Woofables adds second location in dog-friendly Peninsula Neighborhood


By Angela Holmes

If you’re in the dog treat business, you go where the dogs are.

That was the reasoning behind Laura “Top Dog” and Alex “Go2Dog” Taylor’s decision to open a second Woofables gourmet dog treat bakery in Iowa City’s Peninsula Neighborhood.

“Location, location, location,” Mr. Taylor said. “Approximately 80 percent of people in the Peninsula area have a dog and it’s within a quarter of a mile of Thornberry Dog Park.”

The Peninsula store at 2280 Willenbock Circle opened last week. The location at 100 Oakdale Blvd. in Coralville will remain open and continue to serve as the business’ baking site.

The Taylors are trying to improve their retail presence, which makes up about 20 percent of sales. Online sales, which were nonexistent when they bought the business in 2009, now make up the majority of sales.

“When we purchased it, it was a small, local retail shop,” Mr. Taylor said. “My wife and I both came from entrepreneurial backgrounds and could see that it could be a little more than a retail shop.”

They developed an online store, and have seen their revenues increase more than 230 percent over the past five years.

Online sales to individual customers accounts for around 20 percent of the total business. The biggest chuck of sales, 60 percent, is through online wholesaling to “mom and pop pet shops” across the country. More than 130 vendors resell Woofable gourmet dog treats in about 40 states.

“Smaller operations like us typically don’t have online marketing skills and abilities that my wife brings to the table,” Mr. Taylor said. “We’ve made it really easy for the online consumer and wholesaler to find us.”

Last fall, Woofables received a publicity boost when it was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine’s holiday gift feature. The New York Daily News also featured the company in its holiday pet gift guide.

The company has also grown through word of mouth, Mr. Taylor said.

“We have a really good product. I’ve tasted every single one of my biscuits,” he said. “When we got the business, we changed the recipe. Everything is human-grade and has no preservatives, additives, sugars or salts. They’re cookies without a lot of flavor.”

But what really sets Woofables apart from larger – and smaller – dog biscuit companies is its custom-designed treats, Mr. Taylor said.

“If you want a dog biscuit that is beef flavor, shaped like a bicycle with a red tire on the front that says ‘Fluffy’ and a blue tire on the back that says ‘Puffy,’ we can do it,” he said.

All of the treats are baked and decorated in Coralville by the Taylors and about 11 part-time employees. Even before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved an increase to the minimum wage last year, the Taylors started their employees at $9.25 an hour – higher than the state’s $7.25 minimum.

As a small business owner, Mr. Taylor agrees that entry-level employees need a higher wage – but only to a point. The Johnson County’s minimum wage is increasing in stages and will eventually hit $10.10 an hour by January 2017, with subsequent annual adjustments based on inflation.

“I appreciate the efforts of the county supervisors,” Mr. Taylor said. “However, the increase is too aggressive for even us to retain [employees] without suffering.”

Woofables also partners with Goodwill Industries and Big Brothers/Big Sisters for help with packaging and other opportunities.

The new location will hold a grand opening in the spring when the weather warms up, Mr. Taylor said. They also plan to continue selling treats at the Iowa City Farmers Market and other outdoor events.