Women-owned business leads the pack in the pet industry

Women, money and influence

There’s something big happening at a little facility tucked away in Hopkins, Minnesota – and it’s about to get even bigger.

After only a few years, Stashios, a women-owned business and healthy dog treat company, is in the process of a major expansion. If all goes as planned, by mid-2022, they will have doubled both their workforce and their factory space.

It’s an ambitious goal. But after a breakout year that included winning the prestigious New Product Showcase Award for their Wrap-Ups™ treats at the SuperZoo 2021 tradeshow, it’s safe to say that the women of Stashios are up to the challenge.

Michele Pennington (center) and the Stashios team.

Discovering a second-act career as a business owner

For Stashios President Michele Pennington, running a start-up wasn’t exactly in her life plan. “Never in a million years is this where I thought I’d end up,” she says with a laugh.

After eight years of working as an elementary school teacher while trying to balance her home life, she found herself burnt out and searching for a new path. “Trying to be a really awesome teacher all day and then trying to be a really awesome mom at night wasn’t working for me or my family. I knew that something had to change.”

Originally founded in 2016 under a different name, Stashios became a two-person operation when Pennington joined in 2017 after hearing about the opportunity from a friend. Initially hired to help with accounting, operations and logistics, Pennington’s responsibilities expanded as the business grew. Although she didn’t have any formal background in the pet industry, she took on her new role with curiosity and gusto, learning as she went and Googling industry jargon as needed.

When the founder stepped down in 2019 and Pennington was asked to step up, she wasn’t sure it was the right move. “I was a really good Robin, but not a good Batman,” she says. But with the support and encouragement of Stashios investor Virginia Carlson, Pennington decided to take a chance.

Just a few years later, it’s clear that chance has paid off.

Experiencing exponential growth

Since Pennington took the helm, Stashios has undergone an official name change and rebrand, hired seven full-time workers and four contract workers, and launched seven new products with multiple flavor options.

With a business loan from U.S. Bank, the company is planning to purchase additional machinery and move all their manufacturing in-house when the warehouse expansion is complete. Doing so will allow them to have complete control over their production process and ingredients.

“We work with a really awesome ingredient company that’s women-owned and in the Midwest, so we intentionally try to formulate products that we can use their ingredients with because we love supporting another women-owned company,” Pennington says.

And there’s no shortage of new products coming down the line.

Along with professional dog trainer and Director of New Product Development Stephanie Beetsch, Pennington and her team are constantly coming up with ideas for inventions. The latest is the Soothing Saucer™, a device specifically designed to comfort and distract dogs experiencing anxiety. Since dogs naturally lick to calm themselves, the saucer includes a lick-able ball that dispenses a specially formulated Soothing Sauce™. The more they lick, the calmer they get.

Moving a new product from conception to launch is a long process, taking on average a year to 18 months. The testing phase involves tapping into what Pennington refers to as their “dog database,” a spreadsheet listing real dogs of various ages, breeds and temperaments who are more than happy to help try out a new treat.

Supporting other entrepreneurs

That spirit of generosity isn’t limited to Stashios’ canine companions.

Pennington has been blown away by the support she’s received from other businesses and vendors in the community, including ongoing financial guidance from Carlson and U.S. Bank.

“For entrepreneurs, their passion lies in the daily operations of the business, but many of them struggle with some of the financial components,” says Jason Beumer, portfolio management managing director at U.S. Bank. Finding a trusted financial partner that can help advise entrepreneurs as their businesses expand is key, he notes.

Pennington also encourages other entrepreneurs to lean into their network and not be afraid to ask for help.

“Small businesses for the most part really love supporting other small businesses,” she says. “If you’re nice and you’re kind, you never know what connections the other person you’re talking to might have in their back pocket.”

From shipping pallets to prototypes, Pennington has learned about a lot of things over the last few years. But for a former teacher, perhaps the greatest lesson this experience has taught her is to believe in herself.

“It’s been a huge confidence boost,” she says. “I hadn’t had the confidence ever in my life that I could do anything like this. For my daughter especially, it’s been really cool to have her see that, as a woman, there’s nothing you can’t do. There’s a way to be a leader and make your whole team feel appreciated, involved and invested in the company’s success.”

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