Nestled in the intersection of the booming craft beer and pet industries lays Jenny Brown’s non-alcoholic “beer” product for dogs, Bowser Beer. What first began as a pretzel treat she dubbed Bowser Bits, Jenny’s product line grew to include beer to pair with the salty snack, along with Doggie Cigars and Beer Bones. With four dogs at home employed as her taste testers, Jenny originally started concocting recipes in her kitchen. The recipes her dogs liked most were the ones she eventually sold. Jenny’s mastiff Maggie became the face of her business and the Beefy Brown Ale, a classic brew amongst the chicken flavored Cock-a-Doodle Brew, Porky Pug Porter and custom label 6-packs. All are made with malt barley, vitamin B, amino acids and glucosamine to support healthy joints and don’t include alcohol, carbonation or hops, making it safe for dogs to drink.
These days it seems like everyone has a dog and the market reflects this. In 2007, the year Jenny founded her business, the pet industry was a $40 billion industry. In the last 12 years, it has jumped to $86 billion. With the rise of dog-friendly businesses and services like “pet amenities” popping up, it’s getting easier for people to bring their furry family members with them. “People love their dogs and they take them to bars and to restaurants. It’s typical of the types of customers we have,” said Jenny. “It’s not just pet stores. We sell to bars and restaurants and we have a hotel where the minimum nightly stay is $1,600. There are no kids allowed, but they allow pets.” When you take care of people’s pets their brand loyalty increases, and including products like Bowser Beer in a welcome package provides dogs relief when they’re off their regular schedule and travelling. For some dogs sick with cancer, pouring the beer over their dog food is one of the only ways that encourages them to eat. Customers also know the product is safe for their pets as it includes all natural ingredients all from the U.S., is USDA regulated and undergoes extensive shelf-life testing.
Jenny has come a long way from home brewing and hand capping bottles. Nearly four years ago she hired her daughter Jess Arnett who serves as the company’s Director of Operations, Finance and Strategic Planning. “There’s a level of trust that goes along with being family,” said Jess. “We both know there’s no hidden agenda and we both have to have the business in mind because it’s a long-term partnership.” Combining Jenny’s biomedical engineering, marketing and sales expertise with Jess’s business development and finance background has proven to be a powerful business partnership.
“We built this organically,” added Jenny. “I’ve seen a lot of dog products come and go and I was very careful that we didn’t build it too fast.” March of 2017 marked the right time to scale so they took out a loan from Business Impact NW. That year they doubled their sales and today they sell to 700 pet stores, restaurants, bars and large retailers across the U.S.
“It helps us with our business planning,” commented Jess who spearheaded the loan application. “When we do manufacturing it can be capital intensive. We do a lot of manufacturing at one time because it’s more efficient to do a big batch of it. When we do that, the financing we have from Business Impact NW has really helped us do the planning because we know that we have a line of credit…It helps us a lot because we don’t have to keep that much money in reserve constantly to go into production. Instead we can tap into the loan and then repay it and that lets us invest that money back into the business, into other inventory, systems or staff.”
“It also helps us maintain our high standards,” added Jenny. “You plan and then you start the next production before the previous one runs out. It’s all the packaging, it’s all the ingredients and because we’re dealing with perishable products you have to deal with expiration dates. You can’t buy inventory and let it sit on the shelf for years. You have to be able to plan it out logistically so that you’re using everything within its expiration date and all that is upfront costs.”
Working with Business Impact NW has also proved beneficial in terms of making connections in the community. “I feel like Business Impact NW has been much more of a partner than another vendor,” said Jess. “Our bank is a big commercial bank. They don’t ever send us a ‘Hey have you ever thought about going to this thing…’ It’s not just you’re paying your loan on time and you’re done, so I think that’s what we like about it, and Business Impact NW has done a really great job of supporting women-owned businesses.” She added that working with Roland Chaiton, Business Impact NW’s SVP and Senior Loan Officer, has helped with strategic business planning and establishing good credit. “Roland has been really great to work with… We hadn’t gone through the process before when we worked with him and he was really patient.”
“It’s nice working with a nonprofit lender because it’s a very different conversation then when you’re talking with a traditional bank and we feel like they’re much more willing to work with us,” concluded Jess.
Bowser Beer has had some outstanding press this year. Learn more about their story on Business Insider and USA Today and follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for adorable pictures and videos.
If you would like to learn more about Business Impact NW’s loan services, visit businessimpactnw.org/loans.