Guest Columnist

Column: Barley Labs prepping for Super Bowl exposure

Guest columnistDecember 2, 2013 

The best kind of marketing for any small company is the free kind.

But what happens when that free marketing is so effective it doubles sales in a few weeks time and promises the kind of growth a business owner expects years to achieve?

That’s the situation facing Scott Beaudry and Theresa Chu, and their inspirational dog Barley, of Durham’s Barley Labs.

Their year-old dog treat company is one of four finalists in Intuit’s national Small Business Big Game competition.

They hope to find out this week if they’ve won the grand prize, a commercial aired during February’s Super Bowl XLVIII. Win or lose, they’ll get a commercial made by an elite ad agency and airtime on national television.

The buzz has already boosted their business, which reuses leftover barley from craft beer production to make all-natural tasty treats for furry friends. Barley Labs also donates a portion of proceeds to rescue organizations. Twenty stores now carry their products, up from six a year ago. More are inquiring weekly.

The co-owners have an opportunity, through the contest and commercial, to target major pet store and retail chains. So they’re dissecting every aspect of their business to be ready to ramp up when the opportunities arise.

“We’re trying to be aggressive but also realistic, prioritizing what we need, who we need and how we can be ready to really go after some retailers who could take our business to the next level,” Chu said.

To handle increases in online and retail sales so far, they’ve purchased a second dehydrator (to remove water after baking) to increase production in their home. They now make by hand 80 bags of 40 or so treats daily. But they’ll soon use the commercial kitchen at Durham’s The Cookery, which offers six times the production capacity.

More growth than that will require they modify the product and manufacturing process, purchase new equipment and lease their own facility.

They’ve already met with lenders to discuss funding that sort of growth. They know what it takes to get new labels approved by the N.C. Department of Agriculture (and similar entities in other states) – which includes testing products to determine protein, fat, water and fiber content.

Intuit has provided Quickbooks and other business management software, which will help the pair put the appropriate accounting, tax and finance processes in place.

Staffing will be another challenge as new orders come in. So far, the two have gone it alone, even with Beaudry’s full-time N.C. State University data analyst job and Chu’s part-time public relations and marketing consulting work. They hope to fine-tune the manufacturing process, and then hire others to make the treats. They’ll focus on the sales.

Future product lines are already in the plans, too. There could be different size treats, new flavors and even a line for cats.

One thing they don’t have to worry about, for now, is marketing. The commercial will dictate all strategy post-February, and Beaudry and Chu are leaving that to the experts.

Laura Baverman is a journalist who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh.

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