There’s No Place Like Home
Loyal Biscuit Co.’s chain of stores in Maine turn their love of community and animals into a profitable and enriching endeavor.
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” Dorothy Gale’s gratitude for the unrivaled solace of home gave rise to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s” most beloved statement. Those words also reflect Heidi and Joel Neal’s sentiments for the city of Rockland, Maine, and its surrounding communities. For Heidi, hometown roots run deep.
“I could throw a rock from my office and hit the building I was born in,” said Heidi, co-owner, with her husband, Joel, of Loyal Biscuit Co. “Rockland is my home and will always possess a significant portion of my heart.”
Love of community is a family affair, and with that ardor comes a strong inclination to serve. A lifetime of participation, both locally and globally, includes Heidi’s budding career as a pee-wee basketball coach at age 12, board membership for the Maine Lobster Festival, and, further afield, travel to Sri Lanka with Habitat for Humanity. Moreover, Joel’s 23 years of service as a Rockland law enforcement officer and 30-year stint in the U.S. Army are seasoned with plenty of local volunteerism.
“Community service has always been a part of our lives, and sliding into Loyal Biscuit just made sense,” Heidi said. “I think, for us, our philosophy from day one has been one of community service.”
The journey set off with the 2010 purchase of the existing Loyal Biscuit Co. in Rockland, Maine. Minimal retail background aside, the new venture allowed the couple to mingle their public-spirit mindset with a devotion to animals. In short order, the Loyal Biscuit Co. shingle appeared in the nearby burgs of Waterville, Camden and Belfast, bringing the number of locations to four by 2014. This presence allowed the company ideology to blossom.
“Our passion is animals, especially those most in need; it’s a [calling] that our staff and our customers are fervent about as well,” Heidi added. “We are supportive of organizations in each of the communities in which a Loyal Biscuit resides.”
It’s been a recipe for success, with 2016 being a particularly busy year with the purchase of two buildings in Rockland and Camden. With the new sites came expansion; Rockland grew from 1,700 to 2,700 square feet of retail space and added much-needed office space. The Camden store upsized from 2,000 to 2,400 square feet of sales floor.
“We bought, moved and renovated two buildings in a six-month period,” Heidi said.
“Rockland is a coastal tourist destination, and our new building is right in the heart of downtown—it’s perfect,” she added. “We see more foot traffic in the summer, and my office overlooks the store.”
The inclusion of office space has allowed Heidi to increase administrative staffing to encompass general and inventory managers, as well as an events and operations manager, who is responsible for Loyal Biscuit Co.’s diverse community collaborations.
The unmistakable Loyal Biscuit Co. colors of lime green, orange and purple, combined with consistent layout, signage, shelving and fixtures, serve to distinguish each location. However, notable architectural features are left in place. For example, the Rockland store is sited in a historic building, and the brick walls and beautiful wood floors add to the ambience.
“Still, it’s pretty obvious where you are when you walk into one of our stores,” Heidi said.
The Courage to Care
In spite of expansion and growth, Loyal Biscuit Co. remains steadfast to a vision of advocating for the community, with an emphasis on four-legged residents.
“Our goal is to make sure all animals are well cared for,” Heidi said. “I look for that passion in our staff members. From there, it’s just a natural progression to community service, helping our customers with their pets, or concern for shelter pets.”
That credo often champions the nutritional requirements of those less fortunate. During the holiday season, the Fill Our Windows, Fill Our Bowls campaign provides sustenance to homeless pets by raising funds for the purchase and donation of pet food to area shelters. Shoppers at each Loyal Biscuit Co. have the opportunity to purchase brightly colored window decorations in $1 and $5 increments. As windows fill, the green and silver slips of paper create a festive holiday mood while spotlighting pets awaiting forever homes.
“We partner with Canidae Pet Foods, and, in 2016, we purchased over 8,000 pounds of dog and cat food, bringing our three-year total to 20,000 pounds, which is shared between the shelters,” she said. “Canidae has been wonderful in helping us stretch those dollars in order for us to purchase as much food as possible.”
