Debra Mastic From Fluff Trough Talks About Elevating Your Pet's Dining Experience
Debra's founders journey started as a way to make Pork Chop's eating more comfortable after he was diagnosed with vestibular disease. Eating from a bowl on the floor made him dizzy, and there wasn't anything on the market that fit his feeding needs. She worked with a product engineer to create the first prototype of the Fluff Trough on her 3D printer at home using food-safe epoxy to safely test the bowl with pets.
Once she had the final design, she 3D-printed it in food safe epoxy and started the product testing. Pork Chop loved it. The Fluff Trough became his happy place, and feeding time was enjoyable again.
Debra knew she had a success on her hands, so she poured time and money into developing a manufacturing system and then launched a successful Kickstarter campaign that was fully funded in 24 hours, which is a testament to the power of her potential market.
Now Fluff Trough is a growing business that's ready to expand product offerings, all from this first innovative, non-toxic and food-safe elevated feeder designed for flat-faced breeds, handicapped pets, and pets with medical issues. Listen in as Debra shares what she learned along her journey and what's next for her brand as she scales the business.
Below is an edited transcript with the highlights from our conversation with Debra (and Pork Chop).
[00:00:45] Andrew: Hey, everybody, and welcome back to Stickers on the Mic, Andrew with you for this installation. It is September of 2020, and I am very happy to be welcoming back someone who I first had a chance to talk to a year ago. I knew that there was a lot of runway in future for this brand, and I'm very excited to bring Debra Mastic from Fluff Trough back into my world. Debra, welcome back. It's so great to see you.
[00:01:18] Debra Mastic: Thanks, Andrew. It's Debra and Pork Chop here.
[00:01:21] Andrew: Indeed, Pork Chop, friends is who I interviewed a year ago when I first learned about Fluff Trough. The sticker was this beautiful pug and I was just captivated. I had to ring her up and Debra when I rang you up, this is rare for me folks, because I don't always get to travel to the home of some of our customers or their business for that matter. It just so happened that this business was in your home and I got to meet Pork Chop and take some pictures and see the Fluff Trough actually in action. I've said this a few times now and then you've got to conceptualize this and paint us a little bit of a picture, Debra of not only what is Fluff Trough but why did you decide to really go all in on this. This is not a simple thing to manufacture so just give us a little bit of what is Fluff Trough?
[00:02:10] Debra: Thanks. Pork Chop is a pug. He started having difficulty eating from traditional dog bowls, and pet feeders. Pugs love to eat, eating is his favorite thing. It just made me really sad to see him struggle so I thought there's got to be a better dog bowl. I looked on the market, there was really nothing good even ones that were designed for pugs, so I'm like, "I'm just going to make my own." I invested in a 3D printer, and made a prototype of a feeder that I thought would help him eat better. I made the prototype, put some food-safe epoxy on it, and tested it with him and it helped him a lot.
Then I made a second prototype and it was like magic. It just enabled him to eat more comfortably. Then I thought, "Well, what do I do with this?" I showed a couple of friends the prototype and they were so excited. They're like, "That is exactly the type of feeder I've been looking for for my pug." The challenging part, like you said is, how do you manufacture and distribute a new product? That was something completely new to me. I was just clueless and overwhelmed, and I did research. It's very expensive to manufacture a new product and protect it. You have to get a patent on it, because once your idea is out there, if someone else gets the patent first, there's really nothing you can do about it. I took pretty much all of my savings, and I took that money to start the process of applying for a patent, and to purchase the tooling needed to mass produce these bowls. Then I did a Kickstarter to see the interest level and the Kickstarter was funded within a day, which is awesome.
[00:04:21] Andrew: Just astonishing results to launch into the beginning of this, right?
[00:04:26] Debra: Then as you get going with this process, you just learn more and more because you have to label the product a certain way, you need to get space to store it, you need to do fulfillment. There's just so much to learn along the way, but it's a product that it solves a problem. There's a lot of pets that do struggle to eat from traditional feeders. It's like, "Why did we start feeding our pets from these little round bowls on the floor?" That's really uncomfortable because they have to bend their neck at a 90-degree angle. I tried eating that way, it's not comfortable at all. It causes a lot of digestion issues.
