ROYERSFORD — Starting a new business is a daunting task. Starting a business during a global pandemic brings a whole host of additional challenges — from delays to limited customer access.
Jill Schadler of Royersford has not let the pandemic stop her from launching Off The Leash Dog Truck, an innovative twist on the popular food truck — this one geared solely for dogs.
Schadler’s Off the Leash Dog Truck is a mobile, retail dog treat truck that visits community events to satisfy the snack cravings of pups. The truck will also attend neighborhood or private events.
When it came to the treats, Schadler knew what she wanted.
“I wanted to find one or two local sources of homemade treats,” she said.
Off The Leash Dog Truck features treats made by two local companies — Canine Acres Bakery & Deli in Bechtelsville and Piggyback Treats Company of Chestnut Hill.
Schadler said it took a year to get the business off the ground.
“Last summer (2019) I was talking with people at work, and said, ‘what if we had a food truck for dogs?’ The idea came about because of the food truck craze of the past few years and my love of dogs and love of rescue,” she said, adding that people she shared her idea with, thought it was a “cool idea.”
She went into the process with a commitment to work with other small businesses like hers.
The Off The Leash food truck business combines selling healthy treats for dogs while advocating Schadler’s mission — to “give a voice to the voiceless,” according to information on the company’s website. Schadler is a dog advocate — rescuing and fostering homeless dogs.
STARTING THE BUSINESS
The first thing Schadler did was look for a truck that would work for her purposes.
“I discovered those trucks are hard to find because of the food truck craze,” she said, adding that she didn’t want to spend a lot on the truck, because she was going to have to customize it.
Her next step was finding an attorney to help her set up the company and locating a fabricator to start working on the truck renovation.
She conducted market research and developed a business plan before meeting with the attorney. In her research, Schadler found several dog treat food trucks — two larger companies in Seattle and Chicago, but none on the east coast.
“The other market data I found on why it could work was that in the U.S. more households have dogs than kids. That was shocking to me,” she said, citing data from the American Pet Products Association, which estimates the U.S. pet care market in 2020 to be $99 billion.
Schadler chose Custom Concessions of New Castle, Del. to renovate the truck.
“He has his own food trucks and fabricates for others,” she said. Because Schadler’s Off The Leash Dog Truck is carrying inventory and not being used to make the treats, she wanted it to look “really nice.”
“I wanted all the inventory drawers custom built, so they are custom-built wood — not stainless. I needed a freezer, because I have frozen treats, and I needed work space,” she said. That extra space will give Schadler the space she needs if she wants to add goods or services in the future.
One innovative feature of the truck is a treat chute. Schadler can drop a treat sample from inside the truck, down a chute, where it falls into a dog bowl for a waiting pup.
Most of the truck fabrication took place over a four-month period before the pandemic struck, she said. In addition to the custom installations, the truck needed a new electrical system. It then needed to pass inspection in Pennsylvania and other states, since the truck will be traveling — which took another two-months, Schadler added.
“We had to find someone to paint it. It took a month to find someone that could paint that size truck,” she said. “Then, the pandemic hit, and businesses doing that work were shutting down. The truck was sitting and waiting for the next step.”
Off The Leash Dog Truck was initially supposed to launch in April, but events were cancelled, and Schadler had to wait until August for the painting to be finished.
Her first official event was Sept. 12 at the Bally Community Pool’s annual BowWow Swim. Her next scheduled event is Saturday, Oct. 3 in East Greenville at the Mutt N Munchies event — hosted by Logan’s Heroes Animal Rescue.
Schadler said she found her two suppliers and set up meetings with them. Canine Acres Bakery & Deli, 826 Route 100 North in Bechtelsville, provides what Schadler said are her “cute” treats, including peanut butter bones dipped in vanilla coating, peanut butter “woofie” pies and small, homemade cookies.
The second provider is Piggyback Treats Company of Chestnut Hill. Piggyback Treats Company works with farms and businesses to help reduce their food waste. The company takes items that might be thrown away — fallen apples, spent grains, fish skins and meat by products that they then turn into baked cookie treats, meal toppers and jerky.
ADVANCING A MISSION
Schadler and her family — husband Todd Ferrara, 14-year-old twins Julie and Mitchell Ruzzi and stepdaughter Sydney Ferarra — currently provide a home to three rescued dogs. Her family also provides foster homes for dogs. In addition, in the last seven years — they have fostered more than 60 dogs. In the last couple of years, Schadler said their focus has been on fostering pit bulls.
“I have worked with a variety of rescues. I realize it’s not just about rescue and adopting them out — you are saving their lives.” She is currently fostering for the rescue organization Diamonds in the Ruff.
She added that as Off The Leash Dog Truck becomes more successful, she will be able to donate a portion of her earnings into shelters and rescues.
Throughout the pandemic, Schadler has not second guessed herself about her decision or direction.
“I am planning for success. When the pandemic hit and the truck sat, there was no sense in worrying about it. I am very risk oriented. I live humbly and I am debt free with the truck,” she said, adding that she used her savings to get the business going. She has a full-time job, and said she will start over with savings.
“Or, this will become something where I don’t have to have my day job. The dream is there is a fleet.”
For information about Off The Leash Dog Truck visit https://offtheleashdogtruck.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/offtheleashdogtruck