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Ben Bohline tells us about his startup Dry Dog Kennel Mats [EP 261]

Ben Bohline consistently noticed that after a day in the field, putting a wet, dirty dog into a kennel that had blankets for padding caused problems. The blankets ended up stinky and filthy. And more importantly, it made traveling unsafe for his dog Punch. Thus Dry Dog Kennel Mats was born and in this episode, Ben tells us about the process from idea to launch.

Show Notes

Dry Dog Kennel Mats

Bass Pro Shops

Cabela's

Ruff Land Kennels

Gunner Kennels

Instagram

Facebook

Contact Page

Snippets

01:48 – 02:29  Favorite Gear
19:40 – 21:22  Favorite Books
16:51 – 17:33 Advice

Transcript

Hey, Ben, welcome to the show. Thanks Rick. Nice to be here. Yeah. Good to be talking with you this morning. You said you're in Minnesota, huh? How's it going up there? Cold. Yeah, it is. It's cold. Actually snowing right now, although oddly. It's a warmer January in general. We had a little bit of rain this morning, so that makes for an interesting mix.

[00:00:20] Yeah. Rain and snow. And then Neil probably freeze and be a slip and slide out there. That's poor treacherous driving conditions. For sure. I can only imagine we don't have that down where I'm at. So tell us about your introduction to the outdoors. Yeah. , my intro is I think a little unique that maybe most I didn't grow up hunting or anything like that.

[00:00:40]I I really got into it when I got my first dog is a yellow lab named punch for the local. Minnesotans who might be listening that punches a pizza shop here in Minnesota. My wife and I, my wife and I met. So that's where the name came from. But yeah, I got a yellow lab named punch shoes from hunting lines and it was clear to me that he enjoyed it and it was just so instinctual and a buddy, and I decided, Hey, what a great fall and winter sport to get into.

[00:01:07] So we picked up bird hunting and pheasant hunting specifically, but you didn't grow up doing that. That's interesting. Yeah, no, I really didn't. My my grandfather I've heard was a big Hunter, but that wasn't something that I got into as a child growing up. It was really more recently looking for kind of something to do in the fall and winter up here in Minnesota, and then having a dog who was really bred for it was a.

[00:01:30] It was really what got me into it. Yeah. That's a unique way. That's you don't hear that kind of type of story very often. That's pretty cool. So have you had a traditional outdoor job if you worked in the outdoor space or hunting? I guess not then hunting? No. Yeah, honestly, no, I really haven't. I've always enjoyed the outdoors.

[00:01:45] I did grow up camping and my family's a big, skiing family and all that, but Never really formally worked in the outdoors. Yeah. That makes your path even tougher. When we get into the launching of the mats. If you don't have that little bit of that background.

[00:01:59] So what was your inspiration behind your mats? How did you come up with that idea? Yeah. Again, that was largely punch, so as I was getting into pheasant hunting I had joined a game farm out West here in of Minneapolis and I'd load punch up in the kettle and we'd drive out West.

[00:02:15] It's about an hour and a half strives. And at the time I had just blankets and towels in the basket of this kennel. And I'd go, I'd turn around a corner and I could hear those blankets, like slide out from under him and he'd literally fall over in the kennel. And as a result, he was.

[00:02:32] He was just downright nervous and anxious back there. He wouldn't, he tended not to lay down. He put all four-part pause in the corners and just cause he was kinda nervous about. And so there was a safety component there that I was like, gosh, there's gotta be something out there that addresses this.

[00:02:46] And then further, once we get out in the field, he'd be dirty and muddy and. And wet and the whole deal, and then I'd throw them back in. They can on the drive home. And of course it's blankets and towels. What's just soaks all that stuff up and they start to stink to high heaven and you have to leave the kennel in the garage.

[00:03:03] And you don't even want those kinds of things, your washing machine, frankly. So yeah, I just figured there's gotta be something out there that That kind of addresses these things and didn't find anything obvious. So it really got me dreaming a little bit. And where'd you get the design chops to pull that off?

[00:03:19] Yeah.  Don't have a design background or anything like that. This was just something that came to me. I don't know, I probably on a run and just thought, it really I think WeatherTech inspired if you're familiar. Oh yeah. Those guys make great stuff. Yeah. So it was a piece of that.

