Ashlin was a clean food fanatic who pored over the ingredients list of every product on the shelf. Naturally, she did the same when shopping for her dog and she wanted something better for her fur baby.
What began as a food truck for dogs has turned into an absolute treat to support healthy pets everywhere. Made with organic proteins and produce from local farmers, Winnie Lou’s products are designed to help our four-legged friends live long and happy lives.
Recently, we caught up with Ashlin to learn more about her journey and hear her advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
1. Why did you start Winnie Lou?
I was inspired to create Winnie Lou right after bringing home my first dog, Winston. I was walking the aisles of my local big box pet store and, as a huge fan of natural foods, I was the inquisitive shopper looking beyond the "healthy" claims on the packaging.
I turned over each package to see if the company could back up those claims with a simple, clean ingredient list. It was 2016, and there wasn’t a single dog treat in that aisle that was actually made from simple and clean ingredients.
I found myself standing in the aisle, Googling ingredients on my phone for over 20 minutes. Glycerin, molasses, mixed tocopherols, artificial colorings, sugar, salt — what were these things, and why would I want them in my dog's treats?
I had just brought my first furry child into my home and I wanted to feed him nothing but the best. I knew there was an opportunity to create products and a brand that became synonymous with clean ingredient lists and transparency. I got to work executing against that vision and Winnie Lou was born!
2. What obstacles did you face along the way?
Too many to count! In the beginning, my biggest obstacle was securing permits for a dog food truck.
Midway through my journey, I had to figure out how to automate manufacturing our unique product shape and texture without compromising on our quality or commitment to clean ingredients. It can be tempting to compromise your quality as you scale — and many people do. It can create better margins, allow for easier manufacturing, and help you lower your price point. Still, you must stay true to why you started and what makes you and your brand different.
Right now, it’s all about keeping up with demand and making sure we have enough room to grow in our production facility. That way, we can continue our mission of getting clean pet treats into more homes!
3. What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Listen to your gut! I love having conversations with anyone and everyone. I love asking for feedback and I take constructive criticism well. Oftentimes, it helps inform crucial decisions on things like introducing new products and potential packaging changes.
However, everyone has an opinion. And, many times, they differ from one another. Don’t change course every time you get a piece of feedback. But, once you hear the same thing from multiple sources you trust, it may be time to act on it.
4. What’s on the horizon for Winnie Lou?
So many exciting things! We recently launched single-ingredient cat treats, so keep an eye out for them.
We are also expanding into more retailers every day to continue our mission of getting more clean treats into pets’ homes across the country. We also have some exciting brand activations in the works, like dog jogs and hikes.
5. How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?
Work/life balance — what a concept! I haven’t experienced that in about five years. I get a little better at balance every year though.
When I started Winnie Lou, I worked until midnight every night, never saw the sun, and stopped working out. Now, I have a great team, and that allows me to take a trip every now and then, enjoy a proper weekend, and leave by 7pm every night. That’s progress…right?!
With that being said, being a founder and starting a business is a choice. I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wake up motivated and excited every morning to tackle the day and get a win. Cultivating an amazing group of founder friends around me has also been such a driving force. The support I feel from our conversations and common experiences is pure magic!
Our customers and their pets drive and inspire me. The dog photos I get in my inbox don’t hurt either! We get so many messages, DMs, and tagged photos of pets enjoying our treats. It’s even better when pet parents tell us they finally found a treat that didn’t flare up their dogs’ allergies. Or that they finally found a treat their cat didn’t turn their nose up at. That never gets old.
I truly love and care about dogs more than anything in this world, so providing them with clean products is extremely rewarding. Our pets can’t choose what they eat and they also don’t know what’s best — it’s up to us to make the right choice for them!