“Fast Lane is unlike any other business development program I’ve tried. It’s delivered real value and changed the way we manage day to day.”
— Caroline Bolduc, President and CEO of Bold Canine and Bold Raw
Four short months after joining Innovation Guelph’s Fast Lane program, entrepreneur Caroline Bolduc is breathing a sigh of relief that her rapidly expanding natural pet food business is firmly on track and in control of its “phenomenal” growth trajectory.
It’s been a steep learning curve for the president and CEO of Bold Canine and Bold Raw, who has seen sales nearly double over the last year to more than $1.1 million while experiencing the growing pains that affect many fledgling enterprises.
Bold Canine was Bolduc’s first business venture, launched in 2005 in Erin, Ont., to provide dog training, daycare and grooming services. Pet food was next. As breeders of magnificent Shiloh Shepherds, Bolduc and her husband, Dave Herz, developed a raw food mix of ground-up meaty bones, beef tripe, organ meat and kelp to help their dogs overcome digestive and other health issues. It became the signature product of Bold Raw, a division of Bold Canine that the couple launched in 2009.
“We knew we needed to find a better way to feed our dogs, and kibble just wasn’t working,” Bolduc says. “We aimed to create a blend that had minimal amounts of vegetable and plant matter, large amounts of omega oils, probiotics and digestive enzymes, and was more geared towards the canine natural prey model diet. It’s easy for them to digest, and they thrive on it.”
As Bold Raw sales steadily tracked upward, and the first retailers came on board, Bolduc found herself both exhilarated by the prospects for the company, but also facing new challenges every day. Although she had 10 years of experience in high-level sales and marketing prior to starting Bold Canine, the role of CEO demanded a new set of business management skills.
“The dog services were fun and profitable for us,” she says. “Bold Raw really took us to the next level: we have to work smarter, faster and sell more.”
The company moved to a 6,000-square-foot production facility in Erin and the number of employees grew to 20, but the work environment was often chaotic as they struggled to keep up with the growing demand. “I didn’t know where to start – I couldn’t figure out the problem,” Bolduc says.
Then she happened to hear Innovation Guelph’s CEO, Jamie Doran, speak about the Fast Lane business acceleration program at an event in February 2015.
“I thought: ‘This may be the solution,’” she recalls. “We were still under the $1 million in sales needed to qualify for Fast Lane, but Jamie said, ‘If we can help you get over $1 million, come on over.’”
Bolduc applied to the program, and was paired with Fast Lane mentor Niel Palmer, an expert at honing operational efficiencies to boost financial performance, with years of experience in manufacturing that spans lean principles, profitability and cost analyses, process flow optimization and strategic planning.
“Innovation Guelph matched me with the right person – the fit is so important,” she says. “We did a five-year plan and projections. We looked at order processing, inventory management, cash flow, people management. He helped us organize our manufacturing plant to be more efficient by implementing a kanban system, putting policies and procedures in place, and creating budgets for each department.”
When it comes to budgeting, “we’re looking for the sweet spot,” Palmer says. “You can see it right away when you reach a particular sales volume – and manage expenses – you start to realize positive income.”
With a clearly defined strategy and new systems in place, things quickly started to improve.
“It’s so much easier; we always have stock now,” Bolduc says of the kanban system, a Japanese order signaling process that Palmer recommended. “I’ve been doing this for about four weeks now,” she says. “It’s really easy once you get your head around it. Honestly, it’s saved my life.”
“My new saying is ‘Trust the process.’ It’s really changed the way we manage day to day.”
Bold Raw products – free of antibiotics and hormones and made with ingredients from Canadian farmers – are now available in more than 300 stores across the country.
“Fast Lane has delivered real value,” Bolduc says. “I feel like we’re progressing and the program is flexible to accommodate a business like mine that’s struggling and trying to get organized. One outcome is definitely how my confidence has improved as a CEO. I’m now able to direct the business better.”
With Palmer’s help and Bolduc’s strong market knowledge, Bold Raw has recently landed a large distributor for Western Canada, which will mean more growth in the months to come.
“It’s going to be our game-changer,” Bolduc says. “Now we’re focused on getting to $2 million.”
About Fast Lane
Fast Lane is a business acceleration program for small- and medium-sized enterprises (under 500 employees) that are facing technical, efficiency or growth challenges. Part of Innovation Guelph’s Speedway program, it is designed for companies earning revenues of $1 million or more, and provides up to $5,000 in services to help these businesses scale-up their operations. #IGFastLane
Since launching in October 2014, Innovation Guelph has worked with 32 companies based in Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area from a variety of sectors including: Advanced Manufacturing, Agri-Technology, Food & Beverage, Cleantech, Life Sciences as well as Digital Media and Technology.
We look forward to working with you and helping your company grow to its full potential.
— Story and photo by Stacey Curry Gunn. Stacey is a Guelph-based PR and marketing communications professional who helps businesses grow by sharing their stories. Follow her on Twitter @StaceyCurryGunn