[00:05:10] Andrew: We use utensils and we portion, and we like dogs or animals, in general, they're eating to what they can get in their mouth. It sounds like too much or in the wrong thing for the digestion, especially for Pork Chop, obviously, our dear friend, well my dear friend anyway. I guess friend of StickerGiant too. Big fan of Pork Chop too. We had a really good time.
There you go. Let's just stay on track here, though. The fulfillment side, I want to get to that. That's a great point, I noticed that you work with someone in the Denver area, and I want I get a shout out to them and also hear how you solved that problem for yourself because that's a huge part for you. Fine, you got the patent. Now you know how to tool it. You obviously invested a lot of money and then got the Kickstarter going to begin scaling production. How is that production going to create the actual original tray Fluff Trough?
[00:06:11] Debra: It's going really well. I have a team at the manufacturing facility that oversees quality control, all the materials testing, because my number one goal is to create a high quality, long lasting and safe product for pets. Of course, we can manufacture the inventory, but then what do you do with it? That was a big struggle with me, obviously, I was living in a really small apartment at the time and I didn't have space for all of these pet feeders. Fortunately, I am in an amazing group on Facebook, and I happened to meet Anna Costello, who is the owner of Dropship Like it's Hot. We started working together, and she was willing to take me on as a new client, even though I was completely clueless about the fulfillment side of things. I was, "I wonder what size boxes they go in. I don't know what the pallets look like when they come in." She really onboarded me and she took over the process of creating a wonderful unboxing experience.
[00:07:21] Andrew: That's amazing, sorry to interject, just to clarify to folks, it's dropshiplikeitshot.com. That's the website. It's awesome, great brand name, dogs as well, very Denver, Colorado business. We started this show years ago now and one of my first anecdotes was, how important it is to nail down that experience and how much I like it and how much we invest into it as our company too. For her to create a business around that experience, I think is fascinating and I'd love to chat with her. I love what she's doing with her business. That's really cool that you connected like that, that you used Facebook to find her. Now she has just been able to really like you said design that final step for your brand.
[00:08:10] Debra: We're actually business partners now---she's just invaluable. She finds the right size boxes, obviously so we can do the most cost-effective shipping. She wraps them in a beautiful pawprint tissue wrap. She does some inserts, and she does this amazing tape on the box with the logo which is actually Pork Chops, so people know when they get their Fluff Trough box. It's just filled with love when they open it. She's just made such an impact on--
[00:08:41] Andrew: Also, for your social.
[00:08:43] Debra: Yes, we get a lot of videos.
[00:08:44] Andrew: You know what I mean that's huge for you. Like I said, when I was with you all last year, you just had the tray and your basic silicone insert that's dishwasher safe and replaceable, because you can keep your tray, you can do all sorts of cool stuff with it. Actually, what do you call it? The tray is the insert, but then what is the stand? Is it the stand?
[00:09:06] Debra: Some people say stand or base, but typically it has the base and then the FDA approved silicone insert that's dishwasher safe.
[00:09:15] Andrew: Then, and you're just showing this to me and I want you to hold it up again. You've developed a new version of the tray.
[00:09:23] Debra: Yes. This is what's interesting in starting a business. You need to listen to your customers, they are going to give you the most valuable feedback. Pork Chop has always struggled to eat. I made this, the Fluff Trough form, right? Then my customers were telling me, "I have a dog or a cat that eats way too fast. I need something that slows them down. I love the design of your bowl, but I want them to eat slower." That's why we made what we call the Binge Blocker. One of our amazing customers actually came up with that name. Whenever we have a new product, we let the customers come up with the name. This is the Binge Blocker, and it has pockets that hold the food and it just makes it more challenging. It takes longer for the dog or cat to eat the food without being too frustrating. A lot of the current slow feeders on the market, they're made from a hard plastic so when the dog is digging in there, they can hurt their nose.
[00:10:26] Andrew: Yes, especially if they're really going at it. They're just rubbing their face real hard into it, so that's tough.
