Lately, pet food has been a controversial topic. How do you know what you should and shouldn’t be feeding your pet? Eric Huber set out to find a better way to feed his dogs after considering the current state of the pet food industry. Lake Erie Pet Food Co. was born out of a desire to provide great locally-made pet food to consumers in a convenient fashion. Originally started as an e-commerce business appearing at local farmers markets, Lake Erie Pet Food Co. now has a storefront in Ohio City dedicated to spreading the word about their high-quality food. So how does a Mechanical Engineer start a pet food business? Read this week's Small Business Sunday feature to find out!
Haley Mills: What is your background? What were you doing before you opened Lake Erie Pet Food Co?
Eric Huber: I went to school for engineering, and I have a mechanical engineering degree. After graduating college, I worked for General Electric on the east side of Cleveland. While there I went back to school and got a MBA from Case Western Reserve University. Most recently I was a marketing product manager at RIDGID, a company in Elyria that makes power tools.
HM: So, how did this whole idea come about?
EH: I have two dogs, Darla and Roody. Roody is 13 years old now, and he’d always had stomach issues. We always fed him the same brand of food, and we just kind of figured it was normal dog digestive issues. At one point, we switched him to higher quality food, a more natural diet with more meat in it and we saw a difference right away. It made me think I needed to look into dog food a bit more. I saw that there was a lot of marketing hype around dog food, you walk down the pet food aisle and it screams out ‘hey I’ve got fruits and vegetables and all this good stuff,’ but in reality, corporations spend their money on marketing and not necessarily on the food itself. If you scratch a little bit deeper, you’ll see they aren’t using the greatest ingredients in a lot of foods. We also wanted to make pet food really convenient. So we offer free delivery to make it easy to get high-quality food without having to go to the pet food aisle, read a bunch of labels, and figure it out for yourself. That’s how Lake Erie Pet Food Co. was born!
HM: How did you create the food?
EH: Our food is made fresh every month near Youngstown in a facility that has been making high quality small batch pet food for over 40 years. A professional pet nutritionist developed our recipes and they are AAFCO (the pet food regulatory body) certified complete and balanced. In addition to high quality ingredients, our key differentiator is that our food is very fresh, it’s made every month then delivered to our customers. This means it's not sitting around in a large warehouse or distribution center. Our food is also lab tested at every stage of production, and since it’s made in smaller batches, the tests are more representative of the food being made than a lot of mass-produced food out there.
HM: You have had the company longer than you’ve had the storefront, correct?
EH: Correct. We started in 2015 and we were exclusively an e-commerce business until last month. I call it “local e-commerce”, because the majority of our customers in Cuyahoga county and parts of Lake and Lorain counties get free delivery from us. In addition, we have customers all over Ohio that we ship UPS to. We now have the storefront so people can come in between deliveries if they are running low or for the anyone to stop by and pick up food and pet supplies.
HM: I walk into the store for the first time, walk me through what you offer.
EH: Our store has all the essentials for dogs and cats, but we tend to be focused mostly around food. In addition to our own dry food and treats, we have chews, bones, frozen raw food, wet food in cans, and pet accessories like leashes and collars, as well as gifts. For a new customer that wants to learn about our food, we offer free samples to try out with your pup at home.
HM: Is there anything else you want people to know about Lake Erie Pet Food Co?
EH: One thing that we’re really proud of besides our food is our customer service. If you call us, a real person will answer, someone who really cares about you and your pets. We’ve been asked if we’re going to put our food in other pet stores, and it’s unlikely because we value a direct relationship with our customers and their dogs and cats. Staying local and independent is something that's really important to us.
HM: Where is your favorite place to be in Cleveland? (I told Eric I might ask this question, and he came prepared with a cheat sheet of his favorites!!)
EH: Now that I have kids, dogs, and this business I don’t get out much anymore, haha! We like to go to farmers' markets and local pop-up events. Lake Erie Pet Food Co. operates several booths at farmer’s markets and we really enjoy the feeling of community they bring to an area. When we lived on the east side, our favorite date night was Dewey’s Pizza and a movie at Cedar Lee Theater.
HM: What is your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?
EH: Have you ever been to Chilli Peppers?
HM: No, where is it?
EH: It’s on the far east side of Cleveland, East 185th street. It is a Chipotle-style local burrito place, but it’s so much better. They have more choices and it’s fresher. You may not ever go back to Chipotle after getting a Chilli Peppers burrito. I also love Herb & Twine and La Bodega for sandwiches. You should go!
What’s your favorite event near Cleveland?
EH: We go to a lot of Indians and Lake County Captains games with family and friends. I have a group of friends that share a season ticket package to the Captains and we split it up so we get to many games during the season.
HM: Have you ever gone to their Bark in The Park’s?
EH: Yes, I have. Roody has been there, too and we always have a good time at Lake County Captains games. You are really close to the action and it’s really inexpensive. It's a great family-friendly time. Also, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a place we like.We’ve done dinner on the train before, and they do beer tours. They also have the tow-path you can ride your bike up and when you get tired you can take the train back.