If you think your lapdog is only good for snuggling in front of the fire or turning around a bad day with an energetic round of fetch, you should meet Chewy, a mutt from L.A. who launched a business. Well, sort of. He was the inspiration, anyway.
When Marie Moody adopted Chewy from an animal shelter in 1998, the pup had severe health problems. Her vet recommended feeding Chewy a raw meat diet. Moody couldn’t find anything available in the pet food aisle, so she started making meals at home for Chewy and for her terrier, Stella. “I would spend every Sunday at Whole Foods and get all this raw meat, fruits and vegetables,” she says. “Then I’d spend the day making food for the week and freezing it.”
Pretty time-consuming, but it was a labor of love for Moody. And once she saw both of her canines thriving on the new diet, she was sold on the benefit of feeding natural food to pets. When she was fired from her job in the fashion industry in 2001, she took what many friends and family considered a wild leap of faith and decided to launch a pet food company (called Stella & Chewy's, of course!) based on a raw meat diet.
Out of a job and with nothing to lose, she invested her life’s savings in the business, plus a $50,000 loan from her somewhat skeptical dad, who said, “You’ll have to sell a heck of a lot of pet food to pay that back.”
But pay it back she did. Today Stella and Chewy’s has 50 employees, a 48,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Milwaukee, and a following of pet owners who have helped the business grow by 800 percent in the last three years.
Ask Moody the secret to her phenomenal success in an untapped niche market, and she says simply, “It was just something I felt passionate about, that meant something to me.” Paws up on that!
Moody's Tips for Launching Products
Stella and Chewy’s didn’t take off instantly and probably would not have taken off at all had Moody not been willing to take some seemingly big risks. But if you’re looking to fill a hole in the marketplace, Moody has some advice:
Be willing to back your product 100 percent. For Moody, that meant paying a factory to manufacture and freeze an initial 1,000-pound batch of dog food, giving it to pet stores for free to see if they could sell it and even buying them freezers to store it in. Actions like that speak serious confidence. If you’re that confident in your product, your customers will be, too. Do your homework. Make sure there is actually a need in the marketplace for your product; find out if somebody else is doing it. Don’t be afraid to delegate. As Stella and Chewy’s CEO Jen Guzman points out, “Moody realized she couldn’t do it all and didn’t know how to do it all. She delegated to good people. Trying to control everything can suffocate the business.” Hang on to your day job as long as you can. While Moody didn’t do this, she doesn’t recommend taking such a big risk if you can avoid it. Have something to back you up while you build your business.