[00:10:33] Debra: We're really happy with this product and it's been getting a lot of great feedback. The main concern that pet parents have with their fast eaters is they eat too fast, and then they choke. It could be potentially dangerous. Now they don't have to worry about leaving their pet alone with their food bowl, and then choking on something.
[00:10:53] Andrew: Totally. Then you're also saying that you've got the third insert now that you're working on, so that's going to be base plus three now, which is a nice evolution in a really short amount of time to have those different products for customers. What's this third thing you're working on?
[00:11:12] Debra: There's a lot of excitement for that. That is going to be a stainless-steel water bowl insert that fits into the base. The reason the water bowl insert is not made from silicone is that most people use stainless steel for water. That's going to hold over two cups of water. People can either have two bases, one for food and one for water or when your dog is done eating, you can take out the feeding insert and put the water bowl in. We're really excited to get that launched.
[00:11:46] Andrew: That's fantastic. I love it. Especially like I said in a year you've also got on the site this gift wrap with a bunch of dog designs. Who's designing that for you there?
[00:11:59] Debra: That's Anna again. A lot of people love to send Fluff Troughs as gifts to other people. We offer that where we wrap it in this beautiful dog gift wrap and a bow and we do a handwritten note. People just love to send them as gifts and it's so nice to see that.
[00:12:21] Andrew: Somebody said just add to cart. Then you've got the Pug Mug and of course the Pug Tank and for me obviously, the Pugicorn sticker. Tell us a little bit about this amazing three by three-inch sticker that you all are printing up?
[00:12:35] Debra: We are starting a new line of Pugicorn products. Obviously, a lot of our customers are pugs but we have a lot of non-pug customers but it was inspired by--
[00:12:52] Andrew: Pugs are classic though. Pugs are a classic sticker.
[00:12:56] Debra: With that the Pugicorn, they're like magical creatures. They bring you joy, they make you happy. Our Pugicorn is named after Missy who was a rescue, and she was actually a white pug that had a benign tumor right in the middle of her forehead. Her mommy reached out to me and we talked about her story. She's passed now, but we wanted to again, name our sticker made by StickerGiant after Missy and have that story because our customers and their pets are just so important to us.
[00:13:38] Andrew: Do you have that sticker handy by any chance?
[00:13:40] Debra: I do have it handy. Here it is. I threw it on the ground.
[00:13:45] Andrew: That's okay. Look at that. Look at that. That is fantastic. That makes me so happy.
[00:13:52] Debra: It’s a Pugicorn that has gotten stuck in the rainbow because pug people will tell you their pugs are always getting stuck in places or [laughs]--
[00:14:01] Andrew: That is awesome. That is so great. We've got Pugicorn from Missy and that sticker is there. Then the sticker that brought us together was just you had two different ones of Pork Chop I guess, that's when you're sending the illustration of Pork Chop? Who did those for you or is that yours?
[00:14:22] Debra: I worked with a graphic artist to create those and we had StickerGiant print those, and actually we're going to need to reorder because we give those away. They just fly off the tables. [laughs]
[00:14:34] Andrew: I love the wording, "Never leave me unless you're getting me food." [laughs]
[00:14:38] Debra: That's pretty much how it is living with a pug. They're very clingy and they don't want you to leave unless you are in fact giving them something to eat. Both of those stickers were really popular and they're gone. [laughs]
[00:14:53] Andrew: Nice, that's great. Then you do a little vinyl wrap that you end up with, or you can customize I guess your base, and you're doing that with another adhesive product as well?
[00:15:02] Debra: We do custom vinyl text. If you want to put your dog's name or your cat's name or their favorite saying on the side of their Fluff Trough, you can customize it. We are seeing the coolest customization. A lot of customers are customizing their Fluff Troughs on their own and it is just really cool.
[00:15:23] Andrew: Oh, nice. They're like, "I like that idea but I want to do it this way." I bet you they tag you, right?
[00:15:29] Debra: Yes, they always tag us. I love to share them. They do. They'll have their own machines at home to create custom vinyl.
