Do you clean up after your dog?
Most people wouldn’t think to devote time money and resources to building a pet business around dog poop.
But Ashley Spitz and Ryan Riley did. Cofounders of Biz Bagz, the duo has created “responsible dog waste bags” . The bags have the added benefit of making it look like dog owners are carrying a bag of cherries (instead of poop) around after scooping their furry friends’ waste. Piggybacking on the tongue-in-cheek humor of their bags, they started posting photos on social media of pooping canines. The humorous approach helped kick-start their first sales and from there, grew the business through word-of-mouth. Here’s how the clever duo tackled US-based manufacturing, social responsibility, smart finance and grassroots marketing to build their business.
“Biz Bagz started as a joke,” Riley says. “Ashley and I love to make each other laugh and the idea of building a pet business around dog poop gave us plenty of material. So, taking the plunge wasn’t as scary as it could have been because we knew that if we failed, so what? It was fun while it lasted. And — worst case scenario — we wouldn’t have to buy dog poop bags for as long as we lived.”
Pooping Dogs and Authenticity in Marketing
Riley and Spitz knew the key to growing their business was figuring out how to connect with people with no marketing budget. They decided to leverage the power of content and social media, but they kept their strategy laser focused on one platform they felt they could do really well.
“We started posting pictures of our dogs Bliss and Stewart pooping on Instagram,” Riley says. “It was gross, but we tried to make it artsy. People liked our photos and shared them. For us, what has worked the best is just being authentic. Being us. We’re small and so that allows us to just have fun. Sometimes businesses over-curate their content and message until what you’re left with seems fake and forced. We just say what’s on our mind. Usually it’s about poop, but it works. People respond to authenticity.”
Giving Back to US, The Planet & Some Furry Creatures
Authenticity is not the only core belief that has worked well for the business couple. Since they met volunteering in the Peace Corps, service and community have always been a part of their beliefs as well. As they built their business, they knew they wanted it to be socially responsible, give back to their community and have as little impact on the environment as possible. This translated to three business pillars for Biz Bagz:
- Made in the U.S.
- Environmentally friendly
- Supportive of animal groups
“Our first challenge was finding a US-based manufacturer,” Riley says. “That was by far the toughest. There are dozens of plastic bag manufacturers in China that can create our bags for a fraction of the price. But, we didn’t feel right not supporting US manufacturing jobs. So, we kept searching and searching until we found a great team in the northwest [who are] amazing partners.”
utilizing the model companies like TOMS Shoes, Riley and Spitz also decided to give one dollar of every roll sold to animal groups. The nonprofit groups they chose as beneficiaries have helped spread the word about Biz Bagz in an effort to raise additional funds for animals.
“We were inspired by our two rescue dogs,” Riley says. “They both came to us with emotional problems and through hard work and love, they’ve become different dogs and are such a huge part of our lives. We wanted to create a business that both recognized their role in our home and helped us help other people in our situation. That’s why we donate $1 from every roll of Biz Bagz sold to animal charities.”
Bootstrapping & Financial Management
Giving $1 of every roll sold has cut into the couple’s profits, but for now this has been a decision they’ve been able to manage through careful financial management.
“We have been very measured in our approach to the business,” Riley says. “We are entirely self-funded and we’ve structured [operations] in such a way that we only purchase new inventory once we have sold enough bags to provide the necessary capital to pay for our order in its entirety. We have no debt on the business and all profit is funneled back into the business. As we scale and introduce new bag designs, we will likely have to modify our structure and processes. But we will likely maintain a minimal risk strategy.”
Through this measured and minimal-risk financial approach, the couple plans to expand from an online-only business to a brick-and-mortar location in the near future.
You Know You’ve Succeeded When…
Don’t think all this success they’ve had through grassroots marketing, social responsibility and smart finances means the Biz Bagz couple hasn’t had any business challenges.
“Actually, our biggest challenge has been to get our parents to buy our product,” Riley says. “You’d think that parents would be the first ones to support their child’s business, but not our folks. They’re a tough crowd. Our parents have five dogs total, yet they don’t buy our bags. They do it the old fashioned way with a shovel and a trash can and refuse to change their ways. So, we’ll know we have a successful business when our parents finally buy our bags. Hopefully, the guilt gets to them. People underestimate the power of guilt in marketing.”
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