GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Barbara Clarke-Ruiz had a list of ideas that she could have started a business with, but when her dog was getting sick after eating store-bought treats, she decided to venture into the world of pet care. Three and a half years later, Clarke-Ruiz has been chosen to pitch her all-natural Beef Liver Dog Treats to Walmart’s Open Call contest, an event that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch the company their product for a chance to be carried in stores. An activewear designer by trade, Clarke-Ruiz ventured into the pet business when a job working for Venus Williams’ design company wrapped up.
“So when my husband, who is also my business partner, and I would give store-bought treats to our dogs, they would get ill,” she said in a phone interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Sept. 14. “So, we decided to create and bake treats for the dogs, but, due to our schedules, it wasn’t sustainable. We decided to seek a supply partner to create one-ingredient dog treats that we knew the origin and quality of the ingredients.”
Clarke-Ruiz decided to put off finding another design job and instead ventured into research. She fell in love with the pet industry during her year of research. She found suppliers with higher quality meat and recruited her daughter, an animator, to design the dog treat packaging.
“I got the product right. I got the packaging right,” she said of her Glen Ridge–based business. “So I decided to launch it.”
Lick You Silly now offers a variety of flavors of dog treats, in a couple of different forms. Some are chewable, while others are a powder that can be mixed in with regular food. Clarke-Ruiz likened the powder to parents tricking young children into eating vegetables.
“Some people have dogs who are picky eaters,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of putting M&Ms in vegetables to get kids to eat it.”
The treats are available from 21 retailers, including Amazon, and from the company’s website, www.lickyousillypetproducts.com. For her “Lick with Kindness” initiative, Clarke-Ruiz has donated dog treats to the Montclair Animal Shelter and other surrounding shelters, and business has been good even during the last six months, when normal life has been turned upside down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re an essential retailer,” Clarke-Ruiz said. “I had 20 pounds of treats delivered right before, not knowing what was going to happen. And with the Black Lives Matter movement, I am a woman of color, so there were a lot of people purchasing in that regard. Business has been good.”
Because she is a designer, people often ask Clarke-Ruiz if she’ll make and sell dog clothes. So far she hasn’t ventured too far out of the treats lane, but a sweater for dogs and a matching scarf for humans is available on the website. Nevertheless, food is her first priority.
From beginning idea to end product on the shelves, Clarke-Ruiz said it takes about four months to test a new dog treat. Her dog, Chili, and her neighbors’ dogs are often the test subjects.
“There are a lot of companies that sell freeze-dried treats at a price point of $7.99, but what is the quality of their meat?” she said. “Our brand only uses premium quality USDA meat. We offer a product that is wholesome, natural and human-grade. The quality is what really impacts the flavor and taste. Lick You Silly products are exceptional and pet-approved.”