Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Founder Friday Feature:
Ava Dorsey of Ava’s Pet Palace

This Women’s History Month, Startup CPG is proud to partner with Settle for a month of Female Founder Fridays! Settle is thrilled to continue their partnership with Startup CPG to elevate female founders. With a mission to power the CPG economy with financial tools, Settle levels the financing gap for female-founded brands with Settle Working Capital. Settle aims to empower women founders scaling their businesses in order to influx more women perspectives, inclusive brands and goods into the consumer ecosystem.

Meet Ava Dorsey: the high school junior who founded her organic pet treat brand when she was only eight years old

Ava’s Pet Palace does not have your traditional CPG origin story. “I grew up around animals,” founder Ava Dorsey says, “and when I was six, I drew a picture of a [pet] palace and called it my job plan. I wanted to create a palace with everything animals need and want.” Ava gave the drawing to her parents, and after a few years of begging, they agreed to turn Ava’s Pet Palace into a reality with healthy dog treats when Ava was eight.

Now a junior in high school, Ava looks back on their early days of business fondly. She says, “We started by passing out homemade treats to our neighbors with dogs. We went to small craft shows with our treats in boxes and jars, and we started selling [the treats] locally.” Those early days, Ava explains, helped her not only build her confidence but also hone in on what exactly Ava’s Pet Palace would become. She explains, “We got a lot of feedback about pet allergies, so we decided we wanted to focus on [making] treats with a clean ingredient list. We started testing a lot of recipes, and we still have three of the original flavors we started with —  cheese, peanut butter, and banana.”

Managing overnight growth

At first, Ava says, “[Ava’s Pet Palace] was just a hobby — something fun we did on the side.” As they continued to grow, Ava and her parents began working with independent contractors who helped refine their branding and packaging, but it was social media that played the biggest role in turning their family hobby into a fully-fledged national brand.

In the summer of 2020, during the Black Lives Matter movement, Ava explains, “A lot of people wanted to support black-owned businesses and there was a list of black-owned pet businesses that [Ava’s Pet Palace] was on. It was a short list because there aren’t that many [black-owned pet brands] in the industry, and it was shared hundreds of times across social media. It started to spiral and we blew up and built this whole new community of customers. Since then we’ve just been trying to maintain those customers, as well as growing into different retail locations.”

The adjustment to this sudden influx in orders was not entirely smooth, Ava explains. “We went from making all of the treats in the house a few times a month to getting something like 2000 orders in one or two days. It was a very big change because we were still making everything in our oven using a small mixing bowl and trays…It took a very long time to get those orders out because we weren’t used to it, but now we have help with everything. We still send orders from our house, but it’s a lot less responsibility.” This is particularly true when it comes to quality control, Ava says. “When you make something in your own house, you do your best to make sure everything is very safe and clean — and it always was — but it’s so nice not to have to worry about that. Now, the treats are made in three different states and they get packed there as well, so all we have to worry about is sending the orders out.”

It takes money to make money

When Ava and her parents first started Ava’s Pet Palace, they went to events almost every weekend, but as they’ve grown, they’ve had to be more selective about the events they make time for. “We do local events around the holidays, but we don’t do as many as I’d want to anymore because of how busy things are.” Ava and her parents have prioritized larger shows such as Global Pet Zoo and Super Zoo as they’ve worked to expand their retail footprint. The connections they’ve made at these shows, Ava explains, were, in large part, what kicked off their expansion into larger retail chains. That said, as they’ve grown, they’ve also had to balance the capital required to do so. “It’s hard to be in as many locations as we want to because it requires time and, most of all, money. We’re in about 500 retail locations now.”

Ina Jones, Ava’s Mom and the president of Ava’s Pet Palace, explains, “There’s so much upfront cost to getting the treats. [Ava] added two new treats last year and it took over a year to design bags and get the money to be able to place a minimum order. They’re doing well, though. We ordered them in October and placed another order by the end of the year. Also, [the new treats] will be in Target, which is exciting.”

Besides one successful Kickstarter campaign to introduce their line of Snappin’ Salmon treats,  Ava’s Pet Palace is a bootstrapped business. Ina says, “We do need money and do whatever we need to keep the business growing. For example, we haven’t paid for much marketing or advertising — it has all been almost all organic. We want to get Ava in front of more customers, but it costs money and it’s like [paid marketing] or inventory? Of course, inventory is going to win.”

Building close customer relatioships and finding balance

“I’m really proud of how close we are with our customers. It’s something that my Mom and I both think is very important — to have that relationship with our customers. They’re people who are taking the time out of their day to buy our treats and share Ava’s Pet Palace, so we try to give back to them with giveaways and other things. We also donate to a lot of rescues. Every month, our customers send in different rescues, and we feature one on our website and in social media. Aside from the Featured Rescue we donate a percentage of sales and products to many other rescues and rescuers.”

“When I’ve met people in person and they’re excited to meet me, I still can’t believe it. In my head, I’m just a normal teenager, but I’ve met people who have told me I inspire them, and that is something I’m very grateful for. I’ve always wanted to inspire people to do what they want and follow their dreams no matter how old they are.”

On the flip side, Ava says, balancing running a business while a full-time high school student can be challenging. “It has gotten tougher to balance everything — school, business, and social life. I’m always grateful for my parents who step in whenever I need help, but it is a lot to balance. I’ve found myself needing to take days where I reset. It takes a toll on you when you don’t have days where you spend time taking care of yourself.”

What does the future look like for Ava’s Pet Palace?

“Whenever anyone asks this question,” Ava says, “my answer is always the same because I don’t exactly know. I know that I want to continue expanding the business, and I have goals that I want to reach, but I also just want to see where Ava’s Pet Palace takes us. I want Ava’s Pet Palace to become a community of animal lovers — a place where pet owners can buy anything they need for their pets and know it’s from a high-quality source.” This is just the beginning for Ava’s Pet Palace, and looking back, Ava says, “Listening to a six-year-old with a business idea isn’t normal, but I’m so glad my parents took a risk and did.”

About Settle:

Settle gives you the best way to handle your cash flow—one designed for consumer brands that are ready to grow. With a modern AP platform designed for automating all things payments, pay vendors, and manage purchase orders and invoices – and stop paying with checks. And you can Settle now, pay later with Settle Working Capital’s founder-friendly financing, for qualifying businesses. So instead of letting your cash flow hold you back, join brands like Deux, Truvani and Olipop to confidently scale for what’s next.

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