[00:03:34] And then really the added features that the mat has just came organically. It was, started it actually originally started very different looking than it does today, but the concept is there, just this kind of idea of Of a raised bed where the, where there's kind of grooves and that, that air can get underneath the dog.

[00:03:54] And it helps it dry in the water and dirt and junk kind of falls below where the dog's actually laying. Yeah, it really just happened organically and little features added over time to end up with what I got today. Did you do any research? Did you go out and look at other things? Not only other kennels, but other things other, sorry, other mats, other.

[00:04:12] No beds or who knows truck beds, car beds, WeatherTech mats. Totally. Yeah.  Did that because that was the initial, need, it was for me trying to find something that was in the back of the kennel. That's stable and safe, comfortable for the dog, but not, that could deal with a wet and dirty dog.

[00:04:29] And, so in that process, that's what I learned there. Wasn't a really good solution out there. A lot of what I think a lot of people just use. How was in blankets. Yeah. Yeah. Which isn't really ideal. And even though the mats that exist are typically like a pillow stuff, fabric kind of a thing, which is super not conducive to a wet and dirty dog.

[00:04:52] Some are more foam kind of canvas, which is a little bit. But they still slide around. And so this just seemed like a real clear opportunity here at me. Huge opportunity. Yeah. Good on you for figuring that out. Yeah. And your wife's involved too, right? Yeah. Yeah. She is. She's he works in advertising, so it was a clear opportunity for her to.

[00:05:13]Get involved in some of the ads and strategy bit there. And, it's a time-consuming thing, starting a business, and we're very much in the startup phase here, so I can use all the help we can get. Yeah. So tell us where the mats are produced. Yeah. Starting out, I used all local vendors in Minneapolis here just to get me through the prototype phase.

[00:05:33]Just to have a map in hand and really be able to vet since then I've been lucky actually. Through help from some of the kind of retail partners I've made to connect with a company kind of an R and D company that helps offshore. And so right now, actually right now, it produced it in China and so yeah, it was it was lucky  connection there.

[00:05:52] That's great. Yeah. How did you find your material? And so we know about the production, but what did you do use for the initial materials and had to source all that local bass? It was all local and a lot of time by me spending online. I know a lot about plastics, more about plastics and never thought I would.

[00:06:09]And interestingly, there's a company in Winona, Minnesota little further South and they are the major supplier to weather tech mats.  That just dumb luck frankly, to them. And so they were able to hook me up with with a very similar material to the WeatherTech mats.

[00:06:29] And it's the Cadillac of plastics for sure. It's a really nice, a nice piece of plastic. That's cool. Yeah. They make good stuff. Yeah. W for the launch. Did you use crowdsourcing or did you fund it yourself? Friends and family. How did that work? Yeah, no, it really up until very recently, this has just been  personally funded by me and I can't even say bootstrap because we're just now launching it's has really just been fun funded by myself.

[00:06:53]And more recently we have raised a little bit of. Through some angel investment type situation. Yeah, interestingly, when I first started out the first money that kind of went into this was at the time this was 2015. I was working in accounting. I was doing financial statement audits.

[00:07:12] I had to fly up. To Saskatchewan, Canada for an inventory, observation, something you do or do the audit and it's just an overnight visit. And Yeah, it was a really small little plane I'm up here in Minnesota, so it wasn't too long of a flight and it was oversold. And they keep asking over the intercompany were, offering more money and offering plane tickets and the whole deal to to, take the next flight kind of a deal.

[00:07:37] And it got to the point where they were offering a thousand dollars Amex gift cards. And I said, And they had a flight a couple hours later. And so I was like, all right, I'm just going to go for it. So I took the thousand bucks. The same time thing happened on the way back home. The next day I had $2,000 in kind of Amex gift cards.

[00:07:57]And really was like, all right, this is money I'd never would have had, let's throw this into the business and go, so yeah. I got to say it was Delta airlines who seeded the earth. It's a great seed story. That's awesome. That's hilarious. Yeah. Good for you. And. You started, did you start selling online and you started selling to retail first?

