Kyle Polanski eats dog food. So do his employees. In fact, he says, “It’s rare that we have a staff meeting and don’t taste some of the product.” A little strange, perhaps, but if you’re picturing them spooning up mouthfuls of that smelly canned stuff, you’ve got the wrong idea.
Polanski, MBA 2008, is the CEO of Blue Dog Bakery, a dog treat company headquartered in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood. The bakery produces all-natural dog snacks made with the same kinds of ingredients you might find in your favorite cookie (minus the sugar and salt), and sells to retailers across the country.
Blue Dog Bakery was started in 1998 by Margot Kenly, who directed her passion for healthy, natural foods toward making natural dog treats with pure ingredients like whole wheat flour, molasses, oats, and peanut butter. Initially sold at Costco, the treats were a hit, and the bakery soon began receiving calls from other retailers like QFC, asking when they could get Blue Dog Bakery products on their shelves. By 2008 the company was distributing biscuits to Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Petsmart outlets throughout the Northwest and the Northeast.
At about this time, Polanski, an MBA student at the UW Foster School, established Halibut Flat Partners, a search fund backed by 12 investors who had agreed to finance his acquisition of a promising local company. His plan, once he found a company to purchase, was to use his business savvy to make it grow.
During his search, Polanski met Kenly, and spent several months doing a deep dive into Blue Dog Bakery. “There was clearly potential for expanding the company, evolving the brand, and scaling distribution to a national level,” he said. Polanski acquired Blue Dog Bakery in 2009 and the rush was on.
Since then, the bakery has grown its geographic and retail footprints (its products are now in 12,000 stores across the country) and increased sales (30% since the beginning of 2012 alone). The brand has become popular in stores like QFC and Safeway, and gained attention from the media, appearing in the Puget Sound Business Journal, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report. Blue Dog even won the 2010 Supermarket News Category Excellence award.
Polanski and his now 7 employees have expanded their product line to include items like Doggie Cremes and Bakery Bones, and redesigned their packaging. The company also started Pet Treat Pantry, a program that donates boxes of dog treats to animal shelters in five regions across the country.
As he looks ahead, Polanski is focused on competing in the national market, vying with billion-dollar brands for the attention of pet-owners and their pups. He believes Blue Dog’s all-natural products can go head-to-head with anything the competition throws their way. “People want healthy, natural, and affordable for their pets,” he said. “That’s Blue Dog.”