How a middle school girl’s ambition led to a thriving small business
There are a lot of small businesses in Northern Virginia, but very few can claim that their founder began their enterprise before they started high school. And yet, that’s exactly what Dezi Rebelo of Haymarket set out to do. Her small business, Wag and Woof, makes homemade, organic dog treats that are designed to be not only delicious for any dogs in the house, but also completely free of chemicals and other preservatives commonly found in store-brand pet snacks.
At the moment, Dezi lives out her childhood like almost any other pre-teen in the area. She goes to school, goes out for skating practice—she performs on a synchronized skating team—and goes home to play with her dog Baxter, a dachshund. This picture is practically identical to Dezi’s life approximately one year ago. But now, she makes time once a month to bake Wag and Woof’s dog treats.
Dezi’s original motivation for the business is almost too simple to be believed: “I wanted an iPhone.” However, rather than buy the phone outright for her, Dezi’s mother Barbi, who has a background in sales, encouraged her to raise the money for the device herself. Dezi took that advice to heart, and started brainstorming ideas to raise money. What she came up with was a product that, at the time, neither she nor her mother would realize the potential of.
At first this business started only as a hobby. Dezi regularly baked homemade treats for Baxter, but then realized she could make a profit out of it after she started selling them to friends and neighbors. After sales finished at her first Young Entrepreneur fair, Dezi and her mother both were surprised but delighted when Dezi came home a whopping $600 richer. Since that time, Dezi has been working to make sure that her hobby-turned-business continues to grow, one month at a time. She’s tracked down a local business mentor in the form of Meighan O’Toole from Stuff! Consignments, and she’s begun shipping her treats across state lines, even going out as far as Ohio for some customers.
The treats have been a smash hit with the local area, to the point that Dezi and her mother decided to set up a Facebook page to better communicate with their many customers. There, Dezi and her mom hold a new contest every month among their followers. “During October we had a costume contest, and the winner won a free bag of our biggest dog treats,” Barbi mentioned with a chuckle. If the reviews are anything to go by, Dezi should be staying in business for some time.
The only tricky part to these treats is their shelf life: because there are absolutely no preservatives used, they must be used within three weeks of their baking, and they must be kept refrigerated when stored. However, make no mistake: despite their limited shelf life, there’s a lot of work and time that goes into planning for these treats. Because sales only happen once a month at the moment, the recipe changes every sale period in order to keep things fresh and exciting for customers. Previous flavors have included Pumpkin for October, Apple Bacon for December, and Sweet Potato for January. When asked about the cooking process, the mother-daughter duo was hesitant to share any information about the secret recipe they use to make their special dog treats, but when asked if there was any ingredient that she always uses, Dezi whispered excitedly, “Bone broth!” Apparently, every dog treat mixture gets a small dose of bone broth in every recipe—no wonder their customers, both human and canine, love them.
When asked about ideas for the future, both for her business and for herself, Dezi’s next goal is similar to her original one: she wants a Jeep next, and is thinking about slapping her small company’s signature logo on the side for everyone to see. She already hands out free samples to any dog owner she passes by on the road with her mom to drum up visibility, so getting an official company car sounds like a great next step. While she wants to grow up to be a zookeeper and work with animals every day, she does have another very ambitious goal to hit in the hopefully near future: “I want to go on Shark Tank and pitch my business there,” she said. With such big goals in mind for the next few years, it’s hard to imagine that Dezi’s future is anything but bright, as is that of Wag and Woof.