Green Idea: From Waitress to Organic Dog Treat Maker
By John Wolcott
SCBJ Freelance Writer
Wet Noses Natural Dog Treat Co. expanded into a new production and warehouse facility in Monroe last year, the biggest step yet for a business that had to create its own market as it grew.
Perseverance and hard work is paying off for founder Jasmine Lybrand and her husband, Lance, success illustrated by their “wet dog nose” logo on a large building on the south side of U.S. 2 at the Evergreen Fairgrounds intersection.
“Wet Noses” is an all natural, USDA-certified organic dog treat sold through hundreds of stores to tens of thousands of customers and online at www.wet-noses.com, Amazon.com and other sites. Flavors include peanut butter with molasses or banana, sweet potato, pumpkin, Washington apple, cheddar cheese and carrots.
Lybrand founded Wet Noses in 1998, when she was 19. She had no business experience. She had no money. She had no production facilities. She had no distributors.
Worst of all, she had no market.
“I had a lot of rescue dogs but I didn’t go out to find them and rescue them. They kind of sought me out.”
No one then was really into the idea of dog treats made from natural food, she said, even though dog treats on the market often contained ingredients such as animal byproducts and wheat, an allergen for many dogs with potentially serious canine health effects.
What she did have was a dream about making more healthful dog treats. Plus, she had a great love for dogs. Sensing that feeling, dogs loved her, too.
“I always got in trouble for bringing home animals,” Lybrand said. “I had a lot of rescue dogs but I didn’t go out to find them and rescue them. They kind of sought me out. I couldn’t ignore a dog, especially if it was hungry, lonely or needed help.”
Thinking about dogs a lot meant thinking about their health and the need for good nutrition. That’s when she began realizing the treats that dogs love as training rewards ought be healthier. Natural food ingredients seemed to be the best way, a lesson proven by the massive recall of cat and dog foods in 2007 due to contaminated vegetable protein ingredients from China that were used in the pet foods. Many animals were sickened, many of them died.
Although Lybrand manufactures dog treats rather than the foods they eat for daily meals, her focus on natural ingredients remains just as important. Working with organic ingredients means she’s had no contamination problems. That’s one reason her company’s motto is, “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t give it to your dog.”
With no money, no business experience, no production facilities and no market, however, the only real answer to why she’s now selling organic dog treats is her deeply ingrained work ethic and always believing you can dream beyond your abilities or situation and achieve it.
“I grew up really dirt poor,” Lybrand said proudly, without a hint of sadness. “So my mother instilled in me that if you wanted good food you made it yourself. If we wanted a cake, she handed us the flour and a cookbook and showed us how to make it. Because she worked a lot we got very self-sufficient. Raised in a big family, we were always cooking, not using something in plastic bags from the store.”
Lybrand also learned the value of setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Her mother’s hard work earned her a master’s degree in performing arts and a teaching job. Lybrand took her mother’s example to heart. Born in Connecticut, she moved to north Seattle with her family as a young child.
“I’d wait tables during the day, then bake products at night in my garage. I saved all the money I could. Even today we put all of our profits back into growing our business.”
“I spent 15 years as a waitress to finance the start of this business,” she said. “I’d wait tables during the day, then bake products at night in my garage. I saved all the money I could. Even today we put all of our profits back into growing our business.”
She learned important business lessons in restaurants, she said.
“That’s where I learned about providing good service, pleasing customers and how to handle upset customers,” she said, adding that those lessons have been woven into her strong customer and employee relations standards at Wet Noses.
Her cheerful personality and positive service attitude brought her a steady flow of tips. When Lybrand turned 21, she began working in the bar of the Coho Cafe in Redmond, a move that significantly increased her tips.
“While I worked and saved money, I kept messing with the artwork, ingredients and putting money away for a large mixer,” she said. “Then, I’d pick dough from under my fingernails in the morning and go back to the tables every day.”
About the same time, she met Lance Lybrand, the cafe’s bartender, and later married him. He thought “the dog treat thing” was a little crazy, she said, but was supportive to the point that he later quit bartending and took “a huge pay cut” to make natural dog treats.
“We had to make that decision,” Jasmine Lybrand said. “We were at the point where we were both working at the cafe, then baking products at night and going back to work the next morning. We couldn’t keep up with the orders.”
Dogs loved the treats and that spurred sales, naturally. The decision to expand the business or give it up faced the Lybrands daily. Then Jasmine became pregnant with their first child, Aiden, now 6, who grew up observing the business inside a baby backpack. They wanted Aiden close but knew they couldn’t put the business on hold.
“That’s when we got our first big customer,” Jasmine Lybrand said. “Our biggest order at that point had been a pallet full of products. This customer wanted 80 pallets. We had no production facilities, no equipment and no space that could handle that. It blew our minds.”
Since nothing gets between Lybrand and her goals for long, she soon found a bakery where they could lease space and work on the business at night. It took most of the summer to fill that order. Seeing the potential, they moved to their first small commercial facility in 2005 in Monroe, then to the new Wet Noses building in March 2010.
The long warehouse is filled with pallets of ingredients, pallets of shipments going out, a front office and a production line for baking and packaging products. Like his wife, Lance Lybrand is everywhere, driving forklifts, moving products and helping to run the business. Jasmine Lybrand oversees 20 employees, makes supply and sales decisions and carries their third child in a pack, 10-month-old Ruby, just as she did with Aiden and then Olivia, now 3.
“We’re one of those small businesses that people are counting on to bring our economy back,” Lybrand said. “We’ve hired people and we help keep truckers, shippers, entrepreneurs and others businesses busy as contractors. Also, it’s nice to know you’re turning a profit without making products that harm the environment for future generations. That’s one of our core values.”
Wet Noses products even have a “good smell,” she said, and people are surprised everything is made in Monroe, not offshore somewhere.
“I’m waiting for a news story that tells of some lost hiker and his dog surviving five days on his dog’s Wet Noses treats,” she said, laughing.
“Because they’re made of organic natural foods people can eat them. Some of the employees really like eating some of the flavors. I’m waiting for a news story that tells of some lost hiker and his dog surviving five days on his dog’s Wet Noses treats,” she said, laughing
Outlets include national pet store chains and local businesses such as Sam’s Cats and Dogs Naturally at 202 Lewis St. in Monroe, and Mud Bay, which provides healthful dog and cat food at 20 stores in the Puget Sound area, including Lynnwood and Bothell.
Wet Noses is now at the point of being able to “give back to Monroe,” Lybrand said, noting that the business recently approached the city to offer a donation of $8,000 worth of disposable dog waste bags for dispensers in the city’s 15 parks. Budget cuts over the past two years have made it hard for the city to fund the $1,600 it takes annually to keep the containers filled. Dog waste was often left in park areas where children play or where rain water washes the waste into the Snohomish River.
One of Lybrand’s next hopes is to open a “factory store” at the plant to showcase the businesses products, but without competing with Wet Noses’ retail marketers.
The Monroe facility also has some room for future production growth. Judging by Jasmine and Lance Lybrand’s track record so far, and the growing demand in the marketplace for Wet Noses, they’ll need that future space.