Watertown entrepreneur markets dog treats

Gloria Hafemeister
Grace Jagler is operating a doggie treat business out of her family’s Watertown home. She was inspired by her rescue dogs Zoe, Frodo and Liam.

WATERTOWN – Everyone understands that Wisconsin is the dairy state. Along with dairy, however, meat is also an important part of the state’s agricultural economy.

According to the Wisconsin Beef Council, Wisconsin now ranks 12th in the United States in the cattle feeding industry, and its cattle feeding capacity in Wisconsin has doubled in the last 30 years.

Wisconsin ranks 12 in beef production but pork, lamb and goat meat add significantly to meat sales along with chickens and turkeys.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there are 262 official meat establishments and 51 custom exempt meat establishments operating in the State of Wisconsin.

While these establishments sell a lot of meat, not all of it is for human consumption.

The pet industry attributes to some of the sales and one young entrepreneur is using that as an opportunity to operate her own home-based business. She did so with the encouragement of her family and of Glen Roberts at Glen’s Market in Watertown.

Special entrepreneur

Twenty-year-old Grace Jagler was born with Down syndrome but that hasn’t prevented her from entering the business world, running her own doggie treat business that has exploded with success in the last year and a half.

She gets a lot of help and support from her family but she is very much a part of this successful venture, doing the scooping, weighing and labeling of every package that is sold.

While the venture has paid off financially, her greatest reward is seeing the photos of what she terms “G-Dogs” who are enjoying her doggie treats. The photos are posted on Facebook or e-mailed to her from customers all around the country.

The idea for Gracie’s Doggie Delights was inspired by Grace’s love for her three rescue schnauzers:  Zoe, Frodo and Liam. 

After high school her family searched for a suitable place for Gracie to work and stabilize her future. She had the opportunity to help package USDA meat scraps to be marketed for pets at Glenn’s Market in Watertown. After looking at the job and giving it some thought, Grace’s dad, John, asked Glenn if he’d consider selling the bulk scraps to Gracie at a wholesale price and allow her to market them as a home-based business.

Glenn agreed and the family set out to create a venture that quickly snowballed.

Unanticipated success

“I initially thought her customers would be family and friends,” says Jagler.  “We advertised them on Facebook and at first we thought Gracie’s smile was selling them but then we started getting repeat customers who said their dogs really loved the treats.”

Grace is in charge of the weighing, packaging and labeling for every order. When orders come in a bell rings on her parents’ phones. Grace responds faster than anyone to the call and announces, “An order is in.”

Jagler, who is also busy as a state Legislator, is in charge of packaging the shipments and sending them out to customers. Together they deliver the packages to the nearby post office. Postal workers look forward to seeing Grace’s big smile each day as she proudly helps deliver her daily shipment.

Grace personally delivers local orders, ringing the doorbell, handing them the treats and thanking them for their business. That has helped her with face-to-face communication and has been great motivation.

She also personally signs a written thank you note that features her photo and includes it in every order that is shipped out.

“I knew she could do all the skills,” Jagler says of the venture. “What has surprised me, however, is how quickly the business took off and how it continues to grow with repeat customers.”

Jagler says, “The first two months she was in business we put a pin on the map for each location where we shipped the product. It didn’t take long before the map was too busy with pins and we had to stop.”

Marketing online

Gracie’s Doggie Delights are now sold in 48 continental states. They are marketed in 25 retail outlets but most of the sales are online.

Treats range from chicken heart, to beef liver, to lamb heart and turkey heart. The lamb treats were requested and added for dogs with sensitive food allergies. The top sellers are beef liver and chicken heart treats.

The business has been good for their family.  Grace’s mother, Heidi, is a nurse and helps when she’s home.

Her brother John, who Grace calls “Bubba,” will be a senior in high school and came up with the idea of eliminating the waste by taking the fines from the dried meat scraps and blending them into a powder to be sprinkled on top of bland tasting dog food.  “Bubba’s Booster Bits” have become a very popular product.

Grace’s older sister, Sara, is in college but when she comes home she also pitches in to help. 

As a representative in the Wisconsin assembly Jagler says the experience is good for him because he has learned a lot about the hoops that entrepreneurs need to jump through to start and run a business. Jagler had been a radio-talk show host before his election to the state legislature so he really didn’t have a personal understanding of how to run a business.

He has also found that Grace has been an inspiration to other families who have members with Down syndrome. The family has had phone calls from families thanking them for showing them that these special people are capable of doing some very neat things when provided the right motivation.

“To see somebody work so hard for something so pure, and to be motivated by that is just remarkable to me,” he says of his daughter’s excitement about the business. “She loves what she’s doing.”

Jagler knows that if the business continues as it has they will outgrow the space in their home and they will need some extra help. He envisions a time when they can bring in some of Gracie’s classmates from the special needs program at Watertown High School to help.