People enjoy eating ice cream, so why shouldn’t dogs enjoy ice cream, too? Sounds preposterous for some but the lack of frozen delights specifically made for pet dogs gave Becky Marshall of Chicago, Illinois this bright and unique idea to start a business offering all natural frozen treats for canine pets.
As Becky said, “Like many pet parents, I will do anything for my big furry child, Hailey. She is my main inspiration. While out for ice cream one evening with Hailey and my family, I wondered aloud why ice cream stores didn’t serve frozen treats for dogs. Many people bring their dogs with them when heading out for ice cream. They end up feeding their dogs this human treat, which is not good for them as dairy products upset their stomachs.”
A graduate student studying Interior Architecture at Columbia College in Chicago, Becky started experimenting with the recipe for her product. Once she was confident of her frozen treats, she started her business Chilly Dawg (http://www.chilly-dawg.com) in 2004 offering “natural recipes for nutritious, refreshing and delicious frozen treats.”
Preparing the Groundwork for Chilly Dawg
Becky has been creating frozen treats for her dog Hailey, long before she thought of it as a viable business. She recalled, “I was making similar treats for my dog well before I came to the realization that this idea is business worthy. As a poor graduate student, I made frozen treats for Hailey with natural, healthy ingredients I had at home that she liked and it was a money saver. After researching the healthfulness of certain ingredients for dogs, I narrowed my ideas and began to test formulations. This, of course, is where having a great quality control department already in place came in handy. Hailey taste-tested many treats for me; if she didn’t eat it, then it was back to the kitchen for me.”
Once convinced she had a viable business idea, she started researching dog treats and related products, packaging ideas and materials, where and how she will sell her products, what is healthy for dogs to consume, and recipe formulations. She said, “The largest component in starting up was the research I conducted in relation to preparing my product and getting it to the market.” She credits her decade-long experience in theater for teaching her the value of “research, resourcefulness, and determination, all of which has helped me more than I realize at times.”
In her research, Becky found that similar products already existed in the market. Her goal now was to find a way to differentiate her product from the rest of them. “When I researched those products,” Becky said, “I found that they were not an all natural food and contained ingredients that are allergens, not digestible, and not healthy for dogs. These similar products contain things such as preservatives, animal fats, or chemicals. Understanding why a pet owner would want to feed healthy foods to their dogs, I realized there would be a strong need and desire for an alternative, an all-natural frozen treat.”
To get feedback and some suggestions for her business, she spoke to family members, friends and others about her business idea. She cautioned, though, “As I knew that no one was creating a product exactly like mine, I didn’t want to spread the idea around too much for fear that someone else would snap it up.“
Bringing the Product to Market
Becky started her business on a shoestring budget. After an assessment of available funding options for her, she decided to take it slow and start small. “Using a few hundred dollars of my own personal funds,” Becky said, “I was able to purchase items such as portion cups, lids, labels, and ingredients. As business has grown, I have invested the profits back into the company in order to purchase items such as a larger freezer, new packaging, and improved labels.”
Manufacturing the products, however, remains one of Becky’s main challenges. She currently manufactures the treats herself, although she is looking at options to streamline the manufacturing process without losing its homegrown vision. She described it as; “One of my biggest difficulties was finding the right method to create the treats which involved lots of trial and error until I finally found my current method. As the business evolves, I’m sure that I will need to find other methods. The research doesn’t stop once the business begins.”
Presently, Chilly Dawg comes in four flavors – Beggin Banana, Berry Brite, Barkin Apple and Puppy Nutter. “I based my flavor decisions on what is beneficial and wholesome for dogs, on what would appeal to dog owners, and research on what ingredients are being used in treats already on the market,” Becky said. “Most dogs love peanut butter so that was an easy choice, while Hailey enjoys bananas, apples, and blueberries. She also enjoys peas and carrots though my vegetable flavor, Fetch A Veg, didn’t appeal to dog owners. I do have another flavor currently in development and has so far passed rigorous taste testing with my quality control department.”
Chilly Dawg treats are currently sold in several pet stores in Chicago and San Francisco. While Becky has encountered retailers hesitant to carry the product, the general response among the distributors and retailers has been generally positive finding Chilly Dawg treats to be “a very neat concept.” Becky said, “The fact that the treats are frozen really differentiates Chilly Dawg. It can be a complication and can automatically exclude me from a retail location but it is also one of the best selling points.”
Plans are afoot to widen the distribution across the nation and expand retail opportunities for the product. Becky said of her plans, “I will be in contact with retailers such as Whole Foods this spring, and will continue to contact specialty pet shops in Chicago and in other markets around the country.” She may also consider selling the treats online, which she tried at the onset of the business.
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Category: Startup Stories