Baked with Love
Whether it is through homemade treats or donations to local shelters and rescues, Barks, Bones, & Biscuits Bakery-the 2015 Retailer Excellence Award winner for Community Service Excellence-is helping make sure North Carolina's dogs get the care they need.
Robyn Kline and her Barks, Bones, & Biscuits Bakery are looking for a new home. The boutique dog treat shop in Mint Hill, N.C., has just about outgrown its 600-square-foot storefront, and its current baking facility—the kitchen in Kline’s house.
Kline started the business out of her home in January 2013 after her daughter suggested the idea. After a lot of research into the market and all the important information she could find on safe treat ingredients, she developed recipes, had her kitchen rezoned for commercial use and started baking treats to sell at dog-centered events around North Carolina. From the start, she prioritized making safe, healthy treats with all-natural ingredients, sending samples of her products to Clemson University for independent testing and nutritional analysis.
“I wanted people to be able to trust what I was doing and to never make any of their dogs sick,” Kline says. “Every week, everything is fresh. There are no dyes or colors, no preservatives.” All of her products are licensed with the state, which does random testing to ensure that her nutritional labels are accurate. “I’m guaranteeing a customer that what it says on the bag is exactly what’s in the bag,” she says.
Before Barks, Bones, & Biscuits opened its storefront about two years ago, the business got its start by participating as a vendor at numerous dog-focused events. Kline credits the Greyhound Friends of North Carolina as being one of the first groups to put its faith in her and her products. She sold her treats at its annual Cinco de Mayo event and started getting into American Kennel Club shows soon after. She and her husband, Mike, who handles the financial end of the business, sold Kline’s homemade treats at a circuit of events in the Charlotte, N.C., area, including the Bark in the Park and Petpalooza dog festivals and the Black Dog Walk.
“It really went gangbusters that August and September, we had two or three shows every weekend,” Kline says. “It got to the point where it was growing so fast, and I either had to move forward and open a storefront or just stand still.” She opted for moving forward. With the help of a supportive community of local businesses that offered advice and carried coupons and products samples from Barks, Bones, & Biscuits in their own stores, the bakery got off to a strong start.
Since opening the Mint Hill store, Kline has gradually expanded her recipe repertoire from a variety of crunchy treats to include Pupcakes, Puparoni pizzas, jerky, cannolis, bacon pops and more. The very first dog cookies she made, bone-shaped baked snacks called peanut butter bites, are still a popular choice. A rotation of seasonal items, like cutout cookies in the shape of hearts for Valentine’s Day or shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day and ice cream cups in the warmer months, add variety to her treat selection. Among her specialty offerings are Woof-ales, a cream-filled cookie sandwich made with a waffle pan, and hand-decorated birthday cakes designed individually for her canine customers. That personal attention is part of what makes Kline’s bakery stand out.
“One thing we’re able to do is the one-on-one with the customer,” she says. “It’s more about personalization, a lot of people like that one-on-one service.”
Kline makes a special effort to make each customer feel valued. “I always make sure they get a free bag of biscuits to say thanks for buying a cake here and using us as your source,” she says. “I send out birthday cards with doggy coupons. It makes people feel special that somebody is thinking about their dogs.” She also adapts treats for dogs with allergies or other special dietary needs. For example, one woman ordered Pupcakes, but her dog couldn’t have gluten or carob and was diabetic, so Kline developed a sweet potato Pupcake for him.
The extra work involved in catering to individual pets’ needs pays off in customer loyalty and satisfaction. Pictures of dogs enjoying their birthday cakes and other treats frequently appear on the bakery’s Facebook page. “It’s exciting; it makes me feel good that they take that one minute to put up that picture,” Kline says. “I know the customer is happy with what they received.”
The current Barks, Bones, & Biscuits Bakery location is small—Kline was cautious about size at first to avoid getting in over her head—but she has big expansion plans in the works. Next year, she plans to move into a 4,000-square-foot space, more than six times the size of their current store. That way, she’ll have more room for the other specialty products she carries and be able to streamline her work by moving all of the baking out of her home kitchen and into the same location as the shop.
“Almost daily, or at least every other day, I’m going home around 7:00 p.m. and baking until midnight,” she says. “It’s kind of like going from one job to the other, and having them separate makes them more difficult.”
The goal is to eventually have the bakery supply a number of smaller shops, including the Mint Hill store. Kline even has an amusing vision for one of those locations. “Our original goal was to have one location that looked like a doghouse,” she says. “We wanted people to feel welcome and have a little laugh with it.” The doghouse storefront hasn’t become a reality yet, but she isn’t giving up on the idea.
However much success Barks, Bones, & Biscuits has in the future, Kline has no plans to expand her business outside North Carolina, preferring to stay local. She wants every store to provide individualized customer service and be involved in the community, like her current establishment has since it opened. “I wanted to be involved in the dog community, with rescues,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference, not just be a storefront that sold biscuits.”
Kline has embraced that mission wholeheartedly, helping support numerous local animal organizations. The store has hosted food drives and raffles that raise funds for the North Carolina Humane Society and collected 800 pounds of dog food for the Fabulous McGrady and Friends Foundation, which supports rural animal shelters in North and South Carolina. Her business has also gotten involved with Project HALO, a no-kill animal rescue and sanctuary, and the Puppy Up Foundation, which raises awareness for pet cancer and funds research. There is always a barrel for shelter donations in the store, even when it is not holding a fundraiser or drive for a specific organization. It is this level of commitment to supporting local pet-related causes that earned Barks, Bones & Biscuits a Retailer Excellence Award for Community Service at the 2015 Global Pet Expo.
However, the real reward for all of Kline’s hard work over the past couple of years has been the satisfaction that she has been able to get out of building her business. Armed with a business school degree and sales experience—but no professional background in the food or pet industries—she learned how to get her bakery off the ground and expand her business through trial and error and by observing others. “I created and built my own business, I invested in me, and by doing so, I was able to have a lot of different doors open up for me,” she says. “Here, I have a business that I really love, I have four dogs of my own, and I enjoy everybody else’s dogs. I’m proud of what I’ve created, and I hope it goes the long haul.”