Heidi and Fenway, one of her pups!
Editor’s note: We’re excited to introduce you to some of our retail partners across the country. These stores have a great selection of our products and friendly staff who will support you with great customer service.
For those who think the highlight of a trip to Maine will be dining on lobster, think again! If you have a dog (or cat!) and your travels bring you to the grand state of Maine, you’re going to want to be sure to visit The Loyal Biscuit, an independent cat and dog boutique adored by Mainers and tourists alike. Owners Heidi Vanorse Neal and Joel Neal have been curating a wonderful collection of must-have dog and cat products since 2010.
We talked with Heidi recently about her experience growing the business, how she chooses the perfect products, and what she’s learned along the way.
Kurgo: Tell us a little about what led you to The Loyal Biscuit. Did you always imagine working in this industry?
Heidi: Never in a million years did I think I would be doing this. I started in banking straight out of college and worked my way up to VP of Operations. I got my first dog, Fenway, in 2008 and Loyal Biscuit in Rockland was our favorite store. A random conversation about how much fun I thought it would be to own the store, and a case of right time/right place all led to me quitting my job and buying the single location store in Rockland!
The Camden store
Kurgo: What makes being in business in Maine unique/special?
Heidi: I think Maine has so many things about it that make it unique, both positive and negative. Mainers are hard workers, which is great when you find the right people to join your team, but we are also one of the oldest (and smallest) population places in the United States. That makes finding employees a challenge. From a sales perspective, our customers are fiercely loyal, which is great, but again, we have such small population numbers, it can make growth hard. Our Maine community also really values where they live, which makes for a great, loyal, and community-minded group of customers. Maine is full of dog and cat lovers!
Kurgo: It looks like you have five locations. Can you tell us a bit about how The Loyal Biscuit has grown over the years?
Heidi: We started in 2010 with the single location in Rockland. In June of 2011 we were feeling ready for more and started looking for a second store, which led us to Belfast. Just 9 short months after, a store in Camden went up for sale and we jumped on it! We weren’t ready, but we had to have it! We took a few years to regroup, get procedures in place and build up our team. In August of 2014 we ventured about an hour and 20 minutes away to Waterville (where I went to college!) and then in August of 2017, we went 90 minutes in the other direction and opened in Brewer. It sure has been a wild ride!
Kurgo: How do you decide which products to stock?
Heidi: I really look for quality in deciding what to stock – companies with great reputations. I rely a lot on using samples too. If there is a product I am on the fence about, I will ask for sample to try out and see how it works and holds up – I have had many yay’s and nays from sampling items out. Also, our own pets are our inspiration when choosing new products and deciding what to carry!
Kurgo: You’ve been recognized with numerous awards. What do you attribute your success to?
Heidi: Oh, this is a tough one! We have been very fortunate to receive many awards – not just pet industry specific, but retail in general as well. I think it would be hard to point to just one attribute. I would say that I have a very determined personality and telling me I can’t do something just makes me work harder to prove that I can (and I had many people tell me I would fail when I started). My parents instilled a very strong work ethic in me for as long as I can remember, whether it was sports, schooling or working. I am not afraid to work and get my hands dirty. Even more importantly, I think I have done well at surrounding myself with positive, helpful people. My husband, my family and my friends have been crucial to our success and helping me along the way. I also have the best team of employees a girl could ask for! They are our front line and they believe in my dream and our mission at the Loyal Biscuit Company– I couldn’t do it without them!
Testing out products!
Kurgo: Any advice for anyone just starting out in retail?
Heidi: You have to love what you do and have a passion for it. Your customers will see that passion and become loyal, trusting advocates for your brand. Your business becomes your life, and if you love it, people will see that. If you don’t, that will come through as well and people will make their buying choices accordingly.
Kurgo: What’s something you’ve learned the hard way while in business?
Heidi: The importance of using your resources. I am a very “I can do it all myself” person, and you can’t do it all! So many people want to see you succeed. Let them help you, they want to be a part of the journey.
Kurgo: It looks as though you have several pets of your own. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Heidi: I do! I have Fenway, she is a lab/shepherd mix and just turned 11. She is the one that started it all for me! She was the 2011 World Boatyard Dog Champion and a first-place winner in our local Dock Dogs competition! I also have Chuck, an 8-year old shepherd/husky mix who is way too smart for his own good and George, a 6-year southern mutt, who is the sweetest dog to ever exist! Rounding out the dogs is Piper, a 1 ½ year old silver pug – just a peanut of a pug, topping out at 12 pounds. She has even done some doggy modeling (including Kurgo!) and has her own Instagram account – @piper.the.silver.pug . Last, but not least, is Meredith, the 6-year old Maine Coon Cat that totally rules the roost!
Kurgo: What’s your funniest memory since being in business?
Heidi: It’s not so much store related, but when Fenway won the Boatyard Dog competition, my husband Joel was her handler. It is a very fun light-hearted event that encourages cheating! My husband is a police officer, so we had him perform in uniform and we “trained” Fenway to push him off the dock into the might cold Atlantic ocean! The crowd LOVED it – I mean who wouldn’t want to see a cop get pushed in the water, especially by a dog! Nine years later, it still makes me laugh!
The Rockland store