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Dog treats firm has an appetite for growth

At Dogswell, a Santa Monica-based company that sells snacks and food for dogs, the workers not only love dogs, but also the food those dogs eat.
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At Dogswell, a Santa Monica-based company that sells snacks and food for dogs, the workers not only love dogs, but also the food those dogs eat.

The company makes premium treats and food for dogs with a twist: Unlike many treats on the market, Dogswell treats come in a variety of supplements which are actually healthy for your dog with names like “Happy Hips,” “Mellow Mutt” and “Breathies.”

The company has developed quickly since its launch in 2004, growing from offering just one product to about 100 today. Amanda Thompson, vice president of sales at the company, says she’s not thinking of slowing down any time soon.

Thompson plans on introducing 15 more products. Is this small business company overreaching? Not necessarily, says Marco Giannini, Dogswell’s founder and president. He says the opportunities to launch new products are endless — as long as you’re smart about it.

Since launching his first dog snacks, Giannini says he has learned a thing or two about launching new products. First, it’s imperative to create buzz. Giannini says he always introduces a new product about one to two months before the big trade shows to get people talking about it.

“So by the time we get to the show, people are already familiar with the new product line that's going out,” he said. “The kind of buzz that’s created before the trade shows starts is a great deal -- it’s a great energy that’s created by the time you get to the show.”

Amy Kreutzen, vice president of marketing at Dogswell, notes that even before there’s a product to sell, Dogswell is out there showing its wares to potential buyers.

“It’s about before we even have the product — getting mockup packaging even if it means we have to pay $100 for a fake bag and putting in a mockup of the product to show to the buyers and say, ‘Look at what we have coming next — it’s so hot, I can’t even show you the real thing.’”

It’s also about putting together a team that’s prepared to work hard, said Kreutzen. Everybody who works at Dogswell likes to be in a fast-paced environment, she said.

Also key to success is doing the research to make sure your company is working on the right types of products, Kreutzen said. In order to decide which products to make, Kreutzen says Dogswell is always looking at food trends in the human world.

“We want to be right up front with the leading trends in natural food,” she said. “So if right now a lot of people are worried about gluten diets for themselves, maybe it’s time for us to start thinking about something for dogs that’s gluten-friendly.”

Speed is also of the essence. Giannini points out that Dogswell won’t launch a line that it knows will not be profitable within three years. The company has to say good-bye to the products that aren’t selling well, and as this is a young business that’s sometimes hard to do.

“It will always be emotional because we tend to hold on to our products because we’re so in touch with what our customers want,” said sales chief Amanda Thompson.

“So you have the finance person saying, ‘This isn’t growing the way it should be, we have to get rid of it.’ And then you have to have someone like me in the company who is pulling the other way and saying, “But I know customers love it.’ It’s a battle.”

On the pet store floor the market for pet food and snacks is crowded and if something doesn’t catch on quickly, it’s not going to get any space on a pet store’s shelves, notes Judy Robertson, who owns Judy’s Pet Depot in Westwood, Calif.

“If it’s a product I believe in, we make room,” she said. “New products come; products that aren’t selling, unfortunately, leave.”