By: Jeff Haden - Contributing editor, Inc.
Chances are you use any old bowl to feed your pets. Maybe you picked one up at a pet store. Or maybe you picked one up at a department store. Either way, you probably gave it no thought.
But David MacNeil not only gave pet bowls (and the health of his pets) a ton of thought, he also did something about what he realized was a very real problem.
First some background. David is the founder and CEO of WeatherTech, the Illinois-based auto floor mat and accessory manufacturing firm he started in his home. Today WeatherTech does hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, employs nearly 2,000 people, and has enjoyed double-digit growth rates every year since 1987.
So why start PetComfort, a series of custom pet feeding systems? Good question. So I asked him.
Your business strategy seems clear: You develop products that seem like commodities... but only when you feel you have something better than what currently exists.
You're right. We do think our floor mats and vehicle accessories are much better than anything else on the market.
But our interest in pet feeding systems started from a different place.
First and foremost, I'm a pet owner and pet lover. We've had golden retrievers, and our dogs averaged 14 to 15 years of longevity... and every one of them died of cancer. In fact, the highest cause of canine death in America is cancer.
Then think about car mats. When I first started looking at the quality of car mats, the ones produced overseas were made of heavy rubber, who knows what metals were in them, what chemicals and toxins were in them... that white film you see on the inside of your windshield? Oftentimes that comes from chemicals and toxins released by poorly made floor mats. Ours don't do that, because we use U.S. sourced materials, ultra high quality... there's nothing toxic or poisonous about them.
Unfortunately, many pet bowls are made out of materials that are toxic or poisonous.
I feel like I once saw something about that...
A few years ago thousands of pet bowls were recalled because they were actually radioactive. The steel mill mixed cobalt 60 into the stainless steel, then stamped it into dog bowls and shipped them to America.
But that's not the only problem. We couldn't find, for example, federal regulations for the amount of lead allowed in the glazing of a ceramic bowl. Not to mention other chemicals not fit for human consumption.
When something says, "Not for human use," that means you and I shouldn't eat from it... but lead has the same impact on our dogs as it does on our kids.
It will hurt humans, but it's okay for it to hurt your pets? That's just wrong.
I'm embarrassed to admit I've never thought about that. My criteria for buying a dog food bowl was that it was sturdy and would last a long time. (And as regular readers know, my dog didn't die of old age.)
There are over 150 types of stainless steel alloys, but only two of them are meant for human food contact. We're using one of them, made in America, to the highest quality standards possible.
So ultimately we wanted to create a bowl that meets the highest possible human health standards. And that's exactly what we did.
They're ergonomically designed for dogs and cats, even ones with calcified vertebrae or arthritis, and they're NSF certified. (NSF is typically used in commercial applications to ensure utensils, etc., meet health department codes.)
I've never thought about putting a dog food bowl on a stand, either.
For a long time, I didn't either. That's why we have eight different stands, from 1.5 inches to 14 inches, so eating is comfortable and ergonomically correct for the individual dog. The stand adapts to the dog or cat, not the other way around.
And the plastic used for the stand and the mat is a material that is FDA-approved for human contact -- so if food gets on the stand and the dog licks it, it's okay.
And we fortified both the stand and the mat with an FDA anti-fungal and anti-microbial additive to create a more sanitary environment between washings.
A devil's advocate would say that you've clearly built a better mousetrap, but is there a market?
First things first. We've taken the worst quality, least safe feeding system in America, one that is potentially hazardous and potentially toxic, and taken it to a level where it's U.S. food grade and certified for human use. It's a wholly different take on feeding pets.
So if you're a pet owner, taking care of your pet is not just your job, it's something you love to do. That's how we know there's a market for a safe way to feed pets.
And we're doing it with American design, American manufacturing, American labor, and American-sourced materials. That's means it's not inexpensive... but the first day I fed our dog Scout with our feeding system, I felt good about what he was eating from. He's our dog. I want him to be as healthy as he can be.
And I feel sure millions of other people feel the same way.
One thing that often gets missed is that many entrepreneurs create new products because doing so creates greater opportunities for their employees.
I try to create win-win situations. Our pet feeding systems are primarily designed to create a healthy way for pets to eat. Pets are part of families, people want to keep their pets healthy... so the pet owner wins.
Then our employees win by having good paying, quality jobs.
And I win because we're growing our business. And it's also a win for America, because every 1 new factory job creates 5 new support jobs.
Factory jobs are a great economic foundation for our country. Shouldn't every business owner want to create more manufacturing jobs in their hometowns?