116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As Iowans worked their way through the pandemic year, Laura Taylor noticed a change in Woofables’ customers — and their owners — after the initial shutdown.
“Now it seems bringing your dog along to run errands is a normal thing,” Taylor said this past week.
“They’re out and about anyway and, ‘Oh, while we’re out, let’s stop in and get the dog some treats.’ We’re back to being in growth mode and ready to kick off.”
Capitalizing on unexpected opportunities has been a specialty of Taylor and her husband Alex since buying Woofables the Gourmet Dog Bakery in 2010.
“The business had been on market for a year, they were really ready to shut the doors,” Taylor said one day this week. “They were looking for help to put in a last-ditch effort to sell the business.”
Owners: Laura and Alex Taylor
Address: 1900 E. James St., Suite 2, Coralville
Phone: (319) 351-9663
Kathleen Potts and Lara Moore launched the Coralville purveyor of dog biscuits and other pet treats in 2004. With both founding partners’ husbands taking jobs outside the Iowa City area, they hired Taylor, then working as a freelance marketing consultant, to find a new owner.
“They were actually to the point where they were ready to close the business,” Laura recalled. “They were still in a position where they weren’t paying themselves.”
But as Taylor learned about the business, she saw potential, even in the depths of the 2009 Great Recession.
“I didn’t know what my next career move was going to be, so one thing led to another,” she said. “Dogs have always been a part of my life. To me, it’s just like getting up every day.”
The Taylors applied Laura’s marketing background to make some immediate changes.
“The first thing we did was, we revamped the website,” she said, adding online ordering to its basic catalog of dog treats, previously available only at the retail store.
“We weren’t sure if it would be more attractive for consumers or for pet businesses,” Laura said. “We started getting phone calls from pet business across the county right away.”
The Taylors also reworked Woofables’ recipes to make healthier dog biscuits and other treats, and expanded the product line to include special-event designs for canine birthdays and seasonal events. They also standardized the catalog around a basic recipe.
“The other thing that’s become more of a trend is consumers wanting a limited ingredients list,” Laura said.
“We didn’t know that would be the coming trend but, that’s what we did several years ago. It’s just four or five ingredients and no preservatives.”
Woofables’ relatively small size allows it to quickly deliver custom designs to its retailers.
“We have some wholesalers in Maine that will be ordering (biscuits shaped like) lobsters,” Laura said.
“In Florida, a they’ll be ordering flamingos. During football season we’ll be making treats for the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s very easy for us to customize the teats.”
A new national market brought some challenges.
“Just learning how to ship dog treats — they’re fragile, and in the summer they melt, so there’s been quite a learning curve. Sometimes we’ll be shipping one box of 10 pounds of treats, and with other orders we’ll be shipping thousands of pounds on a pallet.”
A canine bakery does have its advantages over the human kind.
“One thing that’s nice about it is, treats have a longer shelf life,” Taylor said. “In our case we’re drying out the biscuits because we don’t use preservatives. They’re crunchy, but the dogs don’t mind that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought only a pause to Woofables’ growth.
“We went through about three months where things just completely died,” she recalled. “Business was at maybe 10 percent what it would’ve been, which was very scary.”
The Taylors made use of the forced downtime, landing a grant from Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service to develop a long-range business plan.
“We went through some training and planning sessions with them,” she said. “They provided us with quite a bit of research onto the pet market, and we walked away with a five-year plan for expanding the business significantly.”
Putting all their lessons to work, the Taylors plan to triple production capacity, expanding the bakery into the storefronts next to its Coralville plant and store by July. Woofables has about 30 employees.
“Why were we being so timid and shy?” was the question, Laura said. “The market is there, why aren’t we taking things to the next level?”
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