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Barktastic Bakes Love for Dogs Into Its Business

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — When Chrissy King lost her Labrador retriever, Char, to cancer from eating name-brand dog treats in 2014, she was determined to create treats that taste delicious and keep pets healthy, she said.

The next summer, King started her own business, Barktastic K9 Cupboard, making puppy cakes, birthday cakes, cannoli, cookies and hypoallergenic treats, all for dogs.

“It’s just myself and my mom,” she said. “It’s a small, basic, website local business. After I lost Char, I realized that why not come up with something to make everything safe for pets. They are for your family.” 

When King first started, her products were sold in just one store, but today, customers can buy them at 11, she said.

“Larry’s Drive Thru & Mini Mart in Poland was my first retail store,” she said. “Right after I was on the news two years ago, he reached out to me afterwards.”

Customers can find Barktastic products at the Hubbard Ohio Gift Shop, Nemenz IGA in Struthers, Come Stay and Play Pet Resort in Canfield and Berry’s Natural Food Market in Austintown, as well as through Barktastic’s website.

She credits her expansion in the last two years from being a part of WE Launch, part of the Women in Entrepreneurship program at the Youngstown Business Incubator, as well as the Youngstown chapter of Score.

In the last year, sales have increased by 10%, which was King’s goal when she first started WE Launch. She also uses Instagram, Facebook and Etsy to sell her products.

“Pets deserve the best. That’s my motto, my mission,” she said. “I still have some more growing to do, but I’m happy where I am right now.” 

Some of King’s Barktastic treats. Image: Facebook

More people buy King’s products in store, but she is trying to get her website up to speed so she can increase online sales. Most of her sales are from local markets and vendor shows.

In 2015, King started selling her products at Adopt-A-Palooza and the Youngstown Flea. From there, she started selling at the Mission Night Market in Boardman. She also does work for the All Paws Are Perfect Rescue and BARK Mobile Pet Vet out of Leetonia, which was the first veterinary clinic to carry her treats. 

“I adopted Oliver. He’s my official taste tester,” she said. “I adopted him after Char passed. He was a rescue and I truly believe in rescues. I try to help them out as much as I can. Even if it’s a little donation or a bag of treats for the pups at the shelter. It’s what I do.” 

King does not have any manufacturing space, so all of her dog treats are handmade with no wheat, corn, soy or preservatives. She purchases the ingredients for her products from local vendors and so she knows the product she is making inside and out, she said.

“I feel good about serving it to pets nationwide,” she said. “It took me a while to decide and to come up with a recipe. It was trial and error, so I’ve watched some natural dog baking businesses and I learn from YouTube too.”

A baker by training, King spent two years after Char died developing her recipe. Her products are analyzed by the United States Department of Agriculture, she said.

“Nothing is not tested and there’s a lot out there, some at the flea markets, who say they’re tested,” she said. “You don’t know, but I know for sure that mine are safe, tested and regulated by the Department of Agriculture.” 

Popular items sold the most are the peanut butter, peanut butter bacon and blueberry-flavored dog treats. Pumpkin is another popular flavor, King said. A six-ounce bag is $5 and smaller bags are $3.25. Six-inch cakes are $16 plus shipping if necessary. Other staple flavors are peanut butter and oatmeal, oatmeal, apple oatmeal, peppermint, hemp and cranberry.

“Every flavor that I do the treats in I can do as a cupcake or as a birthday cake,” she said. “I actually just did a maple bacon birthday cake for a dog.”

Timothy Patrick, board member for the Animal Charity of Ohio, has been using King’s products for 3 1/2 years.

“It’s been a joy learning about what goes into these biscuits,” he said. “I give them so often to all of my dogs and just purchasing them from a shelf, you don’t realize how much work actually goes into making them, packaging them and getting the product to the store.” 

Patrick first met King at Adopt-A-Palooza. As he’s gotten to know her, he’s learned about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making the products, he said. Immediately, he had an interest in her business because of the ingredients she uses.

“She’s very conscious of using no preservatives,” he said. “These are things that I can feel good about giving to my dogs knowing that I’m giving them something that is good and healthy for them.” 

King gives back to the Animal Charity of Ohio whenever she’s called upon, Patrick said. For its recent Fur Ball, its biggest fundraiser of the year, King baked more than 400 dog- and human-friendly cookies, he said.

As people become more conscious of what they give their pets, it will drive more growth for businesses like King’s, Patrick said. He said she is on the ground level of a growing industry and he sees many benefits coming out of her businesses in the future, whether it be expansion or educating the public about what they should be looking for in their pets’ treats.

“Every dog deserves one of her birthday cakes,” he said. “This is a one time a year kind of treat, but they are awesome. Dog-friendly cakes that I think that any dog would really thoroughly enjoy.”

To make a birthday cake, it usually takes King about five hours to complete. Baking begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. It is nonstop most of the time, but since it is King’s passion, it is easy to accomplish, she said.

With Oliver as the official taste-tester, King can tell if he likes something or not by his expressions. Dogs testing at local events may not take the treat right away because they are nervous with people around, she said.

“At the Mosquito Lake Dog Park, some of them took them, some of them didn’t, but then later on people will message me saying, ‘My dogs love your treats,’ ” she said. 

Other challenges King’s faced in her business is the heavy research she puts herself through in order to make sure her treats are safe. A part from her dog Char, she has seen many dogs who have suffered from cancer just from the food and the treats they are given. 

“It’s very important to me and that’s why I took the time to research before I started this company,” she said. “I genuinely care what I give the animals.”

Future plans for King’s business include selling in more stores and increasing online sales. She enjoys making an impact on family pets and even though she works full time, she loves what she does every day and could not do it without the support from her family and her friends, she said.

“If it’s not your passion and your adventure to make something better for something, you’d probably get burned out,” she said.

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Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.