Ryan Riley and his wife, Ashley Spitz, are the founders of BizBagz, a company that sells uniquely designed environmentally responsible dog waste bags made from bio-based resins and recycled plastics.
“We’re trying to take something as mundane and gross as dog poop and make it a little bit more fun and responsible,” Riley says.
BizBagz feature a cherry design, so when dog owners turn them inside out to pick up poop, it appears like they’re carrying a bag of cherries—a little “inside joke” for customers.
Why did you start your business?
My background is in marketing and creative writing. My wife has an M.B.A. in finance, so she’s the actual brains. It was kind of her idea. We have two rescue dogs. We were out walking our dogs and she said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had bags sort of like a Laffy Taffy, where it tells a joke on the outside and when you pick it up and turn it inside out, you see the punch line?” We tried for the longest time, but we couldn’t find a manufacturer that could print on the inside of the plastic bags. We took it in a different direction, but that’s where our idea came from. She has more of an analytic mindset and I am more on the creative side of it, so it’s a great partnership for us.
How did you get the funds to get going?
We are self-financed. We wanted to make sure we could do this responsibly. Our product is environmentally responsible, but we also wanted to have fiscal responsibility ourselves. Everything we make goes back into the company, minus $1 from every roll sold that we donate to animal groups that are in our local area. Everything in terms of growth comes from our profits.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. We are building credit for the business. Everything in terms of legal structure is set up so the business is its own entity. In terms of business credit cards and things like that, everything is in the business’ name.
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Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
For us, it’s getting customers to try to have fun with something like this. Picking up dog poop is just something you’ve accepted you have to do. You buy the cheapest bag, pick it up, and throw it away. Our bags are a little bit more premium because we have a mission behind them. The way landfills are, they push everything down, so plastic and other things don’t actually have the oxygen they need to break down. Being that our bags are made from bio-based resins, they can break down with minimal oxygen. We have to educate customers on how to be more responsible about picking up that poop.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
Currently, we don’t have excessive cash flow needs. We run really lean and have minimal upfront costs. We also try to keep the amount of inventory we are holding low. As we grow, we will need to analyze cash flow more frequently to ensure that we are planning accordingly.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
We pay upfront for everything. In terms of inventory management, when we meet a certain threshold, we will do a new run. That threshold is determined by how much cash we’ll have to pay our vendors upfront. Philosophically, we’ve decided that we don’t want to have any debt.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in your first years?
The earliest mistakes were about production, just understanding what that process is. Neither of us has created a physical good before. Working with a manufacturer was a tough thing. At first, we went overseas to Chinese manufacturers just to keep the costs down. The communication barrier was such a huge thing. It was embarrassing to have conversations where, culturally, you don’t connect on the same level. But that lead us to making our products here in the U.S. We realized that, going along with being responsible to our environment, we wanted to also be responsible for keeping jobs here in the U.S.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first years?
We had the ability to adapt and pivot very early on. We were pretty dead-set on the idea of doing joke bags that you could flip inside out for the punch line. Once we started going down that path and talking with manufacturers, we realized it couldn’t be done. We tried to even figure out ways to change the manufacturing process or create new machines. It really wasn’t worth the effort. We still loved the idea of making the bags, but we realized we had to expand into other ideas and make the joke on the outside. Our bags look like bags of cherries now, but we’re hoping to expand to make others that look like bananas and grapes … we’re going to have a whole “Fruit of the Loom” that is just silly for owners!
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
For us, it’s definitely donating to organizations. Both of our dogs are rescues and we love them. They’ve really influenced our lives. So, for us to be able to give a little bit back to groups like the ones we got our dogs from, that’s the fun part.
What does the future look like for your business?
We’re designing some new things so we can have more unique bags with different fruits and in different sizes. We have some ideas for other products, too. The future for us is expanding our SKUs.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Make sure this is something you’re passionate about. We’re not necessarily passionate about dog poop, but we’re passionate about our animals and our community, so that’s what drives us. Make sure it’s something you’re truly committed to and something that you can have fun with. From there, everything else will fall into place.
More answers to pressing questions
This article was originally written on October 5, 2016 and updated on January 27, 2021.
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