Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Ruby Balaram. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Hi Ruby, thanks for joining us today. What’s something crazy on unexpected that’s happened to you or your business
We had a customer reach out to us, through our online customer service, where they requested to cancel their boxes due to an issue they had with one of our products. We received the message in November of 2020 and started the process to cancel their order. While talking with the customer about why they wanted to cancel, they notified us that they had fed both of their dogs one of our chews, and one dog had a bit of a problem digesting, while the other was doing just fine. We apologized for the one that was having an issue and began trying to figure out what could have happened. Upon talking with the customer, we discovered that they had fed both dogs the full chew, which is recommended to be fed in ¼ sections, as stated on our product cards. We asked the customer to keep us updated on their dog’s situation, and went ahead and canceled their order.
The next day, our member service team reached out and asked the customer how their pup was doing. The customer replied with a message stating they took their dog to the emergency vet, because they were having trouble passing the product through digestion, and thanked us for reaching out. A few days later, I personally reached out to the customer to check in on their dog; they told me that their dog was doing better, fortunately, there was no obstruction or a need for surgery and that the food would pass naturally. The customer then demanded that I recall the product because it caused a constipation issue with their dog, and demanded that I pay for their vet bill. We have a product card that has all of the nutrition information as well as recommended feeding amounts, and the customer admitted to ignoring these instructions and feeding the whole product in one sitting. Nonetheless, I empathize with the customer and made sure to check in on them – I, too, am a dog owner and know how it feels when my pup isn’t well so I wanted to make myself available to them. However, I also think there is a responsibility that each dog owner bears with regards to the food they feed, the toys that they choose, as well as the financial commitment they take on when owning a dog. I refused to pay the vet bill because I believed it to be the owner’s duty to feed responsibly and that they did not follow our recommended guidelines, and further because the veterinarian’s documentation indicated that the dog was sent home with a common issue and no medical intervention or treatment was required. I understand this isn’t the typical “customer is always right” stance, but I never expected it to be so highly criticized.
Following these messages, 10 days later, we woke up to hundreds of people posting on social media about how we ‘killed a dog’ and refused to take ‘ownership’ of this particular situation. We were officially getting CANCELED by social media. Not only were people canceling their subscriptions, but they were also harassing our current customers, sending death threats to our team, and ultimately slandering our business all over social media. We lost more than 1300 customers in the span of 2 days.
As a small business owner, I felt like our whole company was under attack and no matter what I said, how I said, or where I said it, I couldn’t compete with the 1000s of misinformed comments on our social media posts, stories, or messages. We received hateful messages, even death threats, and minute by minute our team was feeling more discouraged and burnt-out trying to stand up for us. I felt as if I couldn’t protect them – that somehow being honest and holding someone accountable for their actions was my fault. Everyone kept saying, “just pay the bill!” but it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. For a moment, it felt like that was the end of our business and there was no way we would recover from such a loss.
I had never been accused of doing something this serious before, and there was an overwhelming feeling that felt like I was watching a building collapse around me with no way out. It felt as if I was being convicted of a crime that I didn’t commit and my team was paying the price for it. In my heart, I know I made the right decision, I don’t think we should have paid the bill. It sets a precedent for all the other instances of irresponsible dog ownership, that they can get their way by bullying and mass canceling.
There was a silver lining to this whole situation, though. We created our slogan of “feed responsibility”, which focuses on dog owners knowing their own dogs’ health and wellness and ensuring that what they give, how much they give, and how long they give the products is all up to them. And now, it’s been a little over a year since the incident and we are still growing. Despite the challenges we have faced, I learned a lesson or two about integrity – those that have it, are willing to fight for what they believe in and survive difficult times, and those that don’t will simply follow the trends and never make a lasting impact.