[00:15:37] Andrew: Sure. Just for those listening, we don't supply that particular product. That's not a product that brought us together, but that's okay because I love the idea-- Also, your site is pretty clean, it's just home, shop, about, contact, and then happy customers, because you really want when people buy this to come back and then gift it. Or it becomes part of, I bet a lot of pictures too, of that dog because people create entire Instagram handles for their dog.
[00:16:08] Debra: They do.
[00:16:10] Andrew: You understand what I mean? [chuckles]
[00:16:12] Debra: We get tagged so much every day and I love it. It's so funny to see when there's a pet that gets a Fluff Trough and they're first experiencing it. Then their relationship with their Fluff Trough changes over time where they'll go and they'll sit by the Fluff Trough and stare at their parent waiting for food. Or they'll flip it over because they get a little angry. It's really cools to see it over time. We have another customer that her pug only will eat from two Fluff Troughs because she likes a buffet style dining.
[00:16:43] Andrew: Oh, goodness. [laughter]
[00:16:47] Debra: It’s really cute. Some people will have either all the same colors for their dogs, or each dog will get their own color.
[00:16:54] Andrew: Yes, my kids all have different colors. There's three hooks at the door where it's all color blue, green, and purple. Those are the colors in my house. That's so funny. That's fantastic. Debra, I love it. I love that you've created a community around this product and you solved this problem. Let's rewind, other than having this pug and being like, "Oh, I'm going to take the gumption and go do this thing." Like you said, you had no idea-- I disappeared sorry, I'm back. You had no idea of how to do this. What skills do you feel like you've leaned on from your past that have been invaluable to get this off the ground?
[00:17:42] Debra: I ask myself that a lot, because my background is in technical writing, and resume writing and training. I don't really use a lot of that formal training I had before in what I do now, really. What I have learned is every day is overwhelming. I'm always learning something new, and there's always a new challenge, especially with COVID. That has made it so hard on all businesses. I know I'm going to get through it and I'm going to learn from my mistakes, and do the best I can every day. What I've really learned is reach out to others for help. There are so many things I don't have expertise in that I just have to reach out, I have to ask questions, I have to learn. I have to digest it myself, and then try to execute the best I can. The one thing I never do that on is any of the accounting. I am not allowed to do accounting anymore. [chuckles] I'm really, really bad at that but just from my past, I worked a lot of corporate jobs and it's so different from what I'm doing now. There's a lot more freedom, but when you own your business, there's a lot more work. I don't close it down at five o'clock. I'm still answering customer questions at midnight, which I love, but it's completely different.
[00:19:20] Andrew: Then you say you partnered with Anna so you were able to leverage a network and then integrate. I presume you'll have to hire people, right? You'll have to grow?
[00:19:34] Debra: Yes, we will. Right now, I'm doing a lot of the work because buying inventory is expensive. [laughs] To find a lot of inventory, it's a lot of money and to invest in tooling for new products, it's a lot of money.
[00:19:51] Andrew: Now that you're getting that streamlined, then you can work on growth. You're still very much in that acquisition and now the scaling part of that, which is crazy considering like you said, you 3D printed it.
[00:20:07] Debra: Yes.
[00:20:08] Andrew: That was the prototyping. You did the prototyping though. That's pretty grand, I think. We've talked a little bit about what's next. We know Pork Chop like you said is sleeping, so we can't get a little peek at him there, but he's doing good. You have happy customers who are engaging with you, which is the dream come true and sweet spot for all businesses. What do you like after you can get the stainless steel thing, you've got some lifestyle stuff going on with apparel and some extra fun merchandise. Where do you think Fluff Trough goes?
[00:20:56] Debra: We're coming out with a larger Fluff Trough for a bigger dog. A lot of larger breed owners they're like, "Oh, we want this design, but it's way too small for our dog.
[00:21:06] Andrew: The dog is going to eat the actual thing.
Debra: Yes, exactly. We're coming up with a larger Fluff Trough which is really neat and it's going to work really well for a lot of bigger dogs, especially dogs that have big heads like big bulldogs. How are you supposed to get your head in a small round bowl?