Convening for a cause, neighbors come together at the local pub to dine, raise a pint and lend a hand at the Loyal Biscuit Co. Pints for Paws fundraisers. Three soirees take place annually, with two at venues in Rockland and Waterville, and one for Camden and Belfast combined, to fete homeless pets and support three local animal shelters.
The celebratory ambience crescendos when award-winning folk singer and songwriter Paddy Mills takes the stage. It’s a spirited assembly, with plenty of raffle prizes and silent auction items as well as a live auction with Joel serving as caller.
“The live auction is so much fun, we once sold a single cupcake for $150,” Heidi said. “Pints for Paws typically raises $2,000 to $3,000 per event, and we have been holding them since 2011.”
When the Neals’ dog, George, was severely injured in an accident, his medical treatment and subsequent rehab underlined the needs of injured and elderly shelter animals.
“George was very fortunate that we had the resources and the ability to provide for his surgery and to help him heal,” Heidi said.
Looking after pets in less-favored circumstances, the George Gives Back fundraiser took place in 2016, with the monies earmarked for the Molly Fund, which provides for medical or senior expenses of shelter pets in the care of the Pope County Animal Shelter, where George was adopted.
“We set up a GoFundMe page on Facebook,” Heidi said. “We had a goal of raising $1,500, which we would then match, but we ended up raising $6,000.”
Savory or sweet, when National Pie Day rolls around, pastry connoisseurs gather in Rockland to raise funds and awareness for those in need, and Loyal Biscuit Co. joins in for Pies on Parade. The community event is sponsored by the Historic Inns of Rockland, Maine, and for the price of a ticket, participants stroll from venue to venue sampling all manner of crusted delicacies. Proceeds benefit the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry.
“We donate little individually packaged, pie-shaped treats using our blueberry biscuit recipe that people can take home to their dogs,” she said.
Stores with a Heart
On the homefront, this culture of care permeates Loyal Biscuit Co. and includes a satellite adoption center for cats and kittens in the Rockland, Waterville and Belfast stores. Heidi estimates that, to date, more than 440 cats have found families via the stores.
“We started doing this in 2012 in Rockland, and added the other stores over time,” she said.
Adoption days take place based on the needs of area shelters. These events are often tied in to larger community functions, such as the Summer Solstice Celebration in Rockland, where the tourist population swells and exposure is maximized.
Pet owners adopting from local shelters receive a welcome packet, and each includes new-pet information from Loyal Biscuit Co., along with discount coupons and a certificate for a free dog wash. Cats and kittens adopted at the in-store satellite centers take home a bag of cat litter and cans of food, in addition to the shelter’s welcome packet.
In honor of Super Bowl Sunday, the Puppy Bowl kicks off a lighthearted spin on adoption as shelter pups vie for the pigskin and charm would-be pet owners.
“This was our second year, and it’s getting bigger,” Heidi said. “We hold them at all locations on the Sunday before the actual football weekend—that way we don’t interfere with the game.”
Each store offers self-serve dog-wash stations, and beyond scrubbing and fluffing the local canine populace, the facilities are put to good use as giveaways for community events, raffle prizes or silent auctions. Those who serve in the armed forces are thanked on Veteran’s Day with a free dog wash.
The facilities also play a prominent role in marketing efforts.
“We partner with local pet-friendly hotels, providing little treat bags for guests, which include a dog-wash certificate,” Heidi said.
In addition, customer vehicles sporting a Loyal Biscuit Co. bumper sticker, distributed at each store, receive a coupon for a free dog wash when spotted by staffers. The coupons, which state, “We spotted a Loyal Biscuit bumper sticker on your car; thank you for your support; please have your next dog wash on us,” are placed under a windshield wiper.
In-store promotions often center around a theme; for example, in a nod to holiday overindulgence and subsequent New Year’s resolutions, Pet Nutrition Month takes place in January, and microchipping clinics coincide with National Microchipping Month in June. Nail-trimming clinics are held on a regular basis, with proceeds donated to a local rescue.
