Noteworthy: Natural dog-treat brand that donates half of its profits to support people with disabilities
Employees: 3 full-time; 27 part-time
The company that is now Finley’s natural dog treats got its start in 2016 as a classroom project by former special education teachers Kyle and Angie Gallus, who wanted to help their students gain job experience. It quickly grew into a regional brand and became the husband-and-wife duo’s full-time focus. Four years later, the Minneapolis-based startup was poised to launch in 70 stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. But when the first major Covid-19 outbreak hit Seattle, orders were cancelled, and Finley’s was left sitting on a significant amount of excess inventory.
With consumers shifting to online shopping, Finley’s jumped on the trend. Kyle Gallus had already been in talks with national e-commerce pet supplier Chewy.com, and with product ready to ship, he brokered a second-quarter 2020 launch on Chewy. “Within 48 hours, we sold through the initial product order, and they ordered another six weeks’ worth of products,” Gallus says.
Then Target wanted in. For two years, the couple had been in talks with a Target buyer who praised their product and mission—Finley’s dedicates 50 percent of net profits to elevating people with disabilities—but said the company needed to reach scalability before it would be ready for mass market. A fast-tracked launch last summer on Target.com went as well as the Chewy launch. In the end, Finley’s tripled its annual sales.
The momentum continues: In February, Target will launch the brand in select stores around the country. Finley’s recently signed a partnership with KeHE natural foods distributor and expects to launch soon at Albertsons and Safeway grocery stores across the country.
What the pandemic taught the galluses:
Less is more. “We thought we wanted business from everybody. Now, we see we can be really strong with a few key partners,” Kyle Gallus says. “We also scaled back on assortment to focus on what was working best.”
Know your why. Pre-pandemic, Finley’s relied on in-store demos to introduce consumers to the product and the mission of employing adults with disabilities. Sharing the story is more challenging right now, but that’s made the founders think even more deliberately about partnerships, hiring, and branding. “It’s not just a mission slapped on a bag,” Angie Gallus says.
Keep learning. “A year ago, I had no idea what it meant to send a truck to a Chewy.com distribution center,” Kyle Gallus says. “Being a small team working with bigger partners, I need to learn this. As teachers, we’re still learning. That’s what Covid’s taught us.”