[00:21:23] Andrew: They can all get their whole head stuck in this Fluff Trough because folks, the Fluff Trough's not even a foot across maybe, and then wide it's like a half a foot give or take loosely. It's not that big. Then the inside is even smaller. I don't know. I could see a dog getting totally jammed in there. They're going to town.
[00:21:42] Debra: We have big dogs using it right now, but the bigger one's going to be much better for them.
[00:21:47] Andrew: That's cool. Then three inserts for that, but you have to rejigger your whole manufacturing and production and then QC and QA and all that. Materials are materials. You make the thing out of the same thing. That makes the original Fluff Trough, which was one insert, that's two things. Now you're at stand in three things and then times two. That's really cool. That's just more volume and units that you can start going on. Although that's the most expensive part of your business is creating those new products. Not like t-shirts.
[00:22:21] Debra: Those t-shirts are not easy, but the tooling and all the inventory and all the testing that's quite costly. We're going to come up with a larger Fluff Trough. Then in doing this business, I've learned so much. Pet parents will contact me and they'll share like, "My pet has this problem eating," or "My pet struggles with this." They give me so much insight into other problems we can solve. I see this brand as saying, "Where is there a gap with a core product that pets need, how can we make it better? How can we solve all the problems that current products are solving for these pets and their pet parents?" I really want to be innovative and think outside the box. The Fluff Trough is such a unique looking bowl. We're thinking outside the bowl. I really want to create products that solve problems and make an impact on pet's lives.
[00:23:25] Andrew: There you go. That is a nice way to bring it all together. Debra, it has been a pleasure. Like I said everybody, it's flufftrough.com and there's a lot there to check out especially if you head over to social, you're going to see a lot of happy dogs. Although I guess cats could eat out of it too.
[00:23:48] Debra: We do have cats, though not as many, but I need to start working with the cats more. We just have so many dog customers right now.
[00:23:56] Andrew: Especially as soon as-- potentially, I don't know if it's your dream to get into a store. I don't know what that looks like for your brand. There's big pet stores or small pet stores. Do you have any resources around that?
[00:24:13] Debra: Yes. We're actually in four retail locations right now, just smaller retailers, and we are expanding to other countries because we have a lot of demand in other countries, but global supply chain and logistics are very complex. That's again, one of my daily challenges is importing product into another country.
[00:24:40] Andrew: Holy cow. You just were trying to get Pork Chop to slow down and not get sick and now you're dealing with global supply chains.
[00:24:50] Debra: Yes.
[00:24:51] Andrew: That's fantastic. I love it. Yes. Then, of course, the Instagram is also Fluff Trough. This is your feeding unit. This is a silicone insert. It's food grade. It's nontoxic. It's dishwasher safe. It's solving a problem for millions of people and millions of pets to. That's pretty rad. Someday anyway, hopefully, I don't know what's your total cost, but what I mean is the audience is millions of people.
[00:25:20] Debra: Yes.
[00:25:21] Andrew: You know what I mean? Those people just need to find you, and hopefully, we can help with that. We appreciate it. We appreciate you so much. Thank you for your time.
[00:25:31] Debra: Thank you so much. I love getting my StickerGiant packages. Last time you guys included some extras and I just love them. Thank you so much, Andrew. I'm a big Andrew fan too.
[00:25:43] Andrew: Oh, come on. Folks, I don't normally get that. That's too kind, Debra. I appreciate you. Like I said, it is rare to be able to go actually get a picture of someone's dog and see the dog and the stickers that we print. It's great to be inspired by you, Debra, and best of luck. Of course, keep Pork Chop, say hello for him and all that stuff. We will see you next time folks. Debra again, thanks for your time.
[00:26:15] Debra: Thank you.
[00:26:16] Andrew: I guess give Pork Chop our love. Thanks everybody for listening. It's been a pleasure again for me to talk to Debra and all of you. If you have the idea, you got to go for it. I think that's what Debra has really given us today. We say at the end of every show every sticker has a story. Today, it's Pork Chop and also the believe pugicorn sticker, which I never thought in my life, I would be so happy to see a pug and a rainbow. That is fantastic. Thank you everybody and we'll see you next time.
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