Katie Wright didn’t set out to launch a business—she just wanted her dog to be happy and healthy.
“I began making dog treats in 2017 after I retired from teaching and moved from the Lower Mainland to Protection Island with my new puppy, Tana, and my partner, Doug,” Katie recalled. “It was a perfect spot for my imagination to flourish.”
While training her young pup, Katie realized that the dog treats on the market simply weren’t meeting her standards. She began experimenting in her kitchen and working with a local vet to make treats that were actually supplementing Tana’s nutritional needs. Word soon got out about Katie’s project, and community members suggested that she sell them.
“What to name a company from Pirate’s Lane that’s involved with dogs? Island Skalliwags, of course!” laughs Katie.
Four-legged fan club
Katie started selling her treats at local markets and the response was tremendous, so she approached local stores and found success there as well. As Island Skalliwags started to take on a life of its own, Katie decided it was time to get some professional support.
“I loved what I was doing, and I wanted to reach bigger markets, but I was in the dark as to how to go about it. The word ‘export’ scared me.” Katie had no knowledge of how distributors worked or the process for selling products outside of B.C. “I reached out to Community Futures, that had helped fund my start-up,” explained Katie. “They introduced me to Export Navigator, and to my Export Advisor, Fabrizio Alberico.”
Working with Fabrizio immediately gave Katie clarity. “He let me know that I was not ‘too small’ to consider exporting, and he met with me and outlined the process very clearly,” Katie reflected. “He supported me with a navigator workbook, ideas for protecting my brand and identity, research guidelines to find appropriate export destinations, and step-by-step procedures so it wasn’t overwhelming.”
Fabrizio also brainstormed with Katie to find new niches where Island Skalliwags would be successful. “Out of the markets and into the boutique, upper-end dog treat stores and dog friendly tourism venues!” she exclaimed. Fabrizio also suggested that Katie expand her connections by networking at trade fairs and joining Canadian pet food organizations. “These have been invaluable sources of support and information,” Katie stated.
In good company
Island Skalliwags has recently become a part of a very large Canadian pet treat company based in Ontario called the Canadian Pet Connection. “We are on board with the launching of their Harbour Hound division that will distribute high quality, Canadian pet products to stores, veterinary offices and other online markets,” Katie said. “Thanks to Export Navigator I have big plans to be onboard with other health conscious pet food companies across Canada and am preparing for export to the U.S. and beyond!”
In the meantime, Katie can already see how Fabrizio’s support has improved her business.
“We’re new to exporting, of course, but we’ve already seen a growth in sales and increased our production capacity from approximately 500 bags of treats per month to 2000+ to meet bigger demands for product,” explained Katie. “We’ve hired an additional staff member and are now selling outside of B.C. to eastern markets, and we’ll soon be in a position to hire more staff for sales and production.” In fact, it’s growth on all fronts. “Our projected sales growth will have us outgrowing our present facility!” Katie said.
Passion pays off
With Export Navigator’s support, Katie knows that her business is just getting started. “It seemed daunting at first to consider Island Skalliwags being more than just a small business suited to local markets,” Katie reflected. “The truth is, we believe in the value of our products and their excellent quality, and Fabrizio has been instrumental in growing not only our business, but also our confidence.”
She sees Export Navigator is an incredible opportunity for business owners ready to take their next step. “You’re supported with honest, insightful information and suggestions. If you want your own business to grow, and are willing to do the work, it pays off!”
Above all else, Katie believes that you’ll get out what you put in—heart and passion are at the core of any success, “I think the most important thing is to love what you’re creating and know what need it fills for your customers.”