By: Andy Martinez
Many business owners will say that owning a business, managing production, ensuring the quality of product and services and trying to do all of that while still being fresh and innovative is no walk in the park. Dean Travis, President of Valley Feed & Supply, Inc. knows this, but he has made it his company’s primary goal that a walk in the park, at least for your pet, is the only thing that your loyal companion has to worry about.
From Las Cruces to El Paso, and all the way to San Antonio, Dean Travis has expanded his mission of providing the area with the highest quality and care. Travis’s involvement with the company began in 1966, when he joined his father in a partnership for commercial livestock feed. Throughout his participation, Travis felt that expansion and a shift in focus might benefit the interest of the company. “I grew up in this industry and as I got older I started thinking about the future and the opportunities within this company. I loved the customers and the people that worked in the organization.”
Travis’s idea, one that has ensured the longevity of the business, was to begin producing pet food. “We discovered that we could easily compete with grocery stores and the best way to compete was by bringing in a higher quality product. That’s when the idea of a premium dog food first started showing up in the marketplace.”
The prospect of being a part of a growing industry only solidified Travis’s determination. He began working with companies to produce a premium dog food. Soon after, Travis saw that an increased interest in his product led to having to consistently produce more to put on shelves. “We started growing our Activa line and our Apetito line. Next thing you know, we went from having pickup trucks show up picking up 20 or 30 bags. A few years later it was semi-truck loads that were exporting to Mexico.” Now, the company manufactures up to 160,000 pounds of dog food a day.
The Travis family business then began selling its own product in a store of their own creation: Pet’s Barn. Instantly recognizable with its bright red façade and rural aesthetic, Travis believed that the ability to control the quality and fair pricing of their product was integral to the legitimacy of the company and its growth. “We control it all the way from the raw ingredients. We work with the farms and suppliers all the way to the retail stores. Our goal is to make a better dog food all the time.”
With the intention of creating the best dog food they can, Travis realized that there was more to pet food and a particular dog’s needs than meets the eye. The perfect dog food, even as an idea, was something that wasn’t in the realm of possibility. Considering that much like humans, dogs are all different, not only in the breed, but in age, health and specific needs, there needed to be a way to be able to cater to as many pets and their owners. With the decreasing quality of big-name brands looking to turn a profit above all else, Travis saw the opportunity to develop a system that was sure to revolutionize the way that people thought about dog food. “We’re always looking at ‘how do we provide a better product that comes closest to meeting that need of an individual dog,’” says Travis.
Through various processes like manufacturing, shipping and shelf life, the benefits of vitamins, minerals and probiotics are diminished or destroyed, so it was Travis’s goal to reinstate the nutrients back into the dog food in order to give them the full value of the purchase. “We have developed a system where we can customize a bag of dog food specifically for each individual dog. Because they are all different, there are different nutrient requirements and combinations that we can do with our patented machine and we can do that in 60 seconds.”
The machine, which Travis initially proposed to his team through an assemblage of tools and a popcorn maker, is now present at Pet’s Barn stores and customizes dog food for all customers who purchase dog food from their Activa line, allowing up to 55,000 combinations of enrichments, oils and flavors. “There are days where we are up to 600-700 bags in a day, the system works,” says Travis.
The constant strive for the betterment and growth of the company, with the customer and their needs always at the forefront, is what has ensured security for Travis, his company and employees. As for advice to aspiring business owners, Travis wisely comments, “Spend time on your idea, test your idea, talk to other people. Keep your mind open to their ideas. Have an understanding that it will not be easy. It will require, sometimes, non-stop work. You have to be real stubborn.”