Two Salty Dogs Pet Outfitters may be tucked away in a corner of Maine’s Boothbay Harbor, but the 500 sq. ft shop occupies a much larger footprint in cyberspace by design. Don Kingsbury, who runs the business together with his wife, Liana, shared the story of their business from a cell phone as he drove to pick up products from a local supplier. Don explained they really didn’t aspire to relocate to Maine to open a pet shop. However, a series of serendipitous events created the perfect opportunity for both of them to pivot away from their previous careers and into a lifestyle where the couple could actually have time for pets.
Don’s earlier work as an expert in hydroelectric dams had him flying “all over everywhere” until he experienced a moment that set him on a new path. “One day, I was standing in an underground water diversion tunnel, you know, 4’’ too small to stand up in, in water up to my knees. There I was, hunching in the dark and looking for leaks in this thing for six weeks straight, completely miserable, and all I could think to myself is, what are you doing?”
Don’s wife hails from the Boothbay region and had her own jet-setting and busy career. One February, the couple was visiting Maine to spend time in their cabin. Don explained how “a tree fell on the cabin and I had to cut it off the cabin. The dogs were freaking out because they had to stay in the truck while I cut the tree apart.” Don and his wife took them into town to get them a treat to satiate them while they worked on the project, but they were shocked to find there was nowhere to get dog treats in downtown. Don explained, “It’s February–okay, February in Maine, and yet there were still dozens of people walking their dogs… I thought to myself, there’s gotta be a market for a pet shop here, there’s gotta be a market for this.”
Boothbay Harbor, Maine in Winter
The rest, Don explained, is history. They saw a ‘for rent’ sign in one of the downtown businesses in Boothbay Harbor and inquired about the space. “The property manager coincidentally had sold my father-in-law a house in Southport in approximately 1958 and it was just so incredibly serendipitous. We didn’t come to Boothbay Harbor to start a dog store, but it was an awesome opportunity.” He and his wife began Two Salty Dogs Pet Outfitters in 2012.
In a conversation about the role of broadband and entrepreneurship in Boothbay Harbor with Selectman* Tricia Warren, Tricia called Two Salty Dogs Pet Outfitters a shining example a local business with a robust web presence. In her view, the owners of the store epitomized how local businesses link technology and entrepreneurship in small and rural communities.
Two Salty Dog’s location in Boothbay’s downtown area.
Don elaborated: “In the world of hydroelectric dam construction… it’s such a high-pressure environment–no pun intended! My wife and I both had high stakes jobs. But, because we did that work and now that our retirement is set, we can enjoy this business as a both a hobby and a business. We could never have dogs, and now we can enjoy the world through their eyes.”
Don believes that you can’t run a successful business without a website and a presence on social media but also in people’s email inboxes. His social media strategy is to let his dogs do the talking, literally – the written content he shares with the public is penned in the voices of his four-legged friends Max and Augie. However, shifting his focus to curating a website with the capability for e-commerce was a surprisingly heavy lift. In the early years of the business, sales on the website broke even with the cost of hosting, and he was “killing himself” undertaking the labor of maintaining the website.
Don also wanted his customers to be able to find the store online, which meant shifting from hosting his website at the address www.twosaltydogs.net to include the address www.twosaltydogs.com. This was a small challenge because the address www.twosaltydogs.com was owned by a sport fisherman in Florida who offered to sell the address to Don for $5,000. However, Don took the advice of a friend and signed up for a service that watches when a domain expires and as he explained, “pings it at inhuman speeds to renew and take over the address second it expires.” It was a successful experiment, and now customers can find the shop whether they enter twosaltydogs.net or twosaltydogs.com.
Recently, Don met with web designers to scale up the website and incorporate an elegant shopping interface. Outsourcing the website design served two purposes: scaling the sales potential beyond Boothbay, and offering locally crafted Maine-made pet products across the nation. “You can’t get what we sell at a big box store like Chewy.com or PetSmart. These are quality handcrafted items,” he told us. Hiring web designers also presents Don the freedom to write the many blogs and newