When Evon and Bob Whalen’s dog Casey injured her leg, it became difficult for her to jump into the Whalens’ car. As Bob started looking for tools to help the 115-pound dog into the car, he found nothing suitable or transportable. With nothing on the market to solve their problem, the Whalens invented their own transportation solution — the Pet Loader
Bob’s idea was to assist his four-legged friend–with a horizontal body–into vehicles designed for our vertical bodies safely versus jumping down, risking a painful ACL tear. His passion for helping his dog and recognizing that other pet owners were probably facing the same problem motivated him to begin working with NIU EIGERlab 14 years ago to make his idea a reality. NIU’s Center for Product Development has assisted with the commercialization of Pet Loader’s entire product line—a solid partner supporting the Whalen’s as they’ve discovered new markets and applications.
Today, the Whalens run a highly successful business that is well-known around the world, and to a host of professions, they initially didn’t consider as clients. For instance, today’s list includes your average dog owner, the Great Dane Society of Baltimore, both the United States’ DEA and Homeland Security entities and the NY Bomb Squad.
When a dog completes his training to assist in a variety of services such as working with a bomb squad, K-9 patrol, etc. it entails a hefty financial investment. By paying less than 1% of the total training costs to procure a Pet Loader, entities such as the NY Bomb Squad can lengthen a dog’s years of service by two-to-four years by eliminating the need to jump in and out of vehicles. For service dogs, jumping injuries are cumulative and crippling.
Veterinarians, dog groomers, dog trainers, and their customers comprise a significant portion of Pet Loader’s sales. The majority of those who purchase a Pet Loader realize the ease of use and compact nature, and how it meets the needs of both the pet and the pet owner. As for veterinarians, and dog groomers, it makes the job of handling larger dogs much easier. With its lower angle of ascent/decent and greater traction, it allows dogs to feel more confident transitioning from one surface to another.
Pet Loaders are shipped to customers in the USA and Canada, places where the Pet Loader is used by owners of large dogs in extreme temperatures. Internationally, the company is experiencing an 8-10% growth in sales, year over year to clients in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Proud to Share
The Pet Loader is made completely in the USA, and Evon and Bob are proud to share that except for two small parts, their entire product supply chain is located within 60 miles of Rockford. Pet Loader has an impressive track record. A dog will not wear out their Pet Loader–shipping damage or improper use of the product are the only problems they’ve experienced to date. Quality-driven manufacturing, coupled with precise quality control, has resulted in a long-standing product with only a small percentage of returns.
“The stories shared by our customers are individual and heartwarming. They all point to the joy of having their best four-legged, and occasionally three-legged, pets on the road with them again. Going to places unknown and ice cream cones yet to be consumed,” shared Bob.
“Of all of the Pet Loader related stories, those that are the most poignant, are from women who are recently widowed,” shared Bob. “When their husbands pass, a percentage of women assume they’ll no longer be able to assist their large dogs with entering and exiting vehicles safely, thus eliminating trips to the dog park, groomers, and vet’s office. It’s been rewarding assisting female dog owners with keeping their four-legged friends—especially after they’ve already experienced such a loss.”
From the Nation’s National Parks to Scenic Waterways
Three of the Whalen’s newest markets are allowing semi-drivers and RV owners to bring their dogs along on the road, and boat owners to easily assist the dogs from transitioning to swimming in their favorite lake, to being onboard and cruising the waterways. To lift a medium-to-large dog into the cab of a semi-truck is quite dangerous to both the person and their pet. The six-step Pet Loader product allows the dog to enter and exit the truck with ease.
Bob’s advice to small business owners just starting out includes reading, The E Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. “Understanding who you are in relation to what your business will be is essential. Be prepared for things you can’t prepare for; have faith, strength, and courage. Lastly, take advantage of connecting with all of the small business development entities, and glean from their experiences and advice,” Bob said.
To learn more about NIU EIGERlab’s programs and services, visit www.EIGERlab.org or phone 815.753.2192.