Pulled back from the brink of closure during the recession, Happy Howie’s has found success with the help of an inspired investor and an exceptional business credit card.
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Happy Howie’s has a long history of making dog treats in Detroit, Michigan. It was borne of the community over 20 years ago under a different name. The recession hit the city hard though, and the company struggled to keep its doors open. But an inspired investor saw potential and, in 2011, David Collado assumed the reigns as co-owner and president of the now monikered Happy Howie’s.
“I was working for the investor’s accounting firm, and he gave me the opportunity to help turn the company around [by partnering with him],” says Collado. “It took around eight months until we were able to turn a profit, and now almost 10 years later, we are a great success story.”
Today, Happy Howie’s feeds countless canines as it represents the Detroit spirit. The company has become a crucial part of the city’s revitalization effort, transitioning from a small, relatively obscure business to a renowned provider of all-natural dog treats – selling deli style sausages, burger patties and jerky. While available nationwide at select pet stores, every product is proudly made by local workers.
So how has a credit card been pawsitively beneficial in Happy Howie’s transition and expansion? Collado explains.
See related: A nXus of innovation with the right credit card
What was the state of the company’s financing when you took the helm?
One of the first things I did when I joined the company was to get a feel for what the company was doing right versus what we needed to work on. After a few months, I approached an investor (who is now my business partner) and presented the company’s status. He was able to give us enough of a cash infusion to put my plan of fixing the company into motion.
Were there any hardships that you didn’t anticipate when you came into the picture?
When I joined Happy Howie’s, I was only 28 years old. While I didn’t have much experience, the good thing was that I had no preconceived notions of how things should run. That meant I was in a good position to ask why we were doing things one way or another, making change very doable.
Also, I was somewhat ignorant of how financially troubled the company really was, which meant I was willing to take on the challenge when many other people may have said “No way!”
Coming into manufacturing, I was surprised to see how expensive things like equipment, parts, and special tools were. In manufacturing, things cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it took time to get used to that. When making decisions about where to spend the money, it helped to look at the equipment’s return on investment or ROI.
I understand a credit card has also helped. Please explain!
Yes, my credit card has played a huge role in my business. I have a Capital One Spark Cash for Business card which I opened in 2011 after a friend recommended it to me. He spoke so highly of the card that I thought I should look into it, and I got it shortly thereafter. I’ve used it as much as possible ever since.
In addition to unlimited 2 percent cash back on all purchases, this card helped us with cash flow – especially when I was still turning the business around. We found that paying with a credit card helped us extend payment terms, which was a major benefit.
Do you leverage the card or delete the debt every month?
When I first got the card, I would wait for the bill to come and pay it off each month. At some point, I realized making weekly payments made more sense – just like how I pay the rest of my business bills. Since then, it’s become second nature for us and paying the balance off weekly has worked out very well. I am also an accountant, so I manage our finances in-house.
Where is the business now and what are your future plans?
The industry is growing, and we are definitely benefiting from that growth. Since more and more people in their 20s and 30s are waiting to have children, and instead choosing to get a pet, that means more business for us. And more pet parents are finding – and loving – Happy Howie’s treats.
For a company that makes pet treats, a good measure of growth is how many stores we’re in. We are now in more than 4,000 retailers nationwide, and they are mostly neighborhood pet supply stores.
We saw great growth in both 2017 and 2018 and made it on the Inc. 5,000 list. It’s been a lot of fun growing Happy Howie’s while making more tails wag out there! We are also focused on making a positive impact in the community, so we don’t plan to stop expanding any time soon.
As a business owner, what have you learned about borrowing money along the way? Any advice for entrepreneurs?
One of the pieces of advice that gets tossed around regularly is “borrow money when you don’t need it.” I think this is a half-truth. It may make sense to borrow money when things are good just in case things get tough, but I think it’s more important to just create access. So, for example, you could open a line of credit and know it’s available – just in case.
I’ve also learned that business credit cards can really work for you. As a business owner, we are always focused on running lean and generating profit, so earning cash back really helps our bottom line.
For existing business owners, I suggest taking a closer look at your company credit card. It could be an overlooked tool for running your business – there’s a great opportunity to earn rewards and benefit from other features like fraud protection or rental car protection.
Also, don’t wait until the end of the month to pay off your credit card bill. Instead, pay it off weekly so you avoid carrying a balance and can maximize the card’s perks.