[00:08:16] How did that come about? Yeah. We do right now sell online just through the, through dry dog, kennel, mats.com. But really the first kind of major sale we did was with a retail partner bass pro shops and Cabelas. I had a a random connection. Just through some folks that I went to college with, who happened to be neighbors with Johnny Morris.

[00:08:39] And so was able to work my way into a meeting with with the buyers over there at bass pro Cabelas. And they really loved the product. They loved the story of the whole deal and said, Hey, this is absolutely something we're interested in. But we want it for a kennel that they carry called ruffling kennels at the time.

[00:08:57] I didn't have a, I didn't have a Matt Nate for the Russlynn kennels cause they're custom made, similar WeatherTech there, you can't just use any map for any Kennedy. You kinda got to have the right kennel. And so they said, we want these mats for roughly 10. Is that kind of set me off on a.

[00:09:09]Nine months of venture to get them made for ruffling kennels, but they, they had committed to ordering a thousand of these mats. They're rolling out to 90 or something like that stores. They actually, yeah, they actually haven't hit yet. I think that will be coming in February as I understand it.

[00:09:25] So an odd, literally. First order. I feel like most of the time you start slow with friends and family. And if you're lucky and make it to the big retail partners, but that's really where we started. And so well, it was a good connection. Yeah, that's typically the way it happens.

[00:09:39] Either. Somebody knows a local retailer who gets you your first start with one or two or somebody knows the founder of some big brand and you get that lucky break. Yeah. Certainly leveraged the network there. My wife shakes her head. Because, she's in advertising and she's Ben, you have no idea.

[00:09:55] We have clients who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get into that meeting type of feeling. You just walk your way. And so that's pretty cool. So you have a lot of skews then with the sizing, right? Yeah, we will. It's still, that's a work in progress we've got we've got mats made for Petmate a large and medium sized kennel and for rough land, a large or sorry yeah, large and intermediate size.

[00:10:22] Right now it's only four, which is tough, right? That's. A little limiting as to who you can, it's limiting on the sales side, but it's expensive on the production side. And so it's been a slow roll.  We intend to, for sure continue to grow the brand or the kennel brands that we serve.

[00:10:38] Gunnar is high on the list. Yeah. Yeah. I heard that. I heard the one with Edison. That was really cool. We're gonna take a little break and give some love to our sponsor. I've heard from some of you photographers out there that you've always wanted to sell your photos. Online was smug mug makes it easy with a few clicks.

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[00:11:12] To set up your account today, go to the outdoor biz podcast.com/sell photos. And now back to the show. So how many different kennel brands. I'm sure there's a bunch of them out there. How many do you think you're going to try to add two or three a year? Do you have a plan? What's that look like?

[00:11:28] Yeah. Not anything as specific as that. It's not like it's not cars and weather tech, there are endless amounts of cars and different variations of the, the kind of molds that they have to make. My sense is, and I don't have real good numbers on this. That's actually why I started with Petmate was Petmate is a kennel that they actually white label it to some of the other retailers Cohen and they have it under their own brand, but it's the same mold so that, so the mat fits all of those different brands.

[00:11:55] And so the idea there was to be able to serve the widest amount of the market. And I think to some degree it has worked interestingly bass pro Cabela's kind of pointed me in a different direction. They really liked that kind of the kennels that they carried and sold sell a whole bunch of is this ruffling kennels and more of a premium criminal, really nice kennel.

[00:12:14] And so they thought it really married well with kind of that product as a complimentary product. So yeah, no, the plan is just to keep taking them off and eventually be able to service the kind of the whole. The whole market, but a little bit of a slow go there. And how many brands do you are there?

[00:12:30] I don't know anything about the kennel, but I don't have a dog. Unfortunately. I, when I was originally starting, I did a whole bunch of research on it. It is something like, there's probably more, but in, in something like 10, and then Kendall brand has a few different sizes obviously, but I would bet that the top three or four cover about 90% of the kennel market.

[00:12:49] So it's not. Huge lift, but certainly a, an obstacle to bringing this to market. So you're going to get into the more, mainstream stores like Petco and things, or are you only focused on the hunt Fisk guys?  Really partly because it's what I was doing when the idea came to me, I'm really focused on the hunting and fishing and outdoor folks.

