Be prepared for monetary struggles. I had no money when I started Redbarn. We also weren’t willing to take out business loans and build our company’s foundation on debt. Be prepared to make sacrifices in your current lifestyle and invest your gains back into your company. Be friendly, network, make legitimate connections, and get yourself solid deals, however relevant to your company, so no money is wasted.
As part of my series about the leadership lesson of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Howie Bloxam, the co-founder of Redbarn Pet Products, a family-owned company that makes premium food, treats and chews for dogs and cats across North America. Howie started Redbarn with longtime friend and business partner, Jeff Baikie. Headquartered in Long Beach, California, Redbarn has a selection of more than 200 products to support pets’ needs, nutrition and lifestyle, many of which contain superfood ingredients.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To be honest, I kind of fell into the pet consumable industry. My background, and my business partner’s background, is in sales. I was selling dog food for another company and felt the product wasn’t living up to the selling points I was utilizing to hook potential customers. At the time, there was a noticeable gap in the market for natural dog food — and gaps and unmet needs are often great opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I had the same problems most people have when starting a business…no money! None. Plus, I needed to learn how to manufacture dog food and treats. There’s always a reason, an excuse, to not push forward with starting a new business, but often that’s all they are, excuses. We started Redbarn out of my garage, rigging old kitchen appliances and testing out different recipes until we were happy with our product. From there, we never cheapened our brand or compromised on quality — we never sold our products for less than they were worth or in a way that would hinder our growth goals. Anyone starting out in business should also learn the art of negotiation. You have to become a master at it — read books, practice, try and fail — to create deals that, again, benefit your growth goals. For example, you may need suppliers to offer you extended lines of credit, but you can’t afford to lend out the same deal.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
Redbarn is a leading manufacturer of premium treats, chews, and food for cats and dogs. We’re also one of the only treat companies to own our own manufacturing facilities. It was a big investment and continues to be one. But, one we felt necessary to genuinely provide quality products we have full control over — we source our own ingredients, we manufacture our own products, and we run more than 2,500 quality assurance tests per month before any product leaves our state-of-the-art facilities.
But we don’t consider grit to be a huge factor in Redbarn’s success. Yes, it was a lot of work and we made great sacrifices in our personal lives. But what made Redbarn a success — a company with over 500 critical team members and 200 SKUs — was the team we surrounded ourselves with. We are a family-owned business, and we want everyone who joins our team to feel like they are an important part of the Redbarn family, because they are. We made great decisions in the beginning of who we partnered with or hired and have continued to do so ever since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Redbarn is a family-owned business and we’ve chosen to stay that way. You read about acquisitions within this industry on a weekly basis, and we’ve received countless offers over the years. But we’ve created a family here, one that extends beyond genetics. Jeff, my co-founder, and I make decisions based on what’s best for our Redbarn family, our pets, our partners, and our pet parents.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I never imagined Redbarn would become the company it is today. To wake up and know we have so many people supporting our mission and helping us achieve our business goals is an indescribable feeling and responsibility. We owe our entire company to the Redbarn family; it’s why Redbarn is a family-owned business and remains a family-owned business.
Of course, I have to thank my co-founder, Jeff Baikie. We actually met when we were just 12-years-old after joining the same ice hockey team. At the time, all we knew was Jeff was the better hockey player (he was drafted to the King’s once upon a time), but we had no idea we’d become successful business partners decades later. For many years it was just me and him, each handling one side of the country.
I also believe Redbarn dodged a lot of challenges by partnering with Dave Andersen, our mad scientist as we call him. It was pure luck how we met. My insurance agent connected us, correctly believing we’d be interested in one another’s work. He was a master formulator and took us leaps and bounds from rigging garages. He worked with us for more than twenty years until he retired. I truly appreciate the years of work Dave provided us, including the foundation for some of Redbarn’s now famous formulas.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Redbarn recently announced our new partnership with Dogs4Diabetics (D4D), an amazing non-profit organization that trains service dogs to detect drops in blood sugar 20 to 30 minutes before today’s technology. Better yet, the dogs are provided to insulin-dependent diabetics completely free of charge! Of course, you have to properly train medical-alert dogs, and sometimes that means lots of treats. Redbarn’s Protein Puffs are ideal training treats — 75% percent protein and less than one calorie per treat — and as the official treat sponsor for D4D, we’ll be providing a monthly supply of Protein Puffs on an ongoing basis.
(Choose) What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You are going to work harder than you ever have before. When people approach me for business advice, I always ask why they want to become an entrepreneur. And I almost always get the same answer. They want to have freedom, financial independence, more money and time to travel or pursue other hobbies. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. You will face more struggles than you ever would if you continue working for someone else; you will sacrifice more time away from family and friends than you would, or at least should, when working for someone else; and, while the money may come later, it’s not immediate and should be invested back into your company before taking out loans and building debt. But I love what I do, and the rewards are huge. The rewards can be huge — but first, you have to work harder than you ever have before.
2. Be prepared for monetary struggles. I had no money when I started Redbarn. We also weren’t willing to take out business loans and build our company’s foundation on debt. Be prepared to make sacrifices in your current lifestyle and invest your gains back into your company. Be friendly, network, make legitimate connections, and get yourself solid deals, however relevant to your company, so no money is wasted.
3. Have integrity. This isn’t a lesson I necessarily had to learn, however I firmly believe integrity should be a cornerstone of every business. From the beginning, Redbarn’s philosophy was to treat everyone with respect and handle business with integrity. Integrity is a core value at Redbarn — we work with and hire people who we believe will choose to be honest, have strong moral principles, and exceed ethical standards every day. Following through and embracing transparency will take you far in business.
4. Jump In. I didn’t know how to make dog food. I didn’t know how to operate a manufacturing facility or even what needed to go in one. I didn’t know how to run QA labs or have any type of marketing background. But you can’t let things you don’t know stop you. Jump in. Manufacture it. Try it. Learn it. Just remember you can make safer jumps with a strong support system. We made exceptional hiring decisions in the beginning, adding team members whose strengths far exceeded ours in the places we needed it. You are only as strong as the people behind you; never stop hiring people with skillsets that surpass your own.
5. Prioritize relationships. You’ll end your career with a list of accomplishments, but it’s not just because you have more grit than your competitors. It will likely be because you valued relationships — hundreds of people play a role in your success as you build a business. People may mean team members you hire, customers who buy your product, or partners who provide you necessary services. Wherever these people come into play, remember they are in fact people, not just a worker or a stepping stone.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: Redbarn Premium Pet Products
Thank you for joining us!