Laura Lane, For the Times-Mail
BEDFORD — Started with the simple act of trying to feed a dog, Mister Buck's Genuinely Good Pet Food Co. has grown exponentially.
Since the company started as an online business, it has grown from doing $25,000 in gross sales in 2010 to projected sales of more than $1 million this year.
And for the small pet food company based out of Bloomfield, the growth means jobs for clients at LARC/Stone Belt in Bedford, which recently partnered with Mister Buck’s to label its products, as well as increased donations to local animal welfare organizations that receive a portion of every sale.
Mister Buck’s Jon Kitto said the pet food company is his fifth and most successful business. He admitted the prior four companies were started in an effort to garner money or fame.
“This one I did because I wanted to make good food for my dog, and this one works,” Kitto said.
In the beginning, Kitto, business partner Zach Robinson and company administrator Alonso Saldivar did all the work. Robinson did a lot of research on pet food ingredients and didn’t like what he saw. Many dog foods contain fillers or animal byproducts.
“It just makes the food a lot less expensive,” he said.
Initially the goal was to feed Gigi, who’d lost her sense of smell, so Kitto mixed up the stinkiest combination of food to get her to eat. Working with rescue greyhounds, Kitto soon took in more dogs and the idea to create dog food was born. Mister Buck’s pet foods are 100 percent “holistic,” with natural ingredients.
Label and delivery
Once the company started to produce its dog food, Kitto, Robinson and Saldivar worked to label and distribute the food. There were times that Saldivar’s Jeep was loaded with product as he headed off to IU for class. Then, after class, he’d deliver the dog food.
At that time, Kitto and Robinson did all the labeling, with Kitto printing the self-adhesive labels. There were a few times that Kitto would print them on the wrong side of the sheet. However, no one seemed too concerned if the label had an ink blotch or if it was applied crooked or wrinkled.
“That’s what people expect of us,” Kitto said.
But the recent partnership with Stone Belt rid the trio of the task of labeling. Stone Belt also takes care of small orders that Kitto and Robinson used to handle.
Robinson had the idea of partnering with Stone Belt. He had seen Stone Belt’s dog treats and thought about offering them through Mister Buck’s. Even though that didn’t work out, Robinson kept trying to think of ways the two companies could work together. Eventually, the idea came to have Stone Belt clients label the food — a move that would improve the quality of labeling of the products.
The workers at Stone Belt are a little more oriented to detail than the owners had been. The labels are now on a large roll that an employee cuts with precision.
The label is then perfectly applied to the pet food by hand. During a recent visit to Stone Belt in Bedford, where the labeling is done, Kitto was asked a few quality control questions. He admitted that he wasn’t too concerned if the labels were perfect or not — but they are all applied perfectly now.
That was not an acceptable attitude for Stone Belt manufacturing director Karen Freeman.
“I had trouble with that,” she said, and it’s not the way things are done at Stone Belt.
At Stone Belt, workers are trained to take pride in their work — something that seems to be lost in some businesses, Freeman said. Despite Kitto’s insistence that labels don’t need to be perfect, they are.
Saldivar watched the workers as they labeled the food and came away impressed with such attention to detail. “It says something about the company,” he said.
The additional work has been a windfall for Stone Belt in Bedford. When the two companies first talked, Freeman asked Kitto if the work could be done in Bedford. The Bloomington Stone Belt has plenty of work thanks to Cook Medical, but times have been tougher in Bedford.
“The economy has just really killed the work prospects in a small community like Bedford,” Freeman said.
And it looks like the work will be steady. Sales for 2012 are looking up as Mister Buck’s products will soon be on the shelves of all 88 Marsh Supermarkets. And the company recently added cat food and treats to its line of products.
As Mister Buck’s prepares to add Marsh to its client list, Freeman said Stone Belt is ready, willing and able to take on the extra work, as well as the additional distribution work. With 40 clients, the additional business will mean more work for the clients.
Mister Buck’s is still working on expanding and adding its products into more stores, and Freeman is confident Stone Belt clients will be able to meet the company’s demands.
“If it’s possible, we’ll figure out a way to be a part of the plan,” Freeman said.
Along with the added work for Stone Belt, the company’s growth will also benefit local humane associations. Mister Buck’s donates a portion of every sale to an animal welfare organization in the county where the product is sold.
As the company grows, Kitto is happy that local animal welfare groups and clients at Stone Belt will be along for the ride.
“It’s just a win-win-win,” he said.
Mr. Buck was one of the rescued greyhounds that Zach Robinson and Alonso Saldivar kept. They decided to name their dog food product after him following the dog’s death.