Fido Needs to Shed Some Pounds? There's a Start Up for That
The two co-founders came up with the idea for Dog-o-Band during the height of the recession.
After overcoming financial roadblocks, they will launch the product nearly four years after first conceiving of it.
Many great ideas start with a bottle of wine, but most don’t amount to much. Generally, the inspiration ends when the evening does. For Anthony Accola and his brother-in-law Jimmy LaPlaca, however, a warm summer night of drinking and joking around in the backyard sent them on an entrepreneurial ride neither one had ever really imagined.
Accola, a hair stylist and salon owner from Warwick, N.Y., and LaPlaca, a personal trainer from Garfield, N.J., were feeling the pinch of the recessionin the summer of 2008, when they got together at LaPlaca’s home for dinner. “We were talking about ideas, and how inventions happen,” Accola recalls. “You invent a stupid little gadget and it takes off and you become a millionaire.” They started throwing out ideas. Accola joked that LaPlaca should make exercise products for dogs: treadmills or workout clothes…something.
Just then, LaPlaca spotted his red-nosed pit bull, Blaze, walking around, and inspiration hit. He got up and ran upstairs, where he found an exercise band shaped like a figure-eight that he used for working on rotator cuffs. He grabbed a pair of scissors, and cut the band at the top and bottom, creating an “X” shape.
LaPlaca came running downstairs, put the band on a table in front of Accola and Accola’s wife, Kimberly, and said, “This is it! “
They responded with, “This is what?’ ”
It was what would become Dog-O-Band.
LaPlaca had fashioned an exercise band for dogs that would tie around their legs and provide resistance when they walked. Laughing, he tied it to his dog’s legs. “The dog looked at us like, ‘enough wine, already,’” says Accola. “It started hopping around, but then it got its stride again. It clicked, and we thought, ‘Wow, we might have something here.’”
If exercise bands could help people build muscle and strengthen joints, why wouldn’t they work for dogs? “A muscle is a muscle, a joint is a joint, and a tendon is a tendon,” says LaPlaca, Getting an energy-burning workout could help overweight dogs shed pounds, neurotic dogs calm down, and older dogs stay fit. It could also help dogs recover from surgery. Another benefit: A healthy dog means fewer vet bills.
In theory, that might be true, but surgical vets and rehab therapists will want to see scientific evidence that the band is safe and effective—particularly as a post-operative rehab tool, according to Dr. Melissa Flanagan, DVM of the Newburgh Veterinary Hospital in Newburgh, N.Y.
“There’s a longstanding practice using thera-bands to rework the muscles after surgery,” says Flanagan. “They’ve taken the idea to another level—using the dog itself, instead of a person, to provide resistance. I’d want to see what happens over the course of a few years. It may put extra strain on the joints, because now the dogs are moving in a more restrictive manner.”
On that summer night nearly four years ago, however, the brothers-in-law weren’t sure they had a marketable idea, let alone a potentially beneficial one. After seeing Blaze walk in LaPlaca’s rudimentary band, they ran the computer to search for doggie exercise products. All that came up were treadmills and water pools. So over the next three months, they got together and half-seriously sketched out their invention, which they dubbed Dog-O-Band. “We joked and laughed about it, but we always came up with new ideas,” says Accola.
At the point they felt they had something worth showing, they went to LaPlaca’s good friend and client, Jeff Spitz, president of Snapco Manufacturing Corp. They were looking for guidance, know-how, and most important, backing. Spitz was enthusiastic. Snapco, a family business in Hillside, N.J., makes snap-fasteners and other closures for the apparel industry—but its manufacturer in Boston could easily turn out rubber canine exercise bands, too.
The timing was bad, however. Spitz was going through a divorce and had too much on his plate to take on a start-up, according to Accola. So Accola and LaPlaca shelved their Dog-o-Band idea, perhaps forever. They had done everything they could up until that point. Accola had called the United States Patent and Trademark Office and done a search for any similar patents. When nothing turned up, he sent in an application form, a product sketch, and a check for $105, and received a provisionary patent. He and LaPlaca had also formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), but they never opened a corporate bank account. There was no reason to; they had nothing to put it in. Without funding, they were done. They had no capital behind them. “We couldn’t even refinance our houses,” adds Accola.
For the next two years, Dog-O-Band stayed on the shelf, although the brothers-in-law kept renewing the provisional patent. Then, in May 2010, Spitz came back to them; his personal issues were resolved, and he was ready to get involved. With his help, they hired a lawyer to file for a full utility patent so they could say product pending and get a trademark. They met with Spitz’s manufacturer, whose son happened to be an engineer, and started redesigning the product. The manufacturer made samples, and they continued to tweak—meeting halfway in Connecticut over lunch to review and discuss concepts—until finally, they were ready for production.
"We joked and laughed about it, but we always came up with new ideas.""
Accola and LaPlaca have produced 1,500 units—500 of three different strengths. (They’re prepared to produce a total of 5,000 units if things go well right off the bat.) Meanwhile, their website, dogoband.com, is nearly ready, and they are working with a distributor of veterinarian surgical supplies to sell Dog-o-Band to vet customers around the country. “We’re launching in a soft way,” says Accola.
The partners are gearing up to sell the Dog-O-Band directly through its website for $40 a piece.
After years of inactivity, the project is moving at lightning speed, going from dormant idea to finished product in just over a year. But once Dog-O-Band rolls off the line, the partners intend to move slowly, keeping tight control over the rollout. LaPlaca, who has been unemployed for two years, is working now as a personal trainer full-time. That means LaPlaca and Accola, along with Accola’s wife, Kimberly, will run the business outside of their day jobs. The brothers-in-law talk almost every day—about website design, distribution plans and every other aspect of the launch.
Accola estimates the start-up costs for Dog-O-Band to be around $50,000. Without Spitz’s investment, it would have just been another backyard inspiration that went nowhere. “Jeff has brought along everything to make this possible,” says LaPlaca. “If he hadn’t come back to us, it would still be in the closet. An idea is just an idea until somebody can get it rolling.”