AVA OLSEN, BRAND MANAGER, CHARLEE BEAR
What was Charlee Bear’s mission statement when you started with the company and has it changed over the years?
Charlee Bear started with a mission to provide healthy natural treats that supported and enhanced the wonderful bond between humans and canines. We were pioneers in the category of all natural, low calorie treats. Part of supporting the human canine bond meant providing a treat that could be used for training and to show love and appreciation any time. Keeping the treat low in calories with simple, natural USA ingredients meant you could treat often without putting unhealthy extra weight on your pup. Charlee Bear’s original tagline was “treat your dog with the love he deserves”. Charlee Bear has stayed true to its mission for over 25 years and millions and millions of treats, creating healthy fun for pups and pet parents one little treat at a time.
What have trade shows like Superzoo meant to you and Charlee Bear?
When Charlee Bear first started out over 25 years ago, communication was in a very different place from where we are today. We didn’t really have the internet, online buying or even email. Think lots of phone calls, letters and, later, faxes. The industry was small, and you could probably go to a pet supply store and count the types of dog treats available on your fingers.
As a very small startup, shows like SuperZoo provided a tremendous opportunity to get our product, our ideas and ourselves in front of lots of retailers, buyers and distributors and make an impression over just a few days. This type of show was a golden opportunity to show our product, our ideas and commitment to reshaping the market and the world for dogs and pet parents. Today, with the growth of the industry and the growth of Charlee Bear, shows like SuperZoo still present a golden opportunity to reach many people with new product ideas and also a face and a handshake to let them know you are a good person and a good company to do business with. These shows also present a perfect place to see new ideas, be educated and get inspired.
How would you describe your experience of working in the pet industry?
My experience has been great! I have worked with all levels of participants in the industry including consumers, trainers, veterinarians, retailers, buyers, manufacturers, distributors, packagers, product development people, publications, bloggers, many dogs, some cats and anyone else with a good idea or a contribution. There was always an undercurrent of love for pets that created great relationships. I have always worked to treat people fairly and with respect and have received that in return from the people in the industry.
What advice do you have to offer to someone who is entering into the pet industry?
What I loved about my years with Charlee Bear is that from the beginning, when I worked with Steve Brown, the original founder and developer, we were building something from nothing. We were creators in a family atmosphere where everyone shared a vision. My son helped bake treats in the early days, my daughter came to shows and I delivered treats from the back of a Honda. The Gottsacker Family has retained the family atmosphere for the last 22 years.
Today the pet industry continues its incredible, rapid growth. The types of opportunities have multiplied and there are so many open doors. My advice would be to sit yourself down and decide who you are. Are you a small company person who likes to wear many hats? Are you an entrepreneur? Are you strictly a salesperson? Is there something you believe in that you want to see manifested in the world? There are so many companies and so much growth that once you truly understand who you are and what you are looking for, you can look for the opportunity that matches your skills and dreams. I believe that much of what is exciting in the pet industry is about emotion and the love people have for their pets. I think you need to feel and understand that emotion to be truly successful.
How did your current pet become a member of your family?
In December, it will be 15 years since a little homeless puppy from Costa Rica became part of our family. He was deserted in a spot where trash is left. When he ran toward some U.S. tourists, he chose his forever home and a trip back to Wisconsin. We named him Suerte, which means luck in Spanish. He was so tiny that at first it was hard for him to eat but he slowly gained his strength and grew to be healthy and athletic. He had some dangerous encounters with a big ocean wave that almost drowned him and a large owl who almost made him his dinner, but he prevailed and got his papers and a trip home with us on a big airplane. He loves Charlee Bear and has spent his years with me in my home office surrounded by treats, but always respectful of only taking treats that are given to him, not ripping open bags. He is smart and has survived several health challenges and is still my wonderful senior pup. I even wrote a story about him called “Suerte the Lucky Dog”. For 15 years people have smiled and stopped me on the street to ask, “What kind of dog is he?” He has spent his life with Charlee Bear treats and love, he is a lucky dog!