No small business story is the same. Sometimes, an idea for a business can spring up from an accidental moment of clarity, while other times, someone has spent years trying to mastermind a plan to work for themselves. In the case of Cierra Thompson of WereWoof, she started her business through a shared love of animals with her late father, but also by asking herself a transformative question: “What makes me happy?”
After floating between Chicago and Los Angeles, Thompson worked as an Artist Manager but still felt like something was missing. She went as far as to go to veterinary school at the University of Chicago. But, when she realized she didn’t love the life of cat scratches and dog whimpers, she decided that career path wasn’t for her.
After the tragic passing of her father, Thompson retreated into her past and her adoration for her dad. “When dad passed away, it rekindled my love for him in different ways. I love to bake. He loved to bake. When I was in LA, I was fostering dogs, and I got really into it for a couple of years. When my dad died, I thought about what made me truly happy: baking and dogs. So, that’s how WereWoof got started. I wanted to honor dad but be true to what I loved more than anything.”
Because Thompson’s father loved the supernatural, she leaned into the idea of her brand being something different, something beyond the ordinary. “We had a name before WereWoof it was Bark Bite, there were legal complications. I went back to the drawing board. I landed on WereWoof because my dad loved anything supernatural. He was really into BigFoot, aliens, all of that. But dogs were my thing, so how could I connect them? I came up with Wolf at first, and that wasn’t original. When the idea for WereWoof hit me, I jumped right into it.”
Once Thompson had the idea of what she wanted to create, she set off on crafting a brand image that was reflective of not only her interests but keeping the spirit of her father alive as well. “I got to work on creating a logo, the packaging, all of that, and I started messing around in Photoshop. I never took a class or anything, and I learned everything from YouTube and Google.”
Taking on the dog treats industry, one WereWoof Bite at a time
In the spirit of being an entrepreneur, Thompson kept grinding. She had the idea, the name, the look, but had to center in on what would make her product’s identity stand out. What would an actual WereWoof Bite taste like?
“My dad made a mean sweet potato pie every Thanksgiving. So that was in my head for inspiration. That’s how I came up with Slobbary Treats. I started playing around with the treats. I started playing with how I can make sweet potatoes delicious for dogs. I wanted everything to be gluten-free. I’d never played with gluten-free flour before in my life – that was an experience. I had his recipe, so I had to find the substitutes that worked, the right flour that would mix with kind of the same ingredients that he would use, but more dog friendly.”
Thompson kept working at making sure her dog treats were what she envisioned, “I wanted my treats to be healthy. That was important. We didn’t want sugar added, either. I wanted healthy dog treats, which in many cases, the big-name brands aren’t the healthiest thing for our pets. I didn’t want WereWoof to be like that.”
After nailing down the first formula for the Slobbary Treats, Thompson got to work on her next flavor, which came out of nowhere.
“I came up with MoonBerry, which is cheese and blueberries. That was on a whim. I didn’t know how to actually put cheese and blueberries together. It sounded good in my head, so I tried it. I knew I wanted my treats to be soft because a lot of dogs I fostered didn’t have many teeth, especially some that came from Mexico when I was in LA. I wanted to make sure older dogs could enjoy them. A lot of natural dog treats are hard and I wanted my treats to be something a dog of any age could eat. Eventually, once I got the flavors correct, I worked with a food scientist to make sure the ingredients were safe. We have human taste testers before we had dog taste testers.”
At first, Thompson sold her products to her network, making everything in small batches in her kitchen. But once she got the formula right, she branched out, testing the waters of what her product could be, how it could differentiate itself amongst others.
“It was just me in my kitchen. That’s all I had. I jumped into stuff. I didn’t go to any farmer’s markets, which I should have, but I didn’t. I wanted it to be perfect. I’m a person that wants everything to be right the first time. I needed it to be right, especially with the packaging. I experimented with packaging to send to family and friends, who were my first customers, but the packaging wasn’t right for the treats. They were causing them to lose their shape and get moldy.”
Thompson continued with her quest for the proper pet food packaging for WereWoof. “I scrapped that packaging and I was like, let me find an actual company that knows what I’m getting into. I did a lot of research to know what kind of packaging I wanted to go with, like recyclable or PCR, or regular bags. I had an Excel sheet of 25 companies to reach out to, but honestly, I never reached out to anyone besides ePac, because I saw an article about another dog treat company. I read and I was like okay, this is a big brand. If they’re comfortable working with this company (ePac), then maybe I should do the same, and that’s what I did.”
The right packaging does make the difference
The flavors were there, people liked the product, and now, Thompson was ready to bring WereWoof to the next level with dog treat packaging that spoke to what she was trying to achieve. “I decided on PCR (Post Consumer Recycled) because sustainable packaging is important to me. The food industry is wasteful, and even though I’m a small company, any step towards the right direction is a good direction.”
After splitting her time between Chicago and Los Angeles, Thompson decided the right place to build the WereWoof brand was to return home to Indiana, where costs weren’t so high. Most importantly, she could work without a lot of red tape that plagues bigger cities. “In Indiana, I can bake and cook a lot easier. You have to have a commercial kitchen or a co-packer in LA, but that’s more expensive. I came back because I could use a commercial kitchen and will get a co-packer as I scale.”
Thompson is working toward expanding the brand daily, making sure she’s working with top-tier partners to see her vision executed. “I want to stand out on the shelves. When I first started working with ePac, I sent out a few promo packages, and everyone was like I didn’t expect the packaging to be this good. I even sent one to my banker. She was impressed. I thought it was gonna be like a regular, you know little bag for my stuff, but now, everything thinks the brand is a lot bigger than it really is. It looks so professional. I’m excited to see the brand grow in 2022.”
If you’re thinking about finding a packaging solution that works for your brand, we’d love to talk and see if we can help you reach your goals with one of our many sustainable options.