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A doggone success Featured

10:19am EDT January 27, 2006
As consumer pet education and the number of pet products have increased in the last decade, so has the revenue of Redbarn Pet Products, a maker of pet food and treats.

Founders and childhood friends Jeff Baikie and Howard Bloxam saw a need for fresh, nutrient-rich dog food and treats in the market, and in 1997, they began developing a dog food that was meat-based, preserved naturally and convenient to use.

“We manufacture a lot of natural products ... things like peanut butter-filled bones, peanut butter and jelly-filled rawhide,” says Baikie. “I think as the consumer has educated himself, people want to feed their pets better foods. They want to make sure their pets are being fed quality products.”

Redbarn is feeding on that tendency to treat pets like members of the family, and revenue has grown from $13.5 million in 2004 to $19 million in 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Baikie about how the company plans to reach a broader audience and bring more products to market to continue growth.

What has been the key to your growth?
I think that the biggest part of our growth has been our ability to bring new products to the table.

Part of our mission is to bring a minimum of six new products to market every year. We have a phenomenal research and development department where we have two people working full-time on developing products.

Like any other business, I think once you get somewhat established, your customers want to see new and innovative products on a regular basis. And we’ve had the ability to do that because of our research and development department. It’s certainly an integral part of our operation.

When we have a new treat, we always bring it home and try it on our dog — as most buyers do. But we’re starting to do, as we grow, some focus group studies, because it doesn’t always work by having the treat and giving it to your dog. Packaging and marketing plays an instrumental role in the success of your company, as well.

How do you reach the right audience?
A lot of it is obviously advertising. We advertise in all the major pet trade magazines. We attend all the major trade shows throughout the U.S. We have six salespeople out in the field that call on these people on a regular basis.

We both come from a sales background, and we understand our company is sales-driven. We understand that the customer is the one that signs our check every week, and we are there to make sure our customers are happy.

How are you planning to broaden your audience?
The pet industry overall today is a $35 billion business. Of that $35 billion, approximately 70 percent is in the grocery and mass end, which would mean the grocery stores ... and the Targets, Wal-Marts, Costcos and Sam’s of the world.

And our business, for the most part up, until last year, has been primarily on the pet side — the 30 percent side. We’re trying to move now into the grocery or mass segment of the business.

How are you going to do that?
It’s a tough challenge. I think a lot of the grocery stores, because of the emergence of chains like Petco and PetSmart — that have done a tremendous job with innovation and educating the pet consumer and bringing some very unique products to the pet consumer — have lost some of the market share.

And I think they are waking up. They are starting to change, as well.

We attend all the major grocery shows now. We have a full-time salesperson that calls only on grocery and mass. It’s a slower process because you’re starting from ground zero again trying to get into these grocery chains.

And a lot of the time, these buyers [for grocery stores] aren’t as educated as the pet [store] buyers. Our products are so unique that, in the pet side of the business, when we go into a Petco or a PetSmart, they are very aware of the products and the market.

Now you go into a grocery store ... that grocery buyer doesn’t necessarily have the education that a pet buyer would have. They look at a product like ours — like a peanut butter-filled bone or a lamb-filled piece of rawhide — they are like, ‘Well, I already carry rawhide. I don’t need this.’ But the consumer ... is looking for these unique and innovative items.

What has been your biggest challenge associated with growth, and how have you managed it?
As with any company, it’s finding the right people and creating a family environment for our employees. We’re both fairly easygoing guys that create a very relaxed and fun environment. It has to be for us to be successful.

We look after our employees very well. We offer medical benefits. We offer a profit-sharing plan for all of our employees. We have a pension for them, as well. It’s the people that we have working with us and under us that really make the company successful.

HOW TO REACH: Redbarn Pet Products, www.redbarninc.com