Many pet lovers dream about one day starting their own pet business, and most of them have thrown the idea out in casual conversation at least once or twice. Little did Heidi Vanrose Neal know, but a random conversation at a Christmas party actually started her journey to becoming a successful pet supply store owner.
Five years later, Neal’s pet store, The Loyal Biscuit Company, has grown into a small chain of stores that stretches across central and coastal Maine.
Neal worked for Midcoast Federal Credit Union for 15 years, but was becoming burnt out and tired of the work. She was considering going back to school until she had a conversation with her now husband, Joel Neal, at a Christmas party. She said that she would love to own The Loyal Biscuit Company, which was for sale at the time.
Neal talked about how she would love the job and would get to bring her dog, Fenway, to work with her every day. Joel encouraged her to contact the owner, and she agreed. At the time Lauren Hinsmann owned the establishment but was prepared to close her business shortly if she had not received an offer on the property.
A little over a month later Heidi and Joel Neal became owners of the business, which had been founded by Hinsmann in 2006. Neal’s only other retail experience was working as a cashier at a Hannaford’s Supermarket while she was in college. She said running the store was different from anything else she had ever done.
Located on Maine Street in the beautiful coastal town of Rockland, the store began to do very well and in June of 2011 Neal opened another store in Belfast. She said that was the next logical location because Belfast has a great dog community and a thriving dog park.
Less than a year later another store was opened in Camden. The original owner of The Loyal Biscuit Company had moved to Camden after selling the store and decided to open a pet store there called Destination Dog. When Hinsmann decided to close the store and move away, Neal saw an opportunity to expand her business.
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Last August Neal opened her fourth store in Waterville, Maine. The manager of her store in Belfast was getting married and moving to Waterville, and Neal was very familiar with the area. She thought it would be a great location for another Loyal Biscuit store and she wouldn’t have to worry about finding someone to run it.
Neal is also part owner of two other dog related companies; Fidelis Biscuit Company which makes organic and Maine made dog treats, and Loyal Biscuit Tug Me Toy which produces handmade dog toys with the help of laboring inmates at the Maine State Prison.
Neal says her success is due to the fact that her stores are involved in the local communities and with giving back to pet related organizations in the area like rescues and shelters. She says she certainly plans on expanding her business in the future, but no other store locations are planned yet.