Friday, February 22, 2008

So long baby, bye bye, farewell

A little Ode to "The Biscuit"

I started my dog biscuit business in 1998 after leaving my job as bank manager. My job had been eliminated and I was given a choice...take another job in the bank, or take a severance package. I grabbed the package. We sold our downtown home in Canada's capital and moved "to the country". We had 2 dogs at the time and I got this crazy little idea... I decided to start up a dog biscuit company. They are fairly common now, but at the time there weren't many around. We were the first in Eastern Ontario, and because of that I received lots of press for a few years for various reasons.
In April of 1999, we did our first "event"...we sold biscuits at a street fair called "Maplefest" in Perth. It was a dismal failure. It was freezing cold but the sun was shining brightly. At the time, I had the biscuits packaged in cellophane bags. Sunshine + cellophane = moisture. Not good for biscuits! Sales were terrible. But you can't keep a good woman down. (especially a woman who has a great partner...John has been with me all along this great adventure!)

My first large order was a BIG surprise for me and I wasn't prepared for it. Here's the background...

I went to a local pet store and asked to speak with the manager. He was available, so I talked to him about my biscuits and asked if he'd be interested in carrying them. He said yes, and he'd like to start with 12 bags. I was a little disappointed that it was only 12 bags, but hey it was a new store and I only had a few stores at the time. Then I found out that he wanted 12 bags for each of his stores. Then I found out that he had 50 stores. Turns out he was the District Manager, not the store manager. I tried to act calm and that this was no big deal, but HOLY SMOKES. That was more biscuits than I had sold year to date! I was the only one baking at the time and I had to go home and bake for DAYS and DAYS to make that many biscuits. It actually took me 10 days...13 hours a bake up that order. Then I had to package them. I printed my own tags, and cut each tag by hand to make a wavy edge on the bottom.

Shortly after that experience, I hired a couple of women to bake biscuits in their homes for me. That didn't go very well. I wasn't happy with their results. And I found myself a professional baker who took over the baking of my biscuits. That was a HUGE boost to my business, and we went from producing a few hundred bags a month to thousands of bags a month.
Our success got us noticed. My business was chosen as the "poster business" for Ottawa's Entrepreneurship Centre in 2001. They ran advertisements in the Ottawa Citizen using my photo with a little blurb about my business.
These photos are just a few from the photo session. There were 4 people there from the ad agency for HOURS taking photos. I couldn't smile anymore. They were getting irritated that our Husky Bailey wouldn't stay with her head tilted "just so". It was kind of frustrating, but definitely worth it for all the great FREE exposure in the paper.
I had this great idea that I would sell tshirts and I paid an artist for some dog designs. We had 4 designs: "Paws to smell the flowers", "It's a dog eat dog world", "Barking up the RIGHT tree" and "Starting off on the right foot". The back of each shirt had our logo and website between the shoulder blades. We had some fun with our own photo shoot.
That's me on the left, John, and Cody. In the trailer are Bailey, Mulligan, visiting pug Spencer, and Cinder. None of my stores were interested in carrying the shirts, but they sold well on my web site and I donated shirts when I was asked by dog rescue groups for raffle donations.

Our next bit of fantastic luck was winning the 2002 NEBS/CCNA award for "Most Innovative Local Business in Ontario". Along with some prizes (a scanner/photocopier/printer, a phone, 5 nights at any Canadian Holiday Inn, etc) I got some absolutely FANTASTIC magazine and newspaper coverage. It was a national campaign, so the sponsoring company sent out press releases with the names of the winners. I was in local papers, as well as a two page spread in a national pet magazine. There is no way I could have paid to get that kind of exposure through advertising.But really the best things about having my business over the last (almost) 10 years were my loyal customers..."meeting" their loyal canine friends (either in person or by photos over the internet)...and helping the charities that I've been able to help along the way.

One of my favourite projects was introduced in 2006...Crunch for a Cure. Through that I helped raise funds for breast cancer research...a very personal thing for me. That project wouldn't have been possible without our models...breast cancer survivors Betty and Triona who generously agreed to appear on dog biscuit packages. And the wonderful photographer Suzanne Bird (the URBAN dog photog) who photographed the models and designed the tags. I lost my mom to breast cancer so this project was very special to me.

I want to thank all my stores, my web site customers, my Paws for Charity gang, and most of all to John for helping me (unpaid!) for the last 10 years, and to Cody who was always proud to say his mom owned a dog biscuit company.

So, I'm saying goodbye to my baby. I know the new owner will look after it well and give it some new life. I'm very happy to move on and do something different (no, I don't know yet what it will be) but a little sad too.

Here's to a new chapter in our lives!


Angelique said... eyes just filled up with tears. What an amazing adventure!! Really. I want to say something profound and I really have no words. I'm so glad to have found your blog, your are an inspiration.

Christine said...

I felt really sad reading that. Almost like reading about a death. But as long as you are happy and doing what you want to do, I am happy for you.

I admire your strenght and determination and your positive outlook on life. You are an inspiration!

Simply Me Art said...

Well Sara, that is such an Amazing story. I have to say I feel so proud of what you did. You are a true Success story and a role Model for me. I see with such hard work it really paid off. You truely have such determination! I am sure whatever the future holds it will be bright and New Adventure for you. Great Story...Jamie

TD wool design said...

thank you for that! wow, what an interesting story. sad to hear about "endings", but it sure sounds like it was tons of fun! Best of luck in the future. hope to hear about all new ventures in NS sometime soon :)hugs. sarah

leslie said...

amazing. the business you built. and all the good you did with it. it's always sad to say goodbye. but i am really excited to see what you find to do in the future. i'm sure it will be equally as amazing. in it's own way.

amanda bel said...

Thank you so much for sharing, what an amazing story! All of this really rings true with me, and it's so inspiring to peek at someone else's journey. You are one wise cookie, I bet I could learn a lot from you! ;)

Anonymous said...

YOU are an inspriation!! I remember when the biscuit was born and am sad to see it change hands. It wont be the same without you. I am also excited for your next adventure and we are glad to have you both closer. DIL

coastalgirl said...

That is such an inspiring story. I'm so glad I stopped by to have a read. You're right, we should stop to think of our accomplishments more than we do. Your story is an inspiration to all those small business owners out there. You should be proud! I look forward to hearing about your adventures in NS. Who knows what adventures you will have there...they might even surpass this venture. Now wouldn't that be something?

I am Jen said...

Oh lord. I am just so proud of you and your acheivements, Sara. You should be so proud. And to know when it is time to say goodbye to something and move on to another venture. Good for you. Now for the sale of that house. Take care.

Bumbershootska said...

Sara, your story has always been inspiring to those of us just starting to build our businesses but what has always struck me is how selflessly you have given to local charities when they've knocked on your door. Now that's an example we should all live by!