All these goings on and more are posted to Loyal Biscuit’s Facebook page, which also provides plenty of educational information. Further, a newsletter dispenses pet care tips.
“We also use these blogs as reference pieces for our staff,” Heidi said. “In January, our local newspaper offers a supplemental feature, ‘All About Animals,’ and many of our articles are included.”
Looking Over the Product Rainbow
Loyal Biscuit Co. is committed to providing stellar animal nutrition.
“In a nutshell, it’s all about healthy and natural foods—no wheat, corn, soy or byproducts, no consumables from China,” Heidi said. “I am very cautious about where products are manufactured, so, first and foremost, it’s about quality and making sure it’s healthy for the dogs. If I wouldn’t feed it to my dog, it won’t be in the store.”
In a demonstration of the advantages of premium pet foods, side-by-side glass jars contrast a grocery store brand versus a more nutrient dense brand, providing a visual of the daily costs of each.
“We can tell customers that it costs less to feed a quality food, but when they are able to see the difference, it has a greater impact,” Heidi said.
A full line of supplies for dogs and cats awaits shoppers, and four-legged patrons are enticed by an array of toothsome bakery goodies, including Loyal Biscuit’s own home-baked Fidelis Biscuit Co. line of organic dog treats.
For the future, the Neals are looking at the possibility of expansion; however, love of community will always serve as the Loyal Biscuit Co. cornerstone.
“The support and passion of our staff and customers allows us to do what we do,” Heidi said. “It’s a great feeling, and I think people are very happy and proud to be part of these efforts.”
Loyal Biscuit Co. At a Glance
Locations: four locations in Maine
Co-owners: Heidi and Joel Neal
Employees: 8 full time, 10 part time
Years in business with current owners: 7
Average square feet: 2,500
Product and services: Holistic, all-natural dog and cat foods, supplements and treats, toys, collars, leashes, Fidelis Biscuits, self-serve dog wash, feline satellite adoption, adoption days
Service and Commitment
Diane Sturgeon has been a patron of Loyal Biscuit Co. since the doors opened. A longtime volunteer at P.A.W.’s Animal Adoption Center in Camden, Maine, Sturgeon values the endeavor’s commitment to pet adoption and involvement with local shelters.
“I often walk the shelter dogs to visit the Camden store, which is nearby,” she said. “I might walk two or three a day, and the Loyal Biscuit shopping experience allows these dogs some socialization.”
Further, Sturgeon noted that staff members are not only knowledgeable and friendly, but also clearly love the animals that come through the doors.
“I’m in there so often—I should know,” she said.
Beyond the welcoming atmosphere, should a shelter animal have a special need, Sturgeon knows she can rely on Loyal Biscuit Co. to fulfill that requirement.
“If I mention an issue to Heidi, she offers advice and will order products in,” she said. “Heidi is always donating—time, money or products—and is involved in anything and everything related to each of the Loyal Biscuit market areas.”
When not shepherding shelter dogs to Loyal Biscuit Co., Sturgeon sets aside Sundays as a special day for her boxer, Roxy, to pop into the Belfast store for a visit.
“That’s her shopping trip to make up for the fact that I’ve been cheating on her with the shelter pets during the week,” she said.
It’s A Retail Life
What is Loyal Biscuit Co. best known for?
Heidi Neal: Our healthy foods and quality products. We have so many people tell us that they do not worry about what they purchase at Loyal Biscuit because we’ve done the research.
The greatest challenge for the independent retailer?
HN: Online sales. We are fortunate to live in this little bubble here in Maine, but I am hearing more and more, “I bought it online.”
The biggest challenge for the pet industry overall?
HN: Consolidation. Companies with high standards are being acquired by companies that may not be quite so awesome. We work hard to develop a brand, and a following, based on quality. When a company sells to another where these attributes are minimized, we have to start all over again.
What is the most gratifying thing about being an independent retailer?
HN: When a customer comes in and thanks us for our advice. I don’t think there is anything better than knowing we’ve helped someone’s pet.
What’s in store for the future of Loyal Biscuit Co.?
HN: More stores!