In today’s small business success series, we talked with Jennifer Arnold. Jennifer is the founder of We for Dogs.
We for Dogs purchased a fabric banner to show off the We Leash in action.
Tell us about yourself.
At age 16, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and told I might use a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I was devastated. My father had just become familiar with the idea of service dogs to help people in wheelchairs and, knowing how much I love animals, convinced me that starting a service dog school was a way for me to use my experience with disability to do something good. That idea changed everything for me and I committed myself to seeing it happen. It took me years but, in 1991, I founded Canine Assistants.
As I watched the dogs at Canine Assistants, their kindness, their loyalty, their willingness to collaborate with people, I went from loving dogs to being completely in awe of them. Once dogs fall in love with people, they love them without condition. They never make us doubt for a single second that they adore us. They forgive our shortcomings without being asked. In the Canine Assistants partnerships where people returned that kind of unconditional commitment to their dogs, I saw a kind of connection that was life-altering for both partners. It is something I want to help make happen for everyone who lives with a dog.
You mentioned it took you years to seeing Canine Assistants happen. What was it about the process that took years? And were there any concerns, worries or reason for any procrastinations?
My father was killed by a drunk driver shortly after planning began for Canine Assistants. It took me a long time without my dad to raise the money to start the program.
What does We for Dogs do?
We for Dogs offers products and educational opportunities designed to help dogs and the people who love them live together happily. Our first product, the We Leash, has one handle for you to hold and one for your dog to hold creating a direct connection between your hand and his mouth. Because the line between your dog’s mouth and your hand is slightly shorter than the line between your hand and his collar or harness your dog never feels the pressure of restraint, thus reducing pulling and leash reactivity. Walks without the stress of behavior problems are great for people, their dogs, and the relationship between them.
We are currently working on a number of offerings similarly designed to make life with the dog you love easier and better for both of you!
Love the leash! How did that idea come about?
I developed the leash after watching so many dogs and people walking at the same time but not together. Either dogs were dragging people or vice versa. I also noticed a great many dogs being reactive toward other dogs while on a leash, something I attributed to fear caused by the feeling of restraint typical leashes create. I wanted to help build a stronger connection while reducing the feeling of restraint.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
The company is the product of my desire to offer everyone who has a dog, and every dog, that same amazing relationship I’ve seen in the best of our Canine Assistants teams. In order to facilitate that kind of connection, we focus on the things that make life together challenging and what we can do to make it easier.
What makes those offerings unique?
Most products are either for dogs or for people. Our offerings are designed for the dog-person team.
What sets you apart from your competition?
Our offerings are developed to create a harmonious relationship that improves the quality of life for people and their dogs.
What is one strategy for gaining customers that you have been successful with?
Kickstarter — We launched on Kickstarter. It was a great tool for spreading the word. We had a well made video done to explain the We Leash and its benefits. This video has been helpful, as well in spreading the word about how the We Leash and how it works.
Facebook Advertising — Every time we advertise with Facebook, we see an uptick in web visits and orders. A catchy title and a great photograph are essential.
Photographs — We hired an amazing photographer and the photos are priceless for selling our product. With a product that takes a little explanation, a photo with the We Leash in use says a thousand words.
Is there an area that you’ve struggled with in regards to customer acquisition that you believe is critical to future success? If so, how are you overcoming that?
Our first product, the We Leash, is part of a larger movement, the Bond-Based Approach to living with our dogs. Once people educate themselves on the Bond-Based Approach, they get the benefits of the We Leash immediately. We are making an effort to explain this philosophy and then the products that support it. I have written a book, Love Is All You Need, The Revolutionary Bond-Based Approach to Educating Your Dog (Random House 2016), to help spread the word. As well as speaking to groups as often as possible about both the Bond-Based Approach and the We Leash.
How do you compete with the bigger competitors that are similar to yours but have a recognizable brand and large marketing budgets?
Information and education.
You said with information and education. What resources do you use to educate and inform?
My book, Love is All You Need, the blog on our website, as well as our popular Bond-Based Choice Teaching Seminars (bondbased.com). We are in the process of developing an online school as well.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have had with your business and how did you overcome it?
Explaining the concept. The concept [of the] We Leash is truly revolutionary, and it works. A well-made video has been essential, as well as exceptional photographs of the product in use.
What outlets are you using to push the video and concept out?
Originally Kickstarter. Now our website and Facebook page, including Facebook Advertising.
If you could rewind time is there anything you’d do differently? If so, what?
I am sure there are several things! One thing I don’t regret is rolling out slowly, Kickstarter, website sales and to come retail sales. This has allowed us to tweak the product, fulfillment, etc.
If you had advice for other SMB owners, regardless of the industry, what would it be?
My favorite piece of advice I’ve ever received is — If it can be done in 90 seconds or less do not add it to your to do list, do it!
How do you “WOW” your customers?
With a product that works and helps changes the relationship with their dogs!
What do you think the future holds for your business?
More revolutionary products exemplifying the Bond-Based approach.
Can you give us a tiny bit of background on the Bond-Based Approach?
I developed the Bond-Based Approach in 2012 in response to concerns I had about the whole concept of merely training dogs to obey human directives. Dogs are capable of, and deserve, more than that! Dogs can truly learn, but in order to do so, they need trust in us, which makes them feel safe, and trust in themselves, which makes them feel capable.
Without sharing detailed financials can you speak to your growth to this point and why you think it will continue?
People have been amazingly excited about the whole Bond-Based concept! We started with one leash and have already added an additional leash for really strong dogs and have one for really small dogs on the way. We are launching our customized online education for dogs and the people who love them in June and begin retail sales this July for our We Leashes.
Where can you be found online?
Website — www.wefordogs.com
Facebook — facebook.com/wefordogs
Instagram — instagram.com/wefordogs
Editor’s Note: We wanted to express our thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to do this interview between running a business and presenting her Bond-Based Choice Teaching Seminars. Jennifer’s heartfelt desire to develop a deeper connection with dogs has helped her transform the quality and effectiveness of dog training and Canine Assistance. As a small business owner, Jennifer uses her passion as motivation to create unique products and training techniques to improve the quality of life for those using Canine Assistance. Her personalized training and seminars allow We For Dogs to directly interact with clients. The approach of educating her clients allows Jennifer to develop a positive culture around her We Leash product. This culture, along with digital advertising allows We For Dogs to advertise directly to its target audience the benefits of the Bond-Based Approach. Jennifer, we wish you and We For Dogs the best of success in the years to come with your innovative approach to dog training.