[00:13:10] It's just such a great market. I think the, the people are geared junkies for lack of a better. It's such a close knit community. There's, a, there's a social component. Lot of times you're looking at what your buddies got or taking your kind of hunting buddies recommendations for free gear.

[00:13:27] And so I really liked that, that, that space, and that's the focus of at least at launch here. But I do see. Plenty of opportunity, outside of that market. I think of beach dogs who run up and down the coast and are in the water and in the sand, this is a product that would be great for them or in Minnesota here, a lot of folks have cabins up North.

[00:13:46] And so there's those cabin dogs who are up in the Lake up North, and then they drive back home into the cities and it just, there's so many different applications for the mat that. We'll see where it goes. Yeah. Yeah. And is there any application for just the mat solo?

[00:14:00]If you have a, you put a mat in your living room instead of one of those big puffy things, like my sister has a little big. It's like a dog bed, I guess it's a big yeah, no, I think there is absolutely. They are, they're custom fit to a specific kennel, but absolutely. I I've got one in the corner of our room.

[00:14:15] That's not actually in a kennel that punch lays in all the time. So yeah. It's not something that we kind of market it like that it's really more focused on the kennel side, but but absolutely usable. You could do a high end version and make it all chucked out with nice. Padding and blankets and fleece.

[00:14:34] That could be interesting. So in the hunting, what other outdoor activities do you participate in? Yeah like I said, I grew up skiing. We were skiing family. We did a lot of camping growing up. There's There's an area far up North called the boundary waters, canoe area. If you've ever heard of, it's a hidden gem.

[00:14:51] Don't tell it. Yeah, I've been there once, man. Amazing. Yeah, it is. It's great. Spent some time up there fishing and yeah, no, it's it's mostly that kind of stuff. Where do you have to go to ski? You go to Colorado. Yeah there are very low altitude Hills in Minnesota. I've heard.

[00:15:09] Yeah. But yeah, it's pretty flat country here, but no, mostly Colorado. I went to school in Denver and was able to make it up to the mountains and then growing up at least once a year. Yeah. Gotcha. That's cool. And is that a flight or can you drive it? Growing up, we would usually drive.

[00:15:24]But you can fly and it's just harder with all the gear, it's a solid 13 hour drive from Minnesota, but yeah, that's a bit of a drive. Yeah. Do you have any advice or suggestions for folks wanting to do what you did launch their own product? Yeah. Gosh, it's a good question. I  we're just starting here, we are very much a startup just going through all the initial headaches are fresh in your mind. That's good. It's true. Very true. Yeah. And so I dunno, I guess I it's really a go for it. Attitude. You just kinda gotta be ambitious about it. I think a lot of people have a lot of really great ideas.

[00:16:00] And they never make it anywhere because step one, starting is such a battle and you just don't have a clue where to start. Gosh, I guess my recommendation is to go for it. It's step one  is half the battle. And once you've got that done things start to roll. So I don't think that's ever come up.

[00:16:16] Yeah, I think it is. It is, like any project, once you get the ball rolling. It's easier to keep it rolling than it is. So just go for it. I love that. That's great advice. Yeah. Jump in both feet. So you started this thing in, was the PA had the pandemic. Did you start in the pandemic or before the pandemic?

[00:16:33] Oh, no. Before that, yeah, it's been it's been going on for like I said, six 2016 slow roll side hustle type deal still is to some degree. I do have a quote unquote real job they, they do say it's  it's best to start a company when you've got a job.

[00:16:49] So still the case, maybe someday we'll see. Yeah. So have you been to any of the trade shows? Nope. Okay. There's one up here in Minnesota.  I'm blanking on the name off the top.  Game fair. It's called the game store and I tended, yeah, it's a smaller one, I would guess.  Attended just walking around and looking at booth.

[00:17:10] This was during the time when I was really vetting the whole idea and it was reassuring, frankly. Cause I was like, man, this would just fit in. So well, all that I've seen here, yeah, but no, hopefully in the future, given we've really just launched within the last month or two here.

