Big Sky Enterprise
From its quality pet food assortment to its grooming and day care services, Bozeman, Mont.-based Dee-O-Gee aims to meet the needs of its adventurous and laid-back clientele.
“Up and coming,” “dream town” and “the last best place” are characterizations that lately have been applied to the city of Bozeman, Mont. Located in what is known as Big Sky Country, the city enticingly mixes a tight-knit community and wide open spaces in a way that summons the adventurous spirit.
With an expanding citizenry clocking in at approximately 43,000 to date, Bozeman is also home to Montana State University. Further, the city was recently ranked in the top 10 on a list for entrepreneurial activity by a leading business magazine.
In the midst of this activity, Holly and Josh Allen, co-owners of Dee-O-Gee, echo the evolutionary climate of their city, enjoying retail success by accurately recognizing and assessing trends and needs within the local pet community while retaining that neighborly, small town ambience.
Montana natives, the Allens opened the doors to Dee-O-Gee in 2008 after Holly, a veterinary technician, sensed a void.
“Working in the veterinary world, I would often hear people say they were seeking a more holistic food or higher-quality supplements, things that were not available in Bozeman at the time,” Holly said. “I’d come home from work and tell Josh of a need to be filled.”
However, it was the Allens’ rescue dog, a little papillon named Jericho, that finally led the way to Dee-O-Gee. The diminutive canine suffered from an array of health issues, and the couple’s subsequent research into nutritional remedies soon morphed into a passion.
“We are super blessed and fortunate that both sides of our families retain an entrepreneurial spirit, so we looked to our background, our passion, and our love for community and decided this was something we could do,” Holly said.
Further, Holly’s veterinary experience dovetailed nicely with Josh’s career in the health care field. Their endeavor, based on an offering of grooming, pet foods and supplies, proved successful, and in 2013, a second store began serving Bozeman customers. In 2014, the smaller, original site relocated. The new, 6,000-square-foot space allowed for the introduction of day care for dogs and an expansion of grooming services.
Today, there are a number of big-box competitors in Bozeman; however, in staying true to the original vision of knowledge, passion, innovation and community, Dee-O-Gee enjoys a unique niche.
Filling the Shopping Cart
Dee-O-Gee offers a mix of food for dogs and cats that encompasses raw, grain-free, canned, kibble and toppers, with none containing ingredients sourced in China. The Allens are strong proponents of raw feeding, and seven freezer doors greet pet owners with these selections at the larger site, and four are in the smaller store.
“We started with one door in our first store,” Holly said. “We try to offer foods not found in feed or big-box stores.”
The Allens credit the pet humanization movement, along with the nutritional expertise of Dee-O-Gee staffers, with the increase in consumer demand.
Following that credo, a treat table laden with mouth-watering baked goodies, temptingly displayed on risers and trays, entices both two-legged and four-legged patrons as they enter.
“Sometimes you just have to go with those really fun, fancy cookies,” Holly said.
In order to maintain a uniform look and feel between the two stores, the Allens create their own displays.
“We want our product presentations to be branded as Dee-O-Gee,” Josh said.
Rounding out the shopping experience,
pet supplies, toys, collars and leashes, supplements, human apparel and gift cards are among the offerings.
Big Sky Spa Day
When Dee-O-Gee opened in 2008, just one groomer was on staff. Today, four groomers and a bather coif and pamper canine clients.
Josh describes the atmosphere in the grooming salon as laid-back.
“We’d had previous experience with taking our dog to a big-box pet retailer for grooming,” Josh said. “He would disappear through a door for the day, and we had no idea what happened, but he’d come home shaking.”
The Allens decided to create a space that provides a calming atmosphere for pets and visibility for customers. Windows and prominent salon placement enhance that intention.
“Customers walking in can easily see the grooming check-in counter, and if they wish to watch their dog being groomed, they are able to do so,” Josh said.
Dogs waiting for a turn on the table, or those finished with their spa day, do not occupy kennels.
