. The overall function has always been the same, but the esthetic has changed dramatically.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
My customers’ loyalty and the commitment to myself to make the business a success. My husband and I have put our life savings into the business, so failure is not an option.

What is the most rewarding thing about being in the pet industry?
I have been in several different industries including retail, interior design, and housewares. The biggest difference is the relationships I have made in this industry. I have created a network of friends that have the same love and compassion for animals. I’m able to give back and support animal rescue organizations which is part of our mission as a company.

StylizedGroupofLoopsWhat do you wish you knew before you started?
Success doesn’t happen overnight. In a world filled with technology and high-speed everything, I underestimated the time it would take to ramp up the business. People in the business work talk about rapid growth and scaling the business, but growing organically can be just as rewarding.

What book has inspired you the most?
The Art of Happiness; I’ve read it three times. It’s a gentle reminder to have compassion for yourself and those around you.

Is there a favorite quote you love that keeps you motivated?
 “Be the person your dogs think you are.”

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
I try to take time for myself whether it be long walks with my dogs, gardening in the summer, or yoga and meditation. Work, life, balance is difficult to achieve. Taking care of myself improves my relationships both personally and professionally and keeps me focused.

What is your least favorite part of owning your own business?
Currently, I am operating the business on my own. Accounting and bookkeeping is a necessary evil.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business or product?
People compliment me on the achievements I have made within a short period of time. Customers love our products because they are innovative and elevate our category to a higher level of quality and design.

How does your product help solve a problem and/or make people and their pet’s lives better?
The Loop is designed to be an accessory—a convenient and stylish way to carry your bags. It dispenses the poop bags one at a time, securing the rest for future use. The GreenLine improves all our lives by not negatively impacting the environment. We developed the first landfill biodegradable poop bag on the market. Our competitors are either selling regular plastic or using old technology that does not biodegrade in a landfill environment.

What is one thing no one knows about you?
That I don’t know my own birthday.

What do you still dream of doing?
I want to have an animal refuge someday.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who was it from?
Follow your passion and stick to your values. My mom’s advice.

What do you specifically love about having a business based in Chicago?
Chicago has always been considered a friendly city. We have a great entrepreneurial culture and the city supports small businesses.  Regardless of if you are in manufacturing or technology, we all face some of the same challenges and we support each other.

If you did not own your current business, what would you be doing?
I would probably be stuck in corporate America. It’s hard to be open-minded when you work in a culture that restricts you from thinking outside the box.

Jami Ippolito

phoebe louie1

Phoebe & Louie’s Fresh Homemade Pet Food: Lightly cooked, whole foods for pets
PhoebeAndLouies.com
Established: 2013
First Job: Scooping ice cream at Al Gelato in Elmwood Park, IL
Job you had before starting your business: Owner of Paw Naturals pet store (still currently own)

What was your inspiration for creating your first product?
I have been cooking for my dogs for a while, so I’m very familiar with the benefits. I also own a natural pet food store and I know the products out there. I realized there was no one filling the niche of “cooked fresh whole food” diets for pets. There is a lot of raw food but not cooked fresh. I decided to take the chance and put something unique on the market.

How long did it take you to make your first prototype? How has it changed/evolved since that first one?
Because I’ve cooked for my dogs, the prototype has been in my head for a while. But it has gone through many evolutions in the formulas, methods, and packaging. We’ve finally produced a product that we are happy with and that dogs absolutely love. We have many more ideas in the pipeline.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?
It’s easy to get out of bed when you love what you do. I really feel like we are making a difference in the pet food industry, an industry that has been shrouded with secrecy, false claims, and misinformation about what is truly healthy for pets. Educating people on pet food and watching dogs thrive, not merely survive, is what drives me.

What is the most rewarding thing about being in the pet industry?
The most rewarding thing is a happy healthy customer. We witness firsthand what the benefits of a good diet can do for a variety of ailments. Plus, it’s so much fun to work with dogs everyday. That’s my happy place.

phoebelouiesWhat was the most unexpected thing you learned owning your own business?
All the things I didn’t know: How to be a good boss and get the most out of your employees, how to manage 5,000 inventory products in store and online, and accounting. Oh, how I hate accounting—but I had to learn it quickly if I wanted to survive!

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?
How truly difficult and stressful owing your business can be. I have a pretty high tolerance for risk, but I had no idea the stress it can take on you. Having your employees, partners, vendors, customers all counting on you can take a toll.

What book has inspired you the most?
The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets. It’s a wonderful book by my holistic vet and friend, Dr. Barbara Royal from Chicago. She’s a pioneer in the holistic care of animals and an advocate of a home-cooked diet.

Who is your greatest mentor and why?
Both my parents are my mentors. They always give good advice in life and business, even if I didn’t see it that way when I was 16!

Is there a quote you love that keeps you motivated?
“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, and that means you’re not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win.” – Unknown

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?
I feel like I’m always working, experimenting, learning, and researching. It’s a natural extension of who I am. I also need to have family time and blow off steam with friends.

What is your least favorite part of owning your own business?
When something goes wrong, you can’t “call the boss” to ask how to fix it. You are forced to figure it out yourself.

What is the best compliment you’ve received about your business or product?
When we hand out a sample and the customer comes back the same day to buy a couple pints, that’s a darn good compliment. In February, we made the cover of Pet Food Industry magazine and won a Pet Business trade magazine’s 2014 Editor’s Choice Award.

What is your superpower?
Predicting trends before they happen.

How does your product help solve a problem and/or make people and their pet’s lives better?
The body needs real food in its whole form to thrive and be healthy. The vast majority of pet foods are dry, shelf stable, and full of fillers and toxins. Any food that sits on a shelf has toxins in it. Our product is the anecdote to that. We use fresh real meats and vegetables, along with superfoods like apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, sprouted seeds, and pink Himalayan sea salt. They work to alkaline the body and reduce acidity, so disease and inflammation cannot thrive.

What do you still dream of doing?
My dream is to grow both Paw Naturals and Phoebe & Louie’s into famous brands.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My friend Charlie told me, “Chances like this only come once in a lifetime; don’t blow it.”  

What do you specifically love about having a business based in Chicago?
I love Chicagoans. This is my home, born and raised. Chicagoans are open to new information, especially when it comes to the health of their pet.

If you did not own your current business, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be in a sales job that I hate.

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One Comment

  1. Carol PanterApril 19, 2014 at 10:22 pmReply

    I’m really curious whether I’m related to Bobbi Panter; we have the same last name, and it is a VERY uncommon one in the U.S.!

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