Ruby, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
It didn’t have to be dogs for me. I was ready to make a change in my career to help other people. I wanted to feel like I was making a difference and giving others the voice I never had while working for big corporations. We started this company because our family dog, Atum, was diagnosed with cancer. He had grown up on table scraps and kibble. Turk and I had gone to the grocery store, and he asked, “Isn’t it weird that the dog food is in the same aisle as laundry detergent?” That question led us into researching the ingredients listed on dog kibble and ultimately led us to research feeding a raw diet for dogs. When we discovered what the kibble companies were allowed to get away with, we set out our mission to help people feed real food to their dogs.
We’ve built a microsite network to support our products and service through education and experience. We focus on meaningful products that align with our food and member philosophy. We have many products we offer starting with our natural, air-dried, single-ingredient dog treats and chews, which can be substituted or restricted based on the individual dog’s needs. Our #feedreal movement offers deep-researched nutritional content and builds dog feeding tools to help dog owners make their dog bowls better and start feeding their dog’s canine-appropriate foods. Our Canine.Care is an easy-to-follow dog care educational website that helps you find the right dog for your lifestyle; helps you feed, train, care for them and do mindful activities together. Lastly, our Short Leash! Is our bite-sized online newsletter that is delivered bi-weekly to dog business owners and responsible dog owners.
There is no other dog treat companies that offer nutrition consultations, raw food workshops, and help people become more responsible dog owners by developing lasting client relationships. We also have a strong presence in the community by being involved in farmers’ markets, pack walks and creating and distributing a bi-weekly newsletter. We don’t talk about those things enough. Everything we post online is an opportunity to educate and engage in oftentimes tough conversations with dog owners.
We are currently building our own nutrition certification course in an effort to empower people to take their own dogs’ health into their own hands, and not just take a vet’s advice as fact. Instead, to give people an opportunity to really understand dogs’ health, like they do their own health, and really bond with their dog.
Something we are really proud of is we custom-built an OMAAS – Beast Village, which is a nonprofit holding company that builds digital management tools and resources, and storytelling services to help micro-factories serve end-users, create experiences and build their culture with minimal external dependence.
How did you build your audience on social media?
Building our social media presence isn’t exactly what most people think about when they think of social media. Many people think to follow the trends or let data drive your topics – which would be conventional wisdom to do. Our social media philosophy is much different. We believe in talking about things we want to talk about, not what people tell us to talk about – sometimes they are easy to hear and read. Other times, they are hard to digest, and we get pushback. Ultimately our goal is to create our presence on social media for people who are ready to hear what we have to say. This has led us to a larger following on social media because people are coming to our page because they believe in what we believe, not because we are just another mainstream social media influencer.
Our advice to people just starting out would be to be authentic and when you find what works, keep doing it. Don’t restrict yourself to what others do or say, you are not them and imitating them takes away from your authenticity and the value you can offer your audience.
Can you talk to us about manufacturing? How’d you figure it all out? We’d love to hear the story.
We make and ship all of our products in-house. This allows us to control the quality of our product, keep our prices low and make changes as quickly as we needed to.
When we were first looking for suppliers of our raw product, I started at local grocery stores and butchers, and eventually found my way to larger meat processors to buy wholesale. I vividly recall going to one particular meat supplier to inquire about pricing. As a female business owner entering a male-dominated industry, unfortunately, I wasn’t taken very seriously. They asked me who I worked for… If I was someone’s secretary and who the primary decision maker was. I wish I could say it never happened again after that, but I now have the courage (and buying power) to refuse to work with anyone that doesn’t think I deserve the same respect as my male counterparts.
In our first year, we strived for diversification. When we got into the industry, we learned of many small dog food startups failing because bigger buyers were squeezing them out of the supply chain. So we built operations and sourcing protocols to diversify our supply chain and circumvent big food exclusivity agreements. We learned how to manage our supply chain by creating a process that was not reliant on one supplier that would bottleneck our operations. This has allowed us to fill our orders without disruption and maintain various vendor relationships.
- Website: https://real.dog/box
- Instagram: realdogbox
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/realdogbox
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/RealDogBox
- Other: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Berrelleza, Real Dog Box