Who doesn’t love dogs? Clint Howitz of dogIDs certainly does. Howitz has used that love and a love of inventing to fuel his business forward.
Howitz has a long and diverse professional career that has made stops in a number of different industries, including the automotive industry. The Colorado State Pueblo graduate originally got into the pet industry when he started a company, now called Mendota Pet in the 90’s.
“During that time, I was starting to realize that e-commerce was becoming more and popular,” said Howitz.
Eventually, Howitz sold his ownership in Mendota Pet but continued making personalized IDs for dogs. That side business eventually evolved into dogIDs, which has seen changes in its business model as well over its existence.
Originally, dogIDs was your traditional e-commerce business, selling mostly products from other companies. More recently, however, they have transitioned to selling their own custom and personalized products. With a wide range of experience in both niches of the e-commerce world, Howitz makes for a fantastic interview.
When did you start to transition to the current iteration of your business?
These days there’s Amazon, Petco, PetPetSmart and all of these other really big e-commerce companies. I realized as time went on that it was ridiculous to keep going in that same direction and try to play with the big boys. That’s never really what I wanted.
Around 2014-2015 we started really making a shift towards building the dogIDs brand and really getting focused on building these products. It’s been a painful transition, a
long transition, but I think we’re going the right direction now.
How does dogIDs differentiate itself?
I think we’re still a little bit ahead of the curve because there aren’t a lot of people doing personalized pet products right now. Most people are still shipping boxes off the shelf. Where we’re trying to take orders and build products as the orders come in and ship them out as soon as we can.
We’re still kind of waiting for our time to shine, so to speak, a lot of the e-commerce tools out there right now don’t really cater to personalized custom products. There’s a lot of extra heavy lifting to be done when it comes to software development of those sorts of things. That’s definitely something we’ve been fighting for a long time. I’m hoping that changes eventually, but it’s still kind of that way. There just isn’t enough people doing it online right now to create the demand for that type of software.
What platform do you guys use for e-commerce?
BigCommerce right now.
Can you elaborate on what is currently missing from the software side of e-commerce for personalized products?
I wish that there were some plugins and tools out there that you could use for custom products and not just on the front end, but also on the back end for people that are actually manufacturing the product. There are some cool plugins for the front end customer experience. However, making that work with your production systems gets pretty complicated. That’s where all the frustration usually comes in.
Can you tell me a little bit more about some of those pains that you had with the transition?
The transition was really the shift to focusing more on our brand, our products and being a manufacturer. Before, we were selling other people’s brands and products and that was our main effort. 80 to 85 percent of our sales were dropshipping. Now, it’s just the opposite. 90 percent of our revenue is from our branded products that we make in house.
So, it’s pretty difficult going from a steady stream of revenue to making that change.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
There’s nothing better than making a product and being able to hold it in your hand. For me that’s the ultimate satisfaction. I love the fact that we come up with product ideas and actually make them in house.
Do you remember the first thing that you did invent?
With the company I had before, I invented a vest for working dogs called The SkidPlate to wear on their chests so that when they’re running through the field they’re not getting punctured by corn cobs or rebar or whatever.
How do you get in that inventive mind space?
I’ve always been a gearhead. I’ve always been tinkering with cars and motorcycles and snowmobiles. Since I was in my early teens, you know, I loved figuring out how things work and then making them better.
I probably have to also give credit to my years in the automotive industry because that’s where I used those skills a lot. I just ended up jumping into the pet industry because I just love dogs so much. I’m doing something that I love.
Do you have a favorite breed of dog?
I’ve had labs for many years, it’s hard to imagine going with anything else once you’ve had a lab. They just have such good personalities and they’re such good hunting dogs.
Is there any advice you’d give to people who are early into their entrepreneurial efforts or maybe advice that you would have given to yourself when you were starting out?
Don’t wait for the right time. Don’t wait for things to line up. Don’t wait for things to be comfortable. If you wait for things to be comfortable, there’s probably not enough passion there. If you want to do something and you really want to make something happen, it’s going to be scary as hell.
Have you found that sort of reward?
I have. Most people think financial reward is what you’re after. That has nothing to do with it. Financial success makes life easier, but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about making something out of nothing, manifesting your own destiny, personal growth and supporting your family while doing so.
What do you find are some of your biggest distractions?
I would say the biggest distractions for me are shortcuts. Nine times out of ten those shortcuts don’t pay off.