True dog lovers regard their pets as family members–and Karry Barolo from Traverse City, Michigan is among these ranks. She felt guilty leaving her two dogs — Daisy, a Lab-Chow mix, and Oscar, a Beagle mix — when she went to work every day. “Dogs have such a pure love for their owners. And I was missing out on that relationship,” said Karry. So in 2004 she quit her corporate job to work full time alongside her dogs at the business she and her husband Chris had started in their spare time: D.O.G. Bakery.
At the beginning, the Barolos’ new venture faced a skeptical audience. The media and potential wholesalers didn’t take the “dog bakery” concept seriously, doubting that such a niche business could survive. “In our early years, the articles written about D.O.G. Bakery had a silly angle that seemed to make fun of us,” Karry said. “Now we’re portrayed as a legitimate business and a resource for dog owners. It’s one thing I’m very proud of: the value is real.”
10 Years: Can you say “Dog Party!?”
To celebrate 10 years in business, the bakery planned a huge outdoor party for the community’s dogs and their owners, complete with games, dog treats, popcorn and grilled hot dogs. To top off the event, “Bisquit,” the ‘human’ dog, led a parade from the bakery to the local dog park.
Once at the dog park, the Barolos held a raffle for a year of free dog treats. Proceeds from the raffle were donated to a fund that helped provide landscaping and running water to the dog park. “We are so grateful for our supportive community. Donating the raffle funds to make the dog park better was the best way we could thank them,” said Karry.
From Simple Beginnings to Wow!
D.O.G. Bakery officially opened on May 1, 2004 in a small space in back of a retail strip mall. Low visibility prompted a move to Traverse City’s main street downtown in 2006.
“That’s when things really took off,” Karry said. The uptick in business led the bakery to expand: its original space now houses the bakery operation, and an adjacent space is used for retail.
The boost in foot traffic is only part of the story behind D.O.G. Bakery’s growth: building a website their first year in business helped the operation develop a national customer base. The Barolos not only provide products to individuals with dogs, but also sell wholesale to stores and businesses across the country–including Hawaii. All this growth required employees, and D.O.G. Bakery currently has nine.
As the pet industry continues to grow, D.O.G. Bakery stands out for its focus on dog health and nutrition. “We want what’s best for the dog,” said Karry. “So we’ve worked very hard to come up with recipes that have no preservatives but have a longer shelf life.”
All treats are handmade without any machinery. “We bake 7 days a week, from 7 am in the morning until 9 pm at night,” Karry explained. “Our saving grace is that we don’t bake at 2 am like traditional bakeries!” And of course there is R & D. With the aid of Karry’s current ‘spoiled rotten’ Tibetan Terriers, Rags and Lucy, the products–including gluten free dog treats, decorated treats, and cakes–receive a rigorous taste-testing so their canine friends can be assured of ultimate flavor in every treat. Last year, dogs throughout the nation gobbled up nearly 8 tons of D.O.G. Bakery treats.
The Retail Store: Dog Heaven on Earth
D.O.G.’s retail space has never been just another store: it’s become the ultimate destination for dogs (and their human friends). For starters, not a dog enters the door without getting a free sample. Discerning dogs can even enjoy individual servings of dog ice cream (current special: peanut butter banana), made with low fat yogurt, local honey, and peanut butter and topped with sprinkles and crumbled cookies. While Fido savors his treat, owners can shop a complete line of dog and cat food, toys, and supplies of all kinds.
Rich With Experiences
Over the past 10 years of business, the Barolos have shared in the lives of their customers. On any given day, a visitor to the store might be over the moon introducing a new puppy, or overcome with sadness due to a beloved dog’s passing. Karry considers it a privilege to be part of her customers’ lives. “They know we get it,” she said. “They trust us with their real feelings without having to worry about feeling embarrassed.”
And that, ultimately, is the big payoff. “We’ve been a part of the journey with these animals,” Karry said. “I’m not rich making dog treats, but I’m very rich with experiences.”