In March, Lucas Walker lost his full time job. Most people would have scrambled to find a new job as quickly as they could, but not Walker. He and his partner, Riley Wallbank, took a gamble on their small business idea: Treats Happen. They decided that if their all-natural dog treat company made money at the Canadian Pet Expo, they would push to see how far they could take it.
Now, less than a year later, Treats Happen is flourishing. It’s doing so well that Wallbank is cutting back on her day job too. The company started as a way to lower the cost of single-ingredient, healthy dog treats for the couples’ boxers – they have three. The business has now taken over their lives.
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When they started, Walker and Wallbank were dehydrating meat for their dog-owning family and friends. They made about 10 bags each week. Now, based in their Toronto basement, they have numerous dehydrators and they turn out 400-700 bags of treats in the same frame of time.
Demand for the healthy dog treats is growing rapidly, but their basement is not. They are at max capacity in their home right now. Larger dehydrators would require their own production facility and would increase costs from three figure numbers to five or six figures. Scaling up their business is the only step they can take from here, but they’re not sure how to do that.
The couple first met back in 2011 when they both worked in sales and marketing. It was their love of dogs that ultimately led to their first date – a walk with Wallbank’s boxer Diesel. Diesel has since passed away, but the pair has adopted three more boxers since then. The dog parents became frustrated when they couldn’t find any reasonably priced, healthy dog treats for their beloved pets.
Wallbank says, “I don’t want to put anything into my dogs that has anything I can’t read on the label. We realized every time we went to get them natural treats that we were paying an arm and a leg.” That’s when they decided to invest in a dehydrator. The couple began making treats for their dogs from beef lungs and duck feet.
Soon friends and family wanted treats to take home to their dogs as well, and Wallbank’s aunt mentioned the treats at her local pet store. The next thing you know, Treats Happen was on retail store shelves. The couple’s main outlet is a Shopify-run store on the internet. They prefer an inbound sales model so that they avoid losing profits to stores and distributors. This way they can keep their prices lower than other all-natural dog treats.
Treats Happen was an overnight success. At the Canadian Pet Expo back in September, they won the prize for Best Independent Booth. The couple currently has six small scale dehydrators in their basement, but they need to purchase bigger equipment to keep up with the growing demand. Aside from a small amount of bank debt, Treats Happen is a self-financed business. That’s going to have to change.
The couple is currently considering buying new equipment via a financing plan directly through the manufacturer. They have received a few offers of capital, but right now they are focused on keeping things in-house as long as they can. Walker says that it isn’t about the rate of growth, but maintaining control of the company that is important. If they choose to take capital they need to be sure it is from the right people who have the same goals as they do.