"Dogs are always going to need to eat, and owners will always want to treat them," says Stacy Stubblefield, 24, of Shreveport, Louisiana. She is the owner of Sweet Treats Puppy Pantry, a home-based dog bakery business. Stubblefield has always loved dogs, and she believes that dogs "have the ability to make us laugh, feel special, and heal, and they deserve to be treated!" Her dog, Dimitri, a dark lab-mix, is certainly treated like a king as he taste-tests every item on Stubblefield's menu, which offers treats such as Cinnamon Banana Puppy Cake, Happy Dog Cornbread, Honeyed Apple Pastries, and Peanut Butter munchies-most popular item, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Dimitri's favorite treat is the Two Tones: cookies sweetened with honey, applesauce and a carob coating on half the treat. All of Stubblefield's treats are made with human-grade ingredients and no artificial preservatives or added dyes. "I also taste them myself," says Stubblefield with a laugh.
Stubblefield sells her dog treats through printed catalogues and her secured website. At this point, most of her sales are local, and people know of her treats through word of mouth. "I love my dog and love to spoil him rotten, so this was a logical step for me," she explains.
But there was a little more to it than that in the creation of Sweet Treats Puppy Pantry, a business completely run by Stubblefied and Dimitri. Stubblefield remembers when she and her husband would spend $100-$200 dollars each month on dog treats/chews for Dimitri and she was "always on the lookout for that special treat."
"I realized that I had found a lacking in the retail area and I decided I could be the one to fill it."
When Stubblefield was in Dallas, Texas last year, she came across a small dog cake and purchased it for Dimitri's birthday. After a neighbor expressed interest in that dog cake for her own pooch, Stubblefield realized that there was an absence of special dog treat options near her home. The majority of dog treats she found in her area were "crunchy and meat flavored and completely devoid of flavor or fun. Dogs need some variety in their diets, and they deserve to be pampered. We get birthday cakes, we get cookies. Why shouldn't your dog? I realized that I had found a lacking in the retail area and I decided I could be the one to fill it," says Stubblefield.
Stubblefield, who just started this business in February 2007, had experience working with The Small Business Development Center in Shreveport when she was in college. They offered her a lot of guidance and support throughout her creation of Sweet Treats Puppy Pantry. "They were wonderful instructors on how to open a business and how to keep that business working and profitable. They helped me set realistic goals and I was able to develop the business concept I had retained from working with them and using their website to obtain a business plan outline. I owe them a lot," Stubblefield continues.
Stubblefield explains that she also almost faced a legal hurdle. Citizens of Shreveport are not allowed to prepare food for human consumption for retail purposes in one's home. "Getting licensed was difficult at times," Stubblefield remembers, "because all people heard at first was 'bakery,' but once I explained it was a dog bakery and what that entailed, people were intrigued and offered advice on where I could market the products and what types of treats dogs like. Once people got used to the idea, they were eager to let their dogs taste the products and support me."
"Putting together a business plan was a vital step."
Once Stubblefield got the verbal go-ahead from the Shreveport Zoning Office, she started applying for the licenses while working on her business plan. "Putting together a business plan was a vital step," she recalls. "It made me put my ideas on paper and start working out the logistics of selling and marketing, discovering what I wanted from the business, and what I wanted to put into it." And her hard work paid off. "The big moment for me was receiving the first official paperwork for my business name in the mail from the State of Louisiana. That piece of paper represented everything I was working towards," she says proudly.
And today Stubblefield is the owner and sole employee of Sweat Treats Puppy Pantry. She does all of the product development, baking, and packaging. Her husband helped collaborate on the website and the catalogue layout. Stubblefield's husband also passed on a valuable piece of advice when he told her that her business could only succeed if she believed in it. "He was right," she says. "I had to overcome my nervousness about starting a business." Stubblefield also remarks on the unexpected nature of starting Sweet Treats: "When I started college, I wanted to do something in therapy or research. After graduating I wanted to be in the psych field and I thought about teaching elementary school. This wasn't something I ever considered."
"I had to overcome my nervousness about starting a business."
Stubblefield's positive attitude and perseverance are inspiring. "It was a little intimidating wading through all of the paperwork needed to start a business, but it had to be done," she explains. "I thought I could save money and trouble by doing it all myself. It turned out I could just save money. I wish I had used the services of more people." Stubblefield also didn't have the capitol to open up a storefront, so she had to work extra hard to make sure she could conduct her business from home, or else she would have to put her idea on hold.
"Find a niche market that you can fill, something that is interesting, but can't be written off as just a fad."
Stubblefield encourages other hopeful entrepreneurs to give it a try. "I think anyone that is determined, capable, and can find where a product is needed can succeed!" Her advice to others hoping to start their own business is to "use all the resources available. They can't do the job for you, but they can make it much easier. Find a niche market that you can fill, something that is interesting, but can't be written off as just a fad."