Founded in 2003, Tail Bangers, based in Millsboro, is a bakery producing fresh, healthy dog treats from exclusively U.S.-sourced ingredients.
Name: Lisa St. Clair.
What is your business?: Business is Tail Bangers dog bakery. Founded in 2003, we bake and sell all-natural, gourmet, hand-cut, hand-decorated dog treats that are made with human-grade ingredients.
How did it feel when you heard you won the award?: I was in Sacramento (California) at the CampCalNOW camping trade show. Adeline, my best friend and the executive vice president of the Tail Bangers, called me and said I need to make myself available for a phone call. I was like, “I’m in the middle of the trade show,” and she said, “I know, but you need to take this call.” So I went outside, and it was surreal. I was standing on the steps, in the California sunshine, and I cried happy tears. It was truly an amazing feeling.
What best practices or lessons came out of the COVID-19 pandemic?: Tail Bangers is a close-knit team, but the pandemic made us a stronger and better team. We are an essential business, so we only shut down for the first two weeks — we quarantined for two weeks, and when we came back, we were a skeleton crew. I renovated the building over the next month. No employees were allowed to leave the building once they arrived. We were in quarantine at work. I did not allow them to bring food in or order food in — I cooked for the whole team for six months. I did the laundry for our white jackets. I shut down our storefront, and we disinfected with electrostatic sprayers daily.
Have you worked with SBA and how? Loans or assistance programs?: Yes — when I first bought my business partner out of the business, I used an SBA loan for the buyout. Eight years ago, I used a commercial loan to purchase our existing location on Betts Pond Road. And last year, we received the Excite Sussex loan, which is a combination of the state of Delaware and the SBA, which allowed us to purchase equipment, consolidate our current mortgage on Betts Pond Road, as well as purchase property we had been leasing, and it gave us the money to build a 9,375-square-foot building.
What are some resources you’ve used/would recommend outside of SBA?: I’ve used my home’s equity countless times. I actually used it four years ago to build a 5,000-square-foot bakery in my backyard, and that is where we do all the baking for the company. Another thing I highly recommend is getting to be friends with local businesses and network when you can. Industry trade shows are other ways to expand your company reach.
Why did you choose to locate your business in Delaware and your local area?: I grew up just outside of Newark, Delaware, in Landenberg, Pennsylvania, and I moved out of the area for about 12 years and lived in California. I returned home when my father became sick, and after he passed away, I knew I wanted to stay in the area to be close to my mom and family. I always loved the beach area and moved down to Millsboro 20 years ago. When I purchased my property, there was a 20-by-20-foot shed with heat, water and electric, and I knew that I was going to start my business here. Shortly after we started the business, we quickly outgrew my kitchen and my shed and rented property on Long Neck Road (in the Paradise Pub strip mall). We remained there for nine years and finally purchased the property on Betts Pond Road almost 10 years ago. Sussex County is a beautiful area. The property taxes are reasonable, and it’s a business-friendly area, as well as being a beautiful place to call home.
Any advice for a new entrepreneur?: Perfection is the enemy of the good. Don’t keep trying to “perfect” your idea or product to the point that you never start selling it. Just put it out there and see what happens. Your customers and your employees will help shape the product/business. And you will learn more by listening than you ever will by talking.