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This September, the owners of Kahoots were recognized with the Small Business Persons of the Year Award in San Diego for the year 2020! Their hard work, in combination with the efforts of each of our team members over the years, has culminated in the company that we are so proud to share with you and your communities.
In a recent interview with Kahoots' owner and founder, Mike Bittinger, Larry Nuffer records Mike's humble beginnings and what it takes to make it as a homegrown business:
You’ve heard the well-worn line about small businesses starting out of a garage. While that’s often true, entrepreneurs Bittinger and Tunnell did the adage one better. They started their Kahoots Feed & Pet Supply business literally out the back of a pickup truck.
“My dad loaned me $1,000 for a truck and we drove door-to-door in the back country of Ventura County selling our one product – hay,” recalls Bittinger. “I waited tables at night to make ends meet.” Bale by bale, year by year, Bittinger’s and Tunnell’s feed business grew.
Twelve years into their small business venture, the back-breaking demands of hauling hay convinced them there had to be an easier way to make a living that still celebrated the love between people and animals.
“Initially we sold many of the familiar food brands out of our store and then, after listening to our customers, became motivated to produce our own brand that reflected our values for quality ingredients,” says Bittinger. After months of research into manufacturers that could guarantee the nutrition and consistency they sought, Bittinger and Tunnell launched their first line of Kahoots-branded dog food. Dogs loved it and so did their owners, so the two partners soon branched out into their own brands of food for cats, birds, and other sundry critters. They never looked back.
The subsequent, extraordinary success of Kahoots is not only measured in the happiness of hungry animals of all kinds, but in the number of Kahoots stores throughout Southern California. They’ve even expanded into dog training and vet services. Kahoots’ steady growth has been nurtured along the way with SBA financing, including three 7a program loans through Wells Fargo Bank and earlier this year a $3.1 million SBA 504 loan via a partnership between Wells Fargo and CDC Small Business Finance, a nonprofit leader in economic development, community development and small-business finance. The SBA 504 loan was used to fund construction of a new, 22,000-square-foot store in Hesperia, California.
From turtle rescues to special education, each store is responsible for identifying and pursuing worthy causes that they feel passionate about. Lovingly known as the Kahooligans, Kahoots’ employees are not just “pet people”, but “people people” and that’s truly what makes their in-store experience so different than the competition.
Strangely, the pandemic has given Kahoots a little boost. In the throes of Covid 19, more people are working remotely from home and paying increased attention to their pets, which translates directly into pet food, supplies, and vet services. Kahoots’ growth is also due to its insistence on staying faithful to their employees. Bittinger and Tunnell didn’t lay off a single employee. Kahoots is committed to its employees and giving back to the community.
“We pay our people well and make them feel part of a family,” Mike said. “And investing in training for our staff is part of our uncompromising commitment to them and the company. We care about pets, yes, but we also care about our employees because they’re the ones who create genuine connections with our customers and the pets they love.”