Former MSU staff member bakes all-natural dog treats from scratch
While some like to come home to freshly baked cookies, Leslie and Adam Cowell like to come home to freshly baked dog treats.
Their home in Bath, Mich., holds a bakery, which was originally a hot tub room and is now the location of their Michigan-based company, Riker’s Dog Treats. The two high school sweethearts are now married and officially started selling treats for their company in 2014 as a result of their late dog, Riker.
Riker became ill toward the end of his life from eating other dog food, which led to Riker’s veterinarian recommending he eat special food and take medicine, Leslie said.
Leslie didn't understand the recommendation. She decided to feed Riker an all-natural diet of venison, brown rice and pumpkin puree.
This new diet extended Riker’s life, and brought out the entrepreneur within Leslie to start her own dog treat company, Riker’s Dog Treats.
“There’s a big void in dog treats that just gives them the ingredients that they need,” Leslie said. “I went crazy with it.”
To make the dog treats, Leslie needed not only the ingredients, but the skills to help bake her treats and transform her home into a bakery.
Fortunately, Leslie already had the skills, she said, by working at the MSU Bakery for 10 years during the summer months, starting when she was 12 years old.
“The high volume, the amount of stuff, the equipment that type of stuff, that’s really helped me now,” Leslie said. “I would have never thought that experience would come in (years down the line) to play.”
The dog treats are now sold in 20 retail stories throughout Michigan. Leslie said she never expected for Riker’s Dog Treats to be as successful as it has been, compared to some of her previous jobs around MSU’s campus.
“Sitting at a department job … I was like, ‘This just isn’t me, sitting behind a desk,’” Leslie said. “'I’m not going to last here.'”
Leslie left her job at as the graduate secretary and secretary to the director of the Program in Mathematics Education.
“I thought if I could sell two cases of dog treats per day, I’d quit,” Leslie said. “That was my motivation.”
Leslie found her success when they struck a deal with Whole Foods, who Leslie said is strict in deciding who gets into their stores.
“If Whole Foods is taking us and if we’re meeting their standards, we can do this,” Leslie said. “It’s literally doing the leg work (and) getting out there and doing the hard work.”
Helping with the leg work is her husband Adam, who focuses on sales and marketing.
Adam said he left his job at the Michigan Manufacturers Association in sales and marketing because of the passion Leslie had for her product.
“She’s good at creating a brand image and has these all ideas, so I wanted to be able to use my skill set to help bring those to fruition,” Adam said.
Leslie said Adam is fun to work with and helps with delivering online orders to the post office, even sometimes “baking a couple batches.”
“We definitely know we’re on the same page, so we’re always here to bounce ideas off each other,” Leslie said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
To continue bringing Leslie’s dreams to fruition, the two are looking to expand in other areas of Michigan, such as Ann Arbor.
“People always say, ‘Oh are you going to go on Shark Tank, are you going to do that,’ and right now I don’t see us doing that because we can be quite successful if we stick in Michigan,” Leslie said. “I love providing a good quality product for Michigan people.”