Tail Bangers: Gourmet dog treats a successful business tale

T & T karen mcgrath carper sus co director and lisa st clair tail bangers

Lisa St. Clair, right, owner of Tail Bangers, a gourmet dog treat bakery in Millsboro, shares information about the thriving Millsboro business with Karen McGrath, Sussex County Director for U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, at Wednesday’s Sussex County: Today & Tomorrow Conference.

GEORGETOWN – Lisa St. Clair’s success story isn’t the average business tale.

In large part, it’s about dogs and why they bang their tails.

“It’s all about your relationship with your dog,” said Ms. St. Clair. “We have this tag-line: ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ You can be gone all day long and walk in the door and your dog thinks you’re a rock star … even though he’s had to hold it for 10 hours.”

Ms. St. Clair, among the presenters and panelists at Wednesday’s 2015 Sussex County: Today & Tomorrow Conference is the owner of Tail Bangers – a gourmet bakery that makes doggie bones and assorted canine treats.

“We’re not your average milk-bone,” said Ms. St. Clair.

All Tail Bangers products – Birthday Bones, Canine Cannoli, Doggie Donuts, Barkin’ Biscotti, Yogurt Banger, Winter Bon Bons and many, many more – are made with quality human-grade ingredients, baked, decorated and packaged with a personal touch.

“People like that it is handmade. They like that it is hand-decorated. They like that part of it. They can see that effort that went into the product,” said Ms. St. Clair.

Today, Tail Bangers Dog Bakery is a thriving business, providing via wholesale gourmet treats to stores in every state in the continental U.S.

Only Alaska and Hawaii are not on the list.

There’s also a brisk on-site walk-in business as well at its 5,000 square-foot bakery/shipping beehive on Betts Pond Road just off U.S. 113 north of Millsboro.

“That is pretty much what we have tapped into. People have humanized pets. I mean we talk to them; they talk back,” said Ms. St. Clair. “

Holidays and even football season mean big business for Tail Bangers, whose name one might correctly guess stems from Ms. St. Clair’s dogs banging their tails against a kitchen counter awaiting a delicious treat.

“Right now we are Santa’s elves making everything from Grinches to Santa faces …,” Ms. St. Clair said. “With all of the holidays our business changes constantly.”

All dog treats are made from all natural, human grade ingredients, 100 percent whole grains, real eggs, real cheese, real bacon, yogurt, carob and fresh ground peanuts.

Gourmet dog treats are made by some four dozen employees who prepare the dough, bake, decorate, box and ship. Production necessitates two staggered shifts.

UPS comes every day; sometimes it’s two or three trucks.

Tail Bangers was born in October 2003 literally in a 20 by 20-foot shed at Ms. St. Clair’s Millsboro home, evolving from her extensive research of dog food and subsequent dog food production from human-grade ingredients for her ailing dog and other sick canines.

At that time she had a business partner who today remains associated with the company.

Initially, their treats were sold mainly at street shows and craft fairs and a couple vans that headed to Virginia and New York.

Treats caught on.

Now Tail Bangers is part of Plan-O-Gram for Pet Supplies Plus and Pet Valu, the No. 3 and No. 4 pet stores in America. When those companies open a new store, Tail Bangers goes in with them, via bakery cases.

Locally, Tail Banger products can be found at Concord Pet, Candy Kitchen and other stores in Sussex County

“I decided I wanted to be the Otis Spunkmeyer of dog treats. I called a man in Michigan, and I said, ‘I need you to make me a bakery case,’” said Ms. St. Clair, adding his initial response was “OK …crazy person.”

TAIL Lisa with her brochure

Lisa St. Clair holds the brochure that tells the tale of Tail Bangers dog treat bakery and its product lines.

“Four thousand bakery cases (later) he doesn’t think I’m quite as crazy …” said Ms. St. Clair. “So we came out with the bakery case and we are now in about 2,000 stores around the country.”

Teamwork factors heavily in Tail Bangers’ success.

“I have done every single job: I designed my bakery. I created every position. At this point I just make sure I have the right people in place,” said Ms. St. Clair.  “All of the recipes are mine. It is a lot of work to make these dog treats. It takes a lot longer to bake them. The dough is a lot harder to work with; it’s thicker, heartier dough.”

The current Millsboro site was purchased in 2014 and the move from a shopping center on Long Neck Road was on April Fools’ Day, 2014.

Product demand and production growth have produced growing pains.

Current plans are to move shipping to an adjacent building that also provides 2,000 square feet of additional storage. Ms. St. Clair said she also plans to build a 4,500 square-foot warehouse.

“This year we have grown by like 32 percent,” said Ms. St. Clair. “We are really growing fast right now. I am not even trying. If I was trying it would be ugly.”

All of this to produce a yummy doggie treat that can fetch a nice chunk of change.

“It was really hard in the beginning because the pet stores didn’t realize that people will spend $1.50 on a dog treat,” said Ms. St. Clair. “Basically, I am going to double my sales just with Pet Supplies Plus next year. They just want more treats because they sell so fast.”

“Tail Bangers is all about celebrating the relationship with your dog,” said Ms. St. Clair. “Dogs make people better people. When I came out with the product that’s what this was all about.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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