[00:17:27]I'm sure we'll be making an appearance at some of the bigger shows here. Yeah. Yeah. If we ever have them again, who knows what that's going to be like, we'll see how that goes. Do you have any daily routines you use to keep your sanity meditate, but must get out with the dog a lot.

[00:17:41] Yeah, no, I do. I I actually, interestingly really, since the pandemic I have been on this running kick where literally every day I have gone for a run since March 13th. The 2020, which was the official lockdown day. So it's not a sustainable thing forever, but it's been good. And just generally exercising is a, is something that really helps keep me saying it good, good, healthy thing to do.

[00:18:11] But for me, it's a really big stress reliever too. Exactly. I'm sure the dog loves it too, so yeah, absolutely. Yep. Yep. Do you have any favorite books or books you give as gifts? Yeah gotcha. One of the books that I read alongside starting up dry dock here is there's a book called the lean startup by Eric Reese.

[00:18:34] I dunno if you've ever heard that book. Really good one. Yeah, just good advice on, on how you can bring a Mark, bring a product to market. And I, it may be more kind of software focused interestingly, but I absolutely took some of.  What I learned in that book and applied it, for example, one of the things I did was, when I was really early on before, before deciding to even manufacture and create the product and create a prototype.

[00:19:00] One of the things I did was actually with that $2,000 courtesy of Delta airlines was I went online and hired a CAD model. And I was able to Yeah. Try to explain my vision to this case ad guy. And he was able to do what's called a real photo render. So he built a model and then took pieces of real photos and made it look like it was an actual real product.

[00:19:24] And what I did was I set up a website. I sent out a survey to all my friends and encourage them to send it to them. Or friends and it was just asking about dog kennel, mats and their experience. Not something that I think most people think too much about. And after they hit submit, it took them to this website where the product kind of appeared to exist.

[00:19:44]I had a buy it now button on there and the whole deal and I was tracking. How many people are actually, interested enough to put forward. So yeah, I had enough traction enough people clicking on that, buy now button to go, gosh, there seems to be a market here for this, and this is validating.

[00:20:00] And so that kind of helped. That pushed me into and to go for it. That's really smart because at that concept is talked about in a few business books. I think Tim Ferriss talks about it. I think that's the way Harry's razors start at or something. It's really, test your concept, test your idea and good idea of to, to get a cadre drawing something, to do a mock-up drawing.

[00:20:21] That's awesome. Yeah. Yeah. I know. It's it was nice to be able to, Dip a toe before jumping in with both feet and do a little bit of validation and yeah. Certainly set me off. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Thanks. What's your favorite outdoor gear purchase or piece of outdoor gear under a hundred dollars?

[00:20:37] Oh gosh. I think I'm almost obligated.  that's good. That would be it. I've got a whole bunch of them and they're fantastic. So plug shameless, plug, that's it. And that good for you. Yeah. As we go to wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to say or ask of our listeners?

[00:20:53] No, I don't go. Love the love, the podcast, Rick, you do a great job. And I think it's it's really cool to have this outdoor niche kind of market that you're talking to in the listeners. And it's really good. It's good for the whole space. Yeah, thanks. It's been pretty fun too.

[00:21:07] There's been a handful of people that have done come on the show with exactly what you're doing, launched various products and yeah, it was pretty cool to be part of that and help you. I'd love sharing everybody's story. So thanks for coming on and sharing your story. Yeah, absolutely. Maybe I'll be back someday after we'll do that.

[00:21:23] This is a very much a launch  story. So we'll see. We'll have to use the way back with a little bit of a update. We'll do a follow-up. Yeah. And if people want to reach out. Yeah. Through the website, we've got a contact us form. That's a dry dog, kennel, mats.com. We've got a Facebook page dry dog kennel mats, and then we're also on Insta at radar kennel mounts.

[00:21:46] So yeah, any of those ways. Excellent. We'd love to, we'd love to hear from people and get feedback. It's a, it's a constant product improvement process. So all the feedback we can get we'd take into account and try to continually improve. So perfect. We'll link to that in the show notes, people can reach out and once it's dropped, we'll share it all up on all the socials.

[00:22:05] Very good. Awesome. Thanks Ben. It's been great talking to you. Appreciate it. Thanks for your time, Rick. All right, take it easy.

 

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