“We have an open room where the dogs are hanging out while others luxuriate in their grooming session,” Josh said. “It’s pretty mellow and works really well.”
Should a customer want to run errands or drop their dog off on the way to work, the adjacent day camp stands at the ready for grooming guests.
Self-grooming is also offered at both locations, with all grooming supplies provided.
Off to Camp
Dee-O-Gee’s day camp for dogs complements its retail and grooming service offerings.
“We felt there was a gap in our town; most of the dog day care facilities are outside the city limits or in an industrial area,” Josh said. “So we plopped ours down in a nice, convenient retail shopping center.”
Like in the grooming salon, two big windows in the retail area offer a view into the 2,000-square-foot day camp.
To the delight of passersby, playful pooches also are visible from an outside sidewalk.
“It’s totally like the ‘doggie in the window,’” Josh said. “Parents with children love to watch. It’s really fun.”
On a normal day, the number of day camp frolickers hovers at 20, depending on the size of dogs in attendance. In addition, areas for small or elderly pets can be sectioned off as needed.
Day camp employees are specifically assigned to the day care facility and receive training in canine body language and proper management by a highly regarded local dog trainer. The same trainer conducts four- to five-week-long puppy camps, where pet owners and their new charges meet weekly.
On Sunday mornings, Dee-O-Gee is the place to be as pet owners and dogs under eight months old gather in a safe and cozy environment for a puppy social.
The day camp space also hosts nutritional seminars presented by manufacturer representatives or Dee-O-Gee staff members.
It’s the People
Key considerations in a new hire include a love of animals and that all-important neighborly spirit.
“Our employees are invested in the community,” Holly said. “We love the fact that, should a staff member see a customer out on the trail, they can call that person’s dog by name.”
Training includes bi-monthly meetings. Manufacturer representatives often conduct these get-togethers, but staffers also carry out their own research and present findings to the group.
These well-trained Dee-O-Gee emissaries also offer product demos to customers if manufacturer representatives are unavailable.
“Our associates pass out samples and are able to discuss a product and its benefits, just like a rep would,” Holly said.
Where Neighbors Come First
In an effort to serve as a good neighbor to surrounding retailers, Dee-O-Gee maintains dog-waste stations for the benefit of pet owners as they arrive or exit either store.
“It is our intent to encourage our customers to clean up after their pets,” Josh said. “We maintain those stations, and, once a year, after the snow melts, we pay to have a local dog poop cleaning company come in and scour the entire shopping center.”
This consideration also includes the sponsorship of trail maintenance. With myriad hiking trails in and around Bozeman, pet owners often partake of the outdoors with their dogs, and Dee-O-Gee partners with other groups to raise funds to keep the community trails spotless.
For example, joining with other community organizations on National Trails Day, Dee-O-Gee sponsors a communitywide walk, donating pledge monies toward trail maintenance. In addition, Dee-O-Gee conducts fundraisers throughout the year in support of local trails.
Leash laws exist within the city limits, where many trails begin, and should a hiker head out for a walk and forget a leash for their dog, they may borrow one from Dee-O-Gee.
“Again, we want to be a good neighbor and community member, so we provide leashes on trailhead signposts within the city limits,” Josh said. “Hikers can take a leash, use it for their walk and return it to the signpost.”
The Allens were instrumental in the establishment of the Lewis and Bark Dog Park, also within the city limits. In naming the park, Dee-O-Gee conducted a poll with community members to nominate a name for the new facility.
“The winner received a year of free dog food from Dee-O-Gee,” Josh said.
The couple’s community spirit expands globally with WO Design, a toy company founded by the Allens as a result of Josh’s visit to Ethiopia. Toys are marketed across the country, with proceeds from every purchase providing meals to orphaned children in Ethiopia.
“We partner with an organization in Ethiopia,” Josh said. “We are passionate about helping others, and the company has grown organically.”
