Found wandering in a Texas park, Lola inspired her rescuer and new owner to launch Be Pawsitive treat company and pay it forward for shelter dogs. (Photos: Be Pawsitive)
Walking through a wooded park in Arlington, Texas, Travis Watson noticed what appeared to be a fox in the distance. He expected the fox to retreat as he got closer, but instead, the animal tucked its tail and approached him. This was no fox — it was a dog. Alone in a park frequented by bobcats and coyotes, the dog’s chances for survival would be slim, so Watson took the dog to the nearby animal shelter.
With no microchip and no owners coming forward, the female dog joined a lengthy list of adoptable dogs at the shelter. Watson monitored her progress, but the odds were against her being adopted.
So Watson decided it was time to do his part.
“If nobody had picked her up they would be forced to do what they had to do,” said Watson (shown below), who adopted the dog in 2011 and named her Lola. “Going through that process opened my eyes” about the needs of shelters — and even a business idea.
Watson had brainstormed ideas targeting pet owners, but it took that chance encounter in the park to turn his idea into reality. He was intrigued by the "buy one, give one" business model made famous by TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, so he launched a treat company called Be Pawsitive.
Customers pay $11.95 a month to receive organic dog biscuits by mail. For every box ordered, Be Pawsitive donates a box of treats to a shelter or rescue group. While pooches with homes enjoy a steady stream of goodies, shelters use the Be Pawsitive treats as training tools to facilitate faster adoption.
“Once Lola came along, it was like the light bulb moment,” said Watson. “A lot of people want to help out dogs in shelters. I want to make it really easy for them to do that.”
Watson had always had a knack for business. As a teen, he and a friend launched a company that transformed neighbors’ driveways into basketball courts using a stencil. After graduating from college, he worked in finance and started looking for other business ventures, so family members were not surprised when he pitched the treat idea. But they were a bit skeptical. Was there really a market for high-end, mail-order dog treats?
Watson had a few pet statistics working in his favor. Consumers are expected to spend $62 billion on their pets this year, up 4.7 percent from 2012, according to a study by Packaged Facts. Dogs account for about two-thirds of those sales, and the market research firm notes that pet lovers are moving away from mass market options in favor of specialty and high-end products. Watson also shared the story of a subscription-based company called BarkBox, which launched in 2011 and currently has about 100,000 customers, according to FastCompany.com. For $19 a month, BarkBox delivers a quirky assortment of handpicked items. Ten percent of the proceeds go to pet charities.
“[My family] said, ‘We trust you,’” Watson said. “They even pitched in a little of the startup funding.”
Scouting out the perfect treat
Watson knew that customers would have high expectations for a treat delivery service. He needed something that would appeal to dogs as well as their finicky pet parents. The answer came from a company that produces USDA-certified organic dog biscuits. Watson reached out via email with his pitch for a private-label partnership. The company agreed to produce eight flavors for Be Pawsitive, including Banana Split, Iron Dog and Lola’s favorite flavor, Pumpkin Pie. The company also manages fulfillment, mailing specially labeled Be Pawsitive boxes to subscribers.
“I tried to make everything really automated,” said Watson. “The company may be centered on treats, but the core of the business is about the ‘buy-one give-one’ concept.”
Like the BarkBox model, Watson realized the importance of packaging and creating a high-end experience for subscribers. In addition to finding the perfect bone-shaped treat, he invested time and money on packaging as well as marketing the idea at pet conferences. His sister and her roommate star in a promotional video for Be Pawsitive, which was filmed at a no-kill shelter called Operation Kindness, one of the company’s treat beneficiaries. Watson also designed and runs the website himself.
“To be honest, the stuff I learned in school really has nothing to do with what I actually did to put this all together,” he said. “It’s really about deciding you want to do something and learning all you can about how to make it work.”
Making a difference
Since launching on June 1, Be Pawsitive has steadily gained clients across the country, and the company has donated a few hundred pounds of dog treats to shelters. Watson initially focused on Texas shelters, including the one that helped Lola, but he soon added an option for customers to recommend their favorite organization. The shelters also offer goodie bags to dogs that get adopted, exposing the Be Positive brand to even more potential clients. In the meantime, Watson and Lola are working hard to build more buzz.
“We have a special connection,” he says of the 20-pound pooch. “Some of my friends have Labs and golden retrievers and German shepherds or pointers they take hunting — and I have this little 20-pound fox-looking dog, but I couldn’t be more proud of her. I work from home so she’s right here with me all day long and is my best friend. I see her more than anyone else.”
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