BANGOR, Maine — Six months ago, only Bandit the Australian shepherd knew his owners had a product that was “the balm.”
Now patrons of 124 businesses in 10 states, along with customers nationwide, know it too as they purchase the balm and 32 other natural pet products made and sold by Mutt Nose Best.
The Bangor-based company has been in business for only four months, but it’s growing faster than the hair on an old English sheepdog.
And whether you have a sheepdog or a Chihuahua, Mutt Nose Best co-owner Jenny Dwyer knows she has the stuff to clean them up, from the dirtiest dogs to the smelliest, hairiest, itchiest and newest — and those are just the company’s different lines for shampoos, conditioners and scented sprays.
“We did a lot of research into what the most healthy ingredients would be. It all kind of started for me with the pet food scare back along,” said Dwyer. “I started being more conscious of the ingredients in pet products, even the stuff you put on their skin because anything you put on their skin is usually in their bloodstreams within 30 seconds.”
An outbreak of contamination in pet foods killed hundreds of dogs and cats in the United States in 2007.
While the idea to use more natural products for their five dogs was born three years ago, it was Bandit, the “poster dog” for Mutt Nose Best, that provided the catalyst to turn the idea into a moneymaking business for Jenny and husband Doug.
“The pet balm was the first thing we came up with and it was literally an invention of necessity,” said Jenny Dwyer. “We can’t keep Bandit out of the water in the summer and he was always getting sunburned, cracking his nose.”
The Dwyers started researching which ingredients and products were best for dry dog skin as well as protection from ultraviolet radiation. Jenny, who already was preparing the dogs’ food rather than buying it premade, and Doug, who happens to be vice president of Chute Chemicals Co., started mixing their own concoctions and the natural healing balm was developed.
“It has shea butter, which has a natural SPF of 6, is a natural hydrator, and is also naturally antimicrobial. Shea butter’s the base for almost all our products,” said Jenny Dwyer. “We did the balm in balm stick form, which makes it so much easier to apply. You can use it on hot spots and paws too.” said Jenny Dwyer, who used to be a production assistant at Chute.
Mutt Nose Best is, in almost all aspects, a family business.
“We’re only a six-person business,” said Jenny Dwyer, a Union native now living in Holden. “My husband and I own and operate it. My cousin works for us, my brother Rick and his son help us out, and my dad chips in and takes samples with him to Florida.”
If business keeps booming, they may have to employ a few more family members.
“We initially thought if we could get 30 accounts by Christmas, we’d be in great shape,” said Doug Dwyer, who grew up in Houlton. “Now it looks like we could have 130. I think we’ve filled a niche in the market.”
Business has been especially brisk since the introduction of their “flagship products”: Blueberry shampoos and conditioners.
“That was just Jenny driving home one night and it hit her right out of the blue … Out of the blue,” Doug Dwyer said, laughing as he realized his unintentional pun. “That product really took right off, in particular with us being in a big blueberry state like Maine.”
Dwyer said blueberries don’t have many actual cleaning properties but offer several health benefits.
“They have a lot of vitamins and minerals and are huge in antioxidants as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which is great for dogs’ skin,” she said.
And the best thing about the blueberry line, according to the Dwyers, is no one else made or sold the same product.
“That’s what gets us in the door. Every pet store we walk into adds it to their inventory. That is by far our most popular product,” said Jenny Dwyer, who already has patented it. “There are a couple out there now, but they’re not all-natural.”
And with the Dwyers and their business, it’s all about being all-natural.
They use organic Maine oats from Grandy Oats in Brownfield, blueberries from Whitney Blueberries in Machias, beeswax from The Honey Exchange in Portland, and deer antlers from Shakaree Red Deer Farm in Houlton.
Deer antlers? The Dwyers sell deer antlers, which are sawed into 8-inch pieces, as dog chews. The antlers don’t splinter, are excellent teeth cleaners, and contain nutrients, they say.
To keep products natural, Jenny said she reached back to her grandmother’s remedies.
Hence they use aloe, peppermint oil, frankincense and other materials that aren’t toxic and don’t even sting if it gets in dogs’ eyes. Rather than use alcohol in their Eau De Toilet sprays, the Dwyers use glycerine because it hydrates rather than dehydrates skin.
“We have a chemist on staff, which really helped us come up with the right combinations and proportions,” said Jenny. “You can use these on other pets, but they’re intended more for dogs.”
You can even use them yourself. Jenny and Doug do.
“I even use the blueberry in the shower. It’s awesome,” Jenny Dwyer said. “It’s very moisturizing and seals moisture into your skin.”
Mutt Nose Best is located on Bomarc Road in Bangor. All production is done in a metal building on the site of the old missile base. The Dwyers added a loft for an office in the 6,000-square-foot space that sits above the dogs’ “play room,” which may be nicer than some children’s playrooms.
“[We use] a cold process with a lot of 12-hour days. We manufacture and label and fill orders by hand,” Jenny Dwyer said. “We mix everything up,100 gallons at a time in a big tank, pour it into 5-gallon pails, add the pertinent ingredients, and then bottle them all by hand.”
The entire process, from initial mixing to labeling of individual bottles, takes about a week.
“It takes a week to mix a whole batch and then start another,” said Jenny Dwyer, who has been putting in a lot of 12-hour days. “We haven’t gotten much sleep lately, but it’s worth it.”