Who would have thought that a middle-age couple who held government jobs and were a tad unsure what an entrepreneur was would make a small fortune from their beloved dog’s bad breath?
Joe and Judy Roetheli (pronounced RATE-lee) of Kansas City, Mo., founders of S&M NuTec, maker of Greenies dog treats, were as clueless as they come about starting a business and yet, once they got it into their heads that they had a winning idea, they never lost heart.
In other words, they are a case history of the American dream. If they could grab hold of it, perhaps you can, too. But be forewarned: Venturing out on your own isn’t for the faint-hearted. Here’s a crash course on what it takes to succeed.
For the Roethelis, the eureka moment came unbidden. After they married, she pursued a teaching career and he worked as an economist for the Department of Agriculture. Enter Ivan, their Samoyed, in 1996, when Joe was 48 and Judywas 47 (and Ivan was 7).
”He had really bad breath,” Roetheli said. ”Judy kept after me to do something about it. But there was nothing on the market that worked.” Over the course of just a few days, he developed a mixture of wheat, chlorophyll, vegetable oil and other edible foods that he served dry (and later molded into a bone with a toothbrush at one end). Ivan was more or less a willing guinea pig, and within days, his teeth were clean and the odor gone.
Roetheli quit his job and he and his wife threw themselves full-time into marketing their canine halitosis cure. Here is where another entrepreneurial compulsion kicked in: pit-bull tenacity. He worked the phones from morning to night, and the couple made fruitless treks to every single bank within 70 miles of their home — well over 100, pleading for a $250,000 loan.
”We thought they probably laughed their heads off after we left,” Roetheli said. ”But O.K. We were going to keep going. We refused to give up.”
For three years, they earned nothing. To keep their fledgling enterprise afloat, they begged money from ”family, friends and fools,” as Roetheli put it, and racked up $200,000 in credit card debt.
Photo by S&M NuTec.