Brown Dog Bakery, Ankeny, IA
OWNER: Anna Woodcock, Jeffrey Woodcock; URL: browndogbakery.net; FOUNDED: 2005; EMPLOYEES: 7 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 3,000 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/browndogbakerytreats; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/browndogbakery; TIKTOK: browndogbakery
ON ANY GIVEN day, more than 30 different types of decorated cookies fill the glass-front case at Brown Dog Bakery in Ankeny, IA. More than 30 different flavors of biscuits sit in metal buckets on a nearby bar. Ready-to-go and custom cakes also are on display.
“It’s an insane amount,” owner Anna Woodcock says of the baked-good offerings that bring in 15 to 20 percent of her store’s revenue, depending on the month. “And to round it all off, we stock 66 different chews! It’s a lot of options and makes for fun shopping. Our customers love it.”
The seemingly endless treat choices combined with incentivized collaboration between its retail and grooming departments give pet parents the best possible experience and help keep Brown Dog Bakery more than thriving.
Brown Dogs, Then a Black One
In 2004, Anna and husband Jeff began thinking about opening a business in Ankeny, the city where they live. Both had retail experience from years working for Osco Drug Stores corporate. Anna regularly baked for their chocolate Labradors, Sophie and Sadie, so a pet store with an emphasis on cookies, biscuits and cakes was the perfect fit. Brown Dog Bakery opened in 2005.
“I quickly realized, though, that it would be too difficult to run the store and bake, so we sourced companies to do it for us,” she says. Among her criteria for choosing baked goods to carry: “They need to be cute. I like them to be reasonably priced. And they have to have good ingredients — I will sometimes let a little bit of sugar slide in because it’s an occasional treat. Those are my top qualifiers.”
Among her current suppliers are Preppy Puppy Bakery, Tailbangers, The Pound Bakery, and Woofables, a business local to her in Iowa.
“During normal months, we sell about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of our bulk biscuits alone,” Anna says.
Presentation of baked goods contributes greatly to a warm, personal experience at Brown Dog Bakery. The case, which she found on eBay, spans 8 feet and has a curved glass front.
“I wanted our cookie selection to feel special, to look just like it would at a regular bakery,” Anna says, noting that it sits adjacent to the register and opens at the back, creating opportunities for add-on purchases and requiring assistance from a team member. “They can talk to customers while they’re helping. There’s more of a connection.”
Pet parents also can get help weighing their selections from the nearby bulk biscuit and chew bar, which loops them around to racks of bagged and individual chews. The original store spanned 1,200 square feet. In 2020, Jeff retired from his career in finance, and the couple took over an adjacent space to double retail offerings of healthy foods, toys and a wide variety of other supplies for dogs and cats, plus add a self-wash station and expand grooming to a full salon with space for five groomers.
“As we expanded and redesigned, we wanted to make sure we had flexibility. Our new fixtures all can be used with slat wall hooks or shelves,” Anna says. “But the coolest thing is they are all on wheels. We can move them around and try new looks. I love our remodel. It feels so good! Clean open sight lines, bright and airy, good traffic flow, a well-planned layout!”
Store color red, brick accents and signature brown-and-white checkered floors run throughout.
“Nobody else does it,” Anna says of the vinyl tiles. “It’s different. It’s funky. When you see it, you know it’s Brown Dog Bakery.”
A regular sight napping on those floors: Divot, the couple’s black Labrador mix who now serves as store pet.
Brown Dog Bakery sells up to 1,200 pounds of biscuits every month, says Anna Woodcock, pictured below.
Piece of the Pie
With greater emphasis on grooming — going from one full-time groomer to three, plus a trainee — and more product to manage and sell after the expansion, Anna and Jeff put in place a bonus structure to encourage collaboration between the departments and maintain the exceptional customer service for which the store has become known.
“We were concerned about the relationship between our new groomers and our current staff. We wanted to build a team and avoid friction,” Anna says. “Grooming and retail have to work together. Grooming makes up 27 percent of our business, so it’s important but not the end all and be all for us.
“I explained to our grooming staff that if they do something to upset a regular retail customer and they don’t come back, then not only have we lost them in grooming, but in retail as well. Same goes for retail. They have to make sure they’re taking care of customers correctly. We don’t just lose them for one, we could lose them for both.”
To incentivize this effort, Brown Dog Bakery pays its team members a percentage of overall profits monthly — in addition to an hourly rate well above minimum wage, and for groomers also on top of their commission.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it keeps everybody working together,” Anna says, adding that the bonuses also have improved staff retention and increased overall revenue. “They feel invested. That connection piece is important to me with customers and with employees. I care about them. I want them to succeed. I want them to feel part of something bigger because it is for me. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and I still love it.”
A holiday display features gifts for pets and their people.
Five Cool Things About Brown Dog Bakery
1. WHO’S THE BOSS: While Jeff helped out prior to his retirement, “Now he works for me,” Anna says with a laugh. “We’ve been married 32 years. I’ve been waiting our entire life together for this.” She explains his role: “He does all the behind-the-scenes stuff. He keeps the grooming software and NextPaw website up to date.” Jeff also handles deliveries, strengthening that personal connection with customers.
2. CHEW ON THIS: On the bulk bar, pet parents will find Brown Dog Bakery dental chews. Anna created them with The Pound Bakery, which provides them as a private label product. “They sell so well that I have a hard time moving anything else dental,” she says. “They have great ingredients, and dogs love them.”
3. IF YOU BUILD IT: Anna and Jeff are members of the Ankeny Dog Park Task Force, a group of residents who worked to make the off-leash dog park a reality. Brown Dog Bakery continues to sponsor the park. The store also feeds the city’s K9. Anna says, “We want to make sure he is eating really good food. He’s doing a service for our community and working hard, so we want to make sure he gets the best food available.”
4. THE NEXT GENERATION: Laura Gebauer, the couple’s daughter, began baking custom cakes for the store during the pandemic, to de-stress after being home with the kids all day. She works full-time as an accountant, but Anna hopes she will one day take over the business. In the meantime, customers benefit from her creative side: A recent cake featured a German-Shorthaired Pointer with a pheasant in his mouth.
5. DIY: Anna does as much installation and repair work as she can and has become known for her handiness. She and manager Keely Dake even installed the brick wall behind the register and bakery case, completing its presence as a focal point for the store.
PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)