I am the Founder and President of Sancho & Lola’s Closet. We source and private label natural dog chews and treats that have a holistic health benefit for dogs and solve a problem for pet parents who want a non-chemical solution to keep several different types of dogs busy: 1) aggressive chewers 2) dogs that needed to be calm while crated 3) dogs that needed to be busy. We started sourcing strictly from the USA only, but due to half of our products being rare commodities that got even rarer during the pandemic, we also now source from several reputable countries.
When I started, it was me and one employee. She was way overqualified, but neither of us cared about titles or getting a paycheck. We were passionate about our mission to source ultra-premium, healthy chews and donate as much of our proceeds as possible to local canine rescues. That is what our core customers connected with and what I feel sets us apart from hundreds of brands. We set ourselves apart further by offering products that went through an extreme quality control process. Our competitors, from what we could tell, were betting on volume. They were catering to the bottom 70% of customers, whereas we were catering to the top 30% who were picky and were willing to pay more to get exactly what they wanted.
I was raised by a single mom who was a teacher and a workaholic. Thus, I was a classic overachiever and people-pleaser in high school. By my mid 20s, I became a chip off the workaholic block. I also have OCD and ADHD. I don’t just go above and beyond when I am working on a project or giving someone information. I over-communicate because I like to be thorough. I think it’s important to be proactive in order to manage expectations with customers, employees, and colleagues. Though it is hard for me to focus on a lot of things at once, if I am passionate about the end result, I have the drive to laser focus on one or two things and do them extremely well.
Being able to work on my own terms. For 18 years, I marketed and sold fine wine and handcrafted spirits, like tequila. I was passionate about this industry. When I was in my 30s, my dream was to start a small, boutique import wholesale company. But the universe had a different plan in store for me.
After burning the candle at both ends for 20 years in this business that I loved, I was stricken with systemic joint pain and chronic fatigue following a failed knee surgery. I was either in a wheelchair or on crutches for six months. I wore custom braces on my wrists and knees for 2.5 years. Allopathic doctors told me future knee and wrist surgeries were my only answer to walk and grip normal again. I was told I would qualify for disability. I was 45 years old.
I refused to accept that sentence. A doctor who didn’t know me was not going to define the rest of my future. I started attending functional nutrition and holistic medicine conferences. I went to the gym every day, even if all I could do was lay on a yoga mat for an hour. After 4 years, my holistic healing journey was a success. I couldn’t run anymore, but with zero surgeries I was doing yoga, riding my bike and lifting weights two hours a day.
I wanted to volunteer with my dogs’ rescue, but the events started at 8:00 AM, and I still had severe morning fatigue. Plus, my knees would get stiff before the 7-hour shift at a fundraising event was over.
With my marketing background, I knew I could find a more impactful way to help the rescue, but it had to be on my own terms. I needed the flexibility of starting the work days when I had the energy (10-11 AM) I needed to be able to sit down most of the time. In order to keep my inventory as fresh as possible and to meet minimum order quantities by my supplier, I built mini-store presences on three eCommerce platforms. Within six months, I was working 7 days a week till 1:00 AM so desperately needed to hire help!
Prior to age 48, I had never sold on anything via eCommerce. I was an old-school sales manager who was technology-challenged and had no eCommerce experience. I had to reinvent myself based on the serious health condition I was dealing with. Since I lacked expertise, my goals were humble. My 3-year goal was to generate 10k in revenue a month. I thought “wouldn’t it be great to donate $3K a month to rescues and still be able to cover all my costs?” I achieved that goal in three months.
I got really lucky with my first full-time employee. She was overqualified, but she agreed to help me with whatever my budget allowed each month. We continued to operate on a shoestring budget, investing most of our profits back into inventory and making donations to local rescues and shelters. As a result, our sales and brand equity increased significantly. In two years, we went from a “project” that donated to 1-3 local rescues to a small business that was supporting rescues all over the country.
At age 45, I traded my business suits and high heels for spandex tops and sneakers. I fought the “joint disease” dragon and by age 48, came out on top. After succeeding in that, reinventing myself in a completely new industry was a piece of cake. By age 50, when I was supposed to be getting disability, I was generating seven figures on three major eCommerce platforms with the help of one woman, also 50 and just as driven as I was. Business people I met were amazed that we were able to organically grow a brand in two years, without any advertising, investors, loans, or capital raises. Just a loyal, somewhat cult following on social media.
Our biggest brand ambassadors were rescue coordinators and fellow GSP owners. It wasn’t that amazing to me because I lived and breathed nutrition since it turned my health around. Though a dog’s needs are different, it wasn’t difficult to apply the same principles to my dog’s health. Lola was emaciated and ridden with heartworms. Sancho was undernourished and suffered extreme PTSD from abuse. I adopted both of them from Texas GSP Rescue. I was passionate about nurturing them to health and keeping them pain-free and disease-free for as long as possible. I was also OCD about researching solutions for problems. I assumed other pet parents were just as passionate but did not have the luxury of time, or, perhaps the patience to research the topic three hours a day. I felt if I combined my OCD, with my knowledge of functional nutrition, the love I had for dogs, and the passion I had for helping dogs that get rescued in Sancho and Lola’s condition, it could be a win-win. It was.
Like the wine business, I love every minute of what I do in the pet space. It was not long before I became an expert in this niche that very few pet parents knew about before 2015. Success came quickly because natural dog chews and functional nutrition were the fastest-growing category in the pet industry from 2017-to 2021. I was told I had a good nose in the wine business. Plus I was picky about craftmanship. Thus, I set my goal and feel I succeeded in being the ‘Robert Parker’ of animal body parts. Not a far stretch, as a Pinot Noir and a Bully Stick both have a ‘barnyard” aroma. Parker is not a wine-maker, but people trust his research, his taste tests, and his opinion. Just as he demystifies wine-growing regions and wine-making techniques, by putting concepts into terms a wine enthusiast (not a beginner) can understand, I demystified the topic of yucky animal body parts to customers who are or wanted to become enthusiasts.
I also knew this niche would appeal to environmentalists because we are recycling what used to get thrown away in the meat industry. And I knew it would appeal to foodies and nutrition geeks once I told them how I work with chefs and cooks to turn ugly, stinky body parts into charcuterie-inspired savory holistic chew solutions that have insanely great health benefits.
I think more personalization to end user consumers due to benefits from machine learning and predictive analytics. Social platforms will create more innovative ways to attract and engage customers.
The Farmer’s Dog: Great personalization in email marketing, great branding, very creative strategy on TV commercials, the packaging feels earthy, and they do a great job appealing to Millennials.
I geek out over nutritional supplements, biohacking our sleep habits, cool-colored health foods, exploring new ingredients, and creating my own recipes.