Along with running a successful small
company, the founder and owner of
Barnies' horse and dog treats is this year's
New Enterprise recipient
Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce's
Business Excellence Awards.
"This system has made over four million
(horse) cookies to date" Ms. Hill said, standing
in front of a work table near the industrial
ovens inside her
Raleigh Street manufacturing
and warehouse facility in Oshawa.
Inside the unit are packed
boxed horse and dog treats, equipment,
and tubs of the local
ingredients used in
making her products, such as apple flakes,
apples from Algoma Orchards
"All supplies are local," the Courtice
resident said proudly.
So far she's captured all of the Canadian
market with her horse treats and has a long
list of stores carrying her dog treats, including
Smart and Global Pet Stores. Now she's
entertaining an investor intent on
expand into the United States.
But the pet food industry is not something she initially planned on getting involved with.
A former social worker and once-upon-a-time farm girl, Ms. Hill fell into the pet treat industry almost by accident after deciding she wanted a horse for her four daughters to grow up with and learn from.
"I went to an auction and bid on an injured race horse," Ms. Hill said, and added she quickly realized she was bidding against the meat man. "I got her home, she didn't like people...She was in a lot of pain."
Ms. Hill wanted to befriend her new horse, but it wouldn't take any store-bought treats, not even apples or carrots, so she put her farm knowledge to work. Having grandparents who farmed and did some volunteer horse training, she knew what horses liked to eat and baked up a concoction which included sweet feed, flax, oats, cracked corn, and molasses.
It worked and she and the horse bonded over the treats.
But they weren't alone. Soon, when she'd show up at the stables, the
other horses who had sampled her wares took notice, and their owners
began asking her to make them some as well.
She ended up taking
her product to Picov's in Ajax, which accepted them, then just started
driving to different tack shops and asking if they wanted to try her
horse treats. Soon, she had 44 stores on board.
"Not one store said no," she said.
But just as things started taking off, she encountered a huge setback: breast cancer.
To keep the business going in her absence, she contracted the making of the treats to a Whitby mental health work program and also depended on the help of family and friends. While she was away, the number of stores carrying her products doubled just by word of mouth.
And things didn't stop there. She also appeared on Dragon's Den, a show in which entrepreneurs make their pitch to a group of investors, and received support from all five dragons, she said.
"It was great for publicity," she said. "I think it put us on the map."
Now, her Barnies' brand can be found in hundreds of stores across the country.
She soon fell into the dog treat business as well, after a house-boat vacation led to a lesson in making jerky.
Her dogs liked a chicken treat, but it wasn't domestic, so she put her new knowledge to work and made them some that were. Soon, she received encouragement from friends to start marketing the Canadian-made, single-product dog treat.
Since coming out with the human-grade dog jerky, made from AAA Canadian beef, many pet food stores have taken her on, including Pet Smart, Global, and more, she said.
Her future plans include creating healthy dog food and kitty treats.
"Because my cats wonder, 'where's mine?'"
But her work doesn't end with making healthier, local foods for pets -- she also does a lot of charity work and donates a lot of her product to shelters, money to pet and human causes, time to social groups such as Community Living, and has served as a mentor in the Summer Company Program and to students at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
"When you meet her, she's so infectious with her enthusiasm," said Bob Malcolmson, CEO and general manager of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce. "She's just a real go-getter."
Even with the great reception her products have received, she was still shocked and honoured to discover she is this year's new enterprise recipient.
"I actually couldn't believe it," Ms. Hill said.