Sharing the Spirit
There is more growth to come as Josh and Holly, wishing to share their successful ideas, entrepreneurial spirit and passion, launched a Dee-O-Gee franchise model in 2016.
“We are pretty vested in finding franchise partners in the right markets and growing in a sustainable way, and to helping more pet owners ensure a healthier, happier lifestyle for their pets,” Josh said.
“At Dee-O-Gee, we have integrated the retail and service sides of our business; I’d say we cross pollinate, and I think that contributes to our uniqueness,” he added. “But more important, it’s about being a good neighbor and a contributing member of the community.”
Where Dogs Run Free
Terry Cunningham appreciates innovative partnerships. As executive director of Run Dog Run, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting responsible dog ownership and creating off-leash dog parks in the Bozeman, Mont., area, Cunningham often relies on the advocacy of Josh and Holly Allen, and Dee-O-Gee, in furthering that mission.
“The Allens have come up with some great concepts; they are always approaching us with ideas to help promote interest in using and donating to local dog parks,” Cunningham said. “And it’s not just Run Dog Run, they also support the local animal shelter. The fact that they are strong proponents of dog-centric issues in Gallatin County
is one of the many reasons to shop there.”
A favorite fundraising event for Cunningham is Dee-O-Gee’s Paw-Casso painting classes, held at the store. Pet-loving, would-be artists, armed with a photo of their four-legged companion, enjoy the tutelage of an art instructor as they create a portrait of their pet. All art supplies are provided, and a portion of the proceeds benefits Run Dog Run.
“I can’t draw, but I walked out of there with a portrait of my dog that is now framed,” he said. “This is one way that Dee-O-Gee makes regular contributions toward dog parks in our community.”
In addition, when a new dog park in the creation stages needed a name, the Allens lent a hand.
“We wanted a creative name, and Josh and Holly collaborated on a contest,” he said. “We had a judging committee, and Josh and Holly created and hosted [the] voting [process] on a website dedicated to that effort.”
The park was christened Lewis and Bark, in honor of Bozeman’s location on the Lewis and Clark trail.
Cunningham and his wife, Laura, have been frequenting
Dee-O-Gee since 2008 and currently own two dogs; a border collie named Maeve and a springer spaniel named Seamus. The couple appreciates the nutritional expertise imparted by staff members,
and utilizes grooming and day camp services on a regular basis.
“Josh and Holly are very personally engaging; it’s hard to imagine either of them having a bad day,” Cunningham said. “That attitude translates to their staff, customers and certainly to their nonprofit partners.”
It's a Retail Life
What is Dee-O-Gee best known for?
Holly Allen: Our staff is incredible. Their knowledge base is phenomenal and really extensive. People love to come in to visit with them.
Josh Allen: We often receive comments on our in-store experience. Our stores smell fresh and clean, they’re well lit, with unique products, along with the day camp and grooming.
What is the greatest challenge for the independent pet retailer?
Josh: E-commerce. Finding companies that are really, fiercely committed to the independent channel is something that will be more difficult the longer we are in this industry.
What is the biggest challenge for the pet industry overall?
Holly: Keeping up with the trends and making sure it’s not something that is going to come and go. Finding products that people want, and are sustainable, is definitely a challenge.
Are you watching any interesting trends in the industry right now?
Holly: The service trend is huge right now. People are spending a lot of money on things like our day camp, and that’s really exciting as we expand our business.
Most gratifying as a small independent?
Josh: The ability to leverage our business locally and to serve as a positive light to our local community.
Dee-O-Gee at a Glance
Locations: 2051 Oak St. #4 Bozeman, MT 59718; 424 E. Main #103 Bozeman, MT 59715
Co-owners: Holly and Josh Allen
Employees: 8 full time, 8 part time
Years in business: 9
Average square feet: 4,000
Product and services: Dog and cat foods and supplements, treats, pet supplies, bakery treats, grooming, day camp, puppy camp, puppy socials, training,
outdoor gear, gift items