Hi Beth, thanks for joining us today. Can you talk to us about a risk you’ve taken – walk us through the story?
In my mind, I’ve always been risk adverse. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom with kids and pets for many years, lots of ideas, but until inventing the dooloop I’d been reticent to take the next steps necessary to push any design idea forward.
Not having had a career in a long time, spending family resources on the dooloop idea was terrifying. I’m not used to/comfortable with investing in myself. Also, it was scary because there was no start small and grow with this sort of item. It’s only affordable if you make a lot at a time – and startup costs were significant.
This all felt additionally fraught since I started without a relevant professional background. Until the dooloop, I used my laptop for web surfing and email, not technically complex platforms and multiple ‘dashboards’. Without a manufacturing background, wholesale experience, marketing, knowing how supporting businesses worked, what to expect, what was reasonable, it was all a challenge. Basic business things like accounting? – nightmare. I personally had nothing other than long ago experience in retail buying, to inform decisions. I will say that working for Bloomingdale’s long ago, did help, it made me wary to jump in with the ‘big boys’ until I was ready, which I know now was absolutely a business saver. I depended on friends and family to consult along with services from non-profits like SCORE, and other small-business focused Maine resources.
Once there was a proper prototype, I took the dooloop to Global Pet Expo as a visitor to do market research. Six months later, I jumped into the deep end, going to SuperZoo as a vendor. It is a million square feet of pet products. My brother and 2 friends came to help, it cost a lot, but we learned a ton, made connections, and as a risk, paid off. The adventure opened my life in exciting ways.
It’s fair to say that at the beginning, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I knew that it was probably a lot. I now know more, and it’s scarier because the depth of what I know that I still don’t not know, is deeper. But, no risk, no reward.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m a mom, who didn’t know what to do after I became a complete empty nester, kids out (3), pets dead (5+). As anyone who has been out of the workplace for awhile will attest, it’s not only daunting, but people want youth and experience (not life experience), stuff I didn’t bring to the table. At my kid’s urging (nagging), I signed up to foster bassets (wine was involved).
The adventure that started the dooloop odyssey came with a call from New England Basset Rescue. We drove to pick up a very bonded pair of bassets, Angie and Bella. Minimally socialized, they were terrified of everyone and everything. Because we don’t have a fenced yard, they had to be walked, and wouldn’t walk without each other. It was a nightmare, picture Cirque du Soleil without grace or skill while juggling bags of poop, legs wrapped, arms twisting, desperate to not let go of a leash. This was what led to the invention of the dooloop. *I’ve carried a lot of shit in my life, didn’t think twice about it. But with these ladies, not dropping a leash was critical, and the addition of bags of poop, impossible.
I assumed that I could buy something to hold the bags, but the products that existed required 2 hands, and coordination to manage. Desperate, I trolled up and down the aisles of a local hardware/houseware store looking to McGyver something. Long story short, inspired by a potato masher/aided with craft plastic, the dooloop was created. That’s how the business started. This small thing completely changed my walks with the ladies from dreaded, to manageable. **we foster failed
The dooloop for people unfamiliar is a small lightweight, leash accessory that you put onto your leash handle or a toggle and holds bags of poop. **a lot of shit. Why it’s genuinely helpful though isn’t what it does, but how singularly easy it is to use. I needed 3 hands on walks, I didn’t have the luxury of fiddling around. You don’t have to knot the bag, just pull it through and down, one hand – it holds up to 5-6 bags.
While it came about for leash control, it’s good for anyone who walks their dog, it’s easier than, holding onto shit – literally and metaphorically.
What I am proud of, and sets it apart, beyond being the very first of its kind, are the values that go into producing them. Like many, I’m worried about the environment, physical and social, that we are leaving behind. It was with big intentionality, that the dooloop is made sustainably, meaning made of recycled plastic with zero single-use plastic packaging, on a tag by wind powered printers in the USA (Maine). And ethically, paying people a living wage who do assembly while remaining very affordable for consumers, and allowing stores reasonable margins – as well as folks to shop locally – hopefully in every town eventually. The stores are listed on thedooloop.com.
What I want people to know is that it’s important for people to pick up after their dogs. Dog poop is like human poop. It’s not by accident that we use sewer systems, or multi-step septic to take care of our poo because it’s a biohazard. Dogs don’t use toilets, so when we don’t pick up, it’s as if we ourselves dropped a deuce and walked away. No one would do that. Most people, I think, believe their pet’s waste as something more inert, or natural than it is. It’s with this knowledge that I’m glad to have created a product that makes dealing with pet’s poop so easy. Dog poop wasn’t the dream, but it’s been an awakening.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
When starting this brand, I took a chance and used a new kind of biodegradable plastic to make the dooloop, because it was important to me to be as eco-friendly as possible. Unfortunately, as time passed, customers started emailing that their dooloop had snapped – brittleness developed in the plastic. I was confused and horrified, as was the molder who made them. The bio-plastic manufacturer out of Kansas either didn’t understand, or misrepresented their material. It was a nightmare, they sent us down several rabbit holes, but in the end, it was the material. The material was chosen so that it wouldn’t last forever, but never with the intent that it would come with an expiration date.
When we finally knew what the problem was, I had to pivot, send emails to all the stores that had bought the dooloops about the situation. Then I had to order new tags, identify another material that I could feel good about environmentally, and would work. Then, create new barcodes, have all new dooloops made, and get them assembled. Plus destroy all the old stock. I personally disassembled 30k dooloops one weekend :/. Dooloops are now being made of recycled, non-toxic, BPA free #5 plastic, we’re looking into recycled #1 too.
While I keep in mind that at least it’s not a heart valve replacement, or something that would hurt someone, this material mistake has been expensive, both in resources, but even worse, brand trust. For that I feel very badly – and the plastic provider didn’t have the ethical bandwidth to be embarrassed that their product had been such a disaster. Lesson learned.
Where do you think you get most of your clients from?
Shark Tank! Kidding, they’ve not taken my application. Trade shows. The dooloop doesn’t exist, stay with me…what is it? There isn’t a noun…people don’t go looking for a dooloop, but no one can convince me that a smelly bag of poop in hand becoming a habit isn’t because no one had found a better way – remember when there weren’t dog poop bags? Or holders for dog poop bags? This is the next upgrade.
Trade shows allow me to demonstrate, even better, have people try the dooloop. That very first trade show I went to with a visitor pass and brought dooloop prototype? Visual glance and they were meh, but thwacking a bag on <3 seconds, and invariably the attitude changed – ‘why didn’t someone think of this before?’ Dunno!! That experience was invaluable – it’s why I’ve focused on customer service focused stores that know their customers and make recommendations. Until people go looking for a dooloop, my best sales come trade shows, independent stores, and word of mouth. Friends shouldn’t let hold onto poop :)