What: Vending machine for pets
Who: Carlotta Lennox of Hey Buddy
When: Started in 2005
Startup costs: $6,000
When July hit Miami in 1998, everyone seemed to be enjoying the dog days of summer--except the dogs. As owners took giant swigs from their 32-ounce water bottles, their dogs ran to and fro, wearily retrieving makeshift toys in the afternoon heat. It was on one sunny afternoon in July that Carlotta Lennox rolled by a park on a pair of rollerblades, noticed that the dogs looked tired and hungry, and realized how she could give the day back to the dogs.
Seven years later, the first Hey Buddy pet vending machine was established in Bark Park Central, an off-leash dog park in Dallas. Lennox, 36, stocked the machine with dog treats, tennis balls, dog shirts, dog glasses--basically everything a dog might need for a walk in the park. And with its shingled roof and slated facade, the doghouse-inspired vending machine was hard to miss--which meant pets and their owners weren't the only ones begging Lennox for more.
"It's a really great branding mechanism for corporations looking for an extra niche for items they want to sell outside their stores," says Lennox. And thanks to Hey Buddy's unique patent, which gives the company exclusive rights to distribute pet products in vending machines across the U.S., Lennox can take full advantage of the niche market she's created.
Hey Buddy is already in negotiations with major corporations interested in branding the machines for dog parks throughout the U.S., and sales are expected to reach $100,000 this year. But Lennox sees the business reaching far beyond the day-in-the-park demographic.
"I see my machines at the Plaza in New York City, maybe gold-plated, carrying Louis Vuitton dog collars and Chanel pearls and everything else a celebrity would want for their dog," says Lennox. She also lists apartment complexes, RV parks and veterinary offices as just a few more places she hopes to have Hey Buddy Machines in the future. "That's really what we're all about," she says. "We just want to make it convenient for the customers who are out there with their dogs."