Woofables Uses COVID-19 Slump to Plan Future Growth

Woofables in Coralville provides dog treats both small pet boutiques and large commercial supermarkets. (All photos by Jessica Kray Martin)

A Coralville bakery catering to the culinary needs of dogs expects to triple in size over the next three years after CIRAS gave it the confidence to expand its service of two different parts of the market for high-quality treats.

Woofables, a gourmet dog treat bakery established in 2004, is wrapping up a major expansion that included creation of two separate production lines to serve both small pet boutiques and large commercial supermarkets. Company leaders say the investment will make Woofables more efficient at serving two growing segments of a growing industry—segments with competing interests that don’t always align.

“It was making us schizophrenic to serve both of these markets,” said Woofables co-owner Laura Taylor. “CIRAS just gave us the confidence to say, ‘We don’t want to pick one. We want to serve both.’”

The change comes after Taylor decided to take advantage of a deep, pandemic-driven lull in business last year to launch a substantial review of the company. She contacted CIRAS for help with a new strategic plan and a reevaluation of where Woofables belongs in its industry.

Production of handmade dog
treats at Woofables in Coralville.

CIRAS strategic adviser Joy Donald said the bakery had been dividing its effort between giving extremely personalized service to its boutique clients and also providing more standardized products for supermarkets. Serving both markets limited growth, because the boutique work took time away from the large-volume, more generalized products desired by big stores.

“They were serving both of them, but the needs of those two segments were conflicting with each other,” said CIRAS project manager C.J. Osborn. “The skills that you need to serve one are quite different than what you need to serve the other. It became unwieldy.”

CIRAS worked with an outside consultant to analyze the $4 billion pet treats industry. It soon became apparent that there was more than enough growth potential to justify a major Woofables expansion.

In the second half of 2020, the company began assembling the people and equipment necessary to expand both its pet store and grocery businesses. While Donald assisted Woofables with recruiting new executives, CIRAS strategic advisor Steve Wilson and project manager Troy Crowe began working with Woofables on a value-stream mapping project to help make the company as efficient as possible on both production lines. CIRAS project manager Paul Gormley also has been advising the company on necessary steps to improve its e-commerce platform, so Woofables can grow its online business as well.

Combined, the company expects to increase sales by more than $3 million over the next five years.

“The market is there,” Taylor said. “I guess if we hadn’t gone through this process with CIRAS, we probably would have continued on the same path, showing nice decent growth every year. But it wouldn’t have been focused, and it wouldn’t be with a plan.

“Now, we’re developing a plan, and we have a specific target in mind.”

Osborn praised the company’s willingness to take advantage of the pandemic-sparked downturn and use it as the impetus for charting a new course.

“Smart companies use times where there are disruptions to reevaluate and see what they can do differently,” he said. “Sometimes, you end up on a much better path.”

For more information, contact C.J. Osborn at cjosborn@iastate.edu or 641-840-0505.