SHOREWOOD HILLS -- Tim Hagen and Jeff Clark have long wanted to have their own business.
They looked at bars and restaurants in northern Wisconsin that were for sale but quickly realized they made little money. The couple, who married earlier this year and live in Madison's Vilas Neighborhood, considered an express oil change shop before they hit upon the idea of opening a pet supply store.
Their beloved beagle, Dolce, had died unexpectedly in 2016 and so they began studying pet nutrition.
They initially thought about doing their own independent store but ultimately discovered a franchise that had not yet found its way to Wisconsin but one that they feel is a perfect fit for the Madison demographic that isn't shy about spending money on cats and dogs.
In fact, when they considered a location for their EarthWise Pet Supply, they found a spot in the Shorewood Shopping Center near a Whole Foods where, within a 5-mile radius, pet owners spent $7 million on their animals in 2016, according to their market research.
"There's a lot of nice pet stores in Madison, but there's a lot of spaces that were missed. This area was begging for one," Hagen said. "The target is natural, healthier, higher-quality foods and services. Whole Foods is across the road and that's one of (EarthWise's) best type of targets. If people are willing to think about their own health, then they're more likely to understand that it matters for their pet, too."
EarthWise was founded in 1977 in California but is now based in Portland, Oregon. The company has 44 locations, will add 14 more by the end of the year and is part of the $65 billion pet industry. But before last month when Hagen and Clark's franchise opened, the nearest locations to Madison were in Ohio and South Dakota.
Hagen and Clark invested about $250,000 into the 1,600-square-foot store next to Great Harvest Bread Co. and filled it with food and other pet supplies. There's also a self-service dog wash and a grooming room with two tables, with room for two more. Hagen, 34, and Clark, 36, have an agreement that requires them to open a second store in three years and a third store in six years.
Hagen, a DeForest native and UW-Whitewater graduate who worked in information technology for Great Lakes Higher Education and Milio's, oversees the day-to-day operations of the store while Clark, a Minnesota native and graduate of Milwaukee School of Engineering, continues to work as an IT consultant.
The store sells natural, "raw" food products that can sell for between $35 to $41 for a six-pound package, while pheasant and rabbit products can sell for more than $50, also for six pounds.
Hagen and Clark also hope to capitalize on the "buy local" trend that shows no sign of waning. That's why they carry a wide range of Wisconsin-based pet products. The food and treat offerings include those made by So Bright Natural Pet Products in Kiel, Fromm Family Pet Food in Mequon, Jabby's in Pewaukee, Stella & Chewy's in Oak Creek and Vital Essentials in Green Bay. Wearable items also include Madison-made Buster's Bandanas and collars and bow ties from Paws Up Pet Gear in Waupun.
They have no second thoughts about going with a franchise and now share the store with their 1-year-old basset hound-Labrador retriever, Siena.
"It just really fit," Hagen said. "Once we found this company it just felt like it was worth working with somebody because they're able to help negotiate better prices on products. If we're totally on our own we're paying more for everything we're bringing in and making less money."