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Leave It to the Dogs to Build an International Brand

January 2, 2014
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230593

The following is the ninth in the series "Live Your Brand" in which branding expert Melanie Spring takes us along on her three-week road trip across the country to meet innovative entrepreneurs whose experiences offer lessons learned to businesses big and small.

Quite often, dog owners encounter the same issue: The toy problem. They shell out a lot of money on the newest and latest toys, only for their pooches to quickly deem them useless -- either due to lack of interest or destroying them. Kyle and Jennifer Hansen feel your pain.

The outdoorsy couple discovered their energetic dogs needed more than just fetch and hiking to keep them engaged. This need for stimulation inspired the pair to find a way to provide learning and enrichment for their dogs. The Kyjen company was off and barking.

Leave It to the Dogs to Build an International Brand
Melanie Spring's dog Bailey enjoying a Kyjen toy
Image credit: Melanie Spring

Headquartered in Denver, Kyjen focuses on developing toys, games and gear for dogs of all sizes -- from Miniature Pinschers to Great Danes. Some of the most popular lines include soft and chewy PlushPuppy toys, Outward Hound's travel products and brain-teaser puzzles in the Dog Games line. While you may not know the name directly, their products are everywhere - from big stores like Petco to online at Amazon and in mom-and-pop dog shops all over the world.

Innovating in an overpopulated industry was not an easy feat, but Kyjen stayed focused on their mission, allowing them to build an international brand. This is what keeps them ahead of the game.

Create an office environment employees loved. Kyjen allows its staff to bring their dogs to work every day. When you knock on the front door, any one of the 14 happy wagging dogs could be there to greet you.

Related: Why Happy Employees Are Your Key to Successful Branding

The company chose this approach, because not only are they all dog lovers, but recent studies have also shown pooches at work keep employees happier and working harder by forcing short breaks for playtime, which stimulates creativity. Also, petting a dog is therapeutic, especially when having a hard day.

An extra bonus for Kyjen is the dog-proofed office, allows for lots of room to run around and plenty of toys to test - making for the happiest, hard-working dogs.

While not every work environment will allow people to bring their pets to work, entrepreneurs can create a fun office atmosphere to satisfy their employees' needs. Anything from ping-pong tables to a napping room or individual project time, may help get the creative juices flowing.

Leave It to the Dogs to Build an International Brand
Kyjen founder Kyle and a few employees
Image credit: Howard Sokol

Look beyond the conference room for inspiration. Instead of sitting in a room with a whiteboard coming up with new product ideas, Kyjen takes its team on field trips. The crew heads to places like zoos and dog therapy centers to find out how to keep animals entertained. By working with therapy handlers, dog trainers and zookeepers, they see how keeping animals active and engaged in small spaces is a challenge and work on ways to fix it.

Related: Chobani's Secret to Making Customers Feel Like Family

Remember it is all about the customers. "Rayban replaces your sunglasses if you scratch or even drive over them. We took this cue to make sure our customers were happy with paying more for a quality product," says Kyle. "We have one of the best return and replacement policies of any company, which is not normal in our industry."

For its customer service, Kyjen has a policy known as "Boycott Boring." When someone calls Kyjen, they get a real person in their only office -- not a call center. These representatives don't just answer questions coming from dog owners but also customers who have manatees, goats, rabbits and ferrets, among other animals. Their reps know their stuff.

Plus, Kyjen allows customers that have tough chewers or toy shredders the ability to replace the product for a more suitable toy. Free of charge. The impeccable service doesn't stop here.

Every once in awhile, a customer will call begging Kyjen to let her purchase a toy no longer in production (her dog destroyed her favorite Kyjen toy). Knowing how this can be for the owner, they'll see if they can find it in their warehouse or even have the production line produce a few. For Kyjen, it is all about issues get resolved and all questions getting answered. Every customer hangs up happy.

It's this kind of service that sets them apart.

Grow a family from the inside. Although Kyjen has a lot of dogs, they're also a family team. Over the years, they've encouraged employees to refer friends when job openings come up, resulting in almost the entire team having some sort of personal connection. This sort of philosophy allows for a stronger, more supportive company.

"If you're friends with the person you're sitting next to at work, you know you're walking into a happy environment every day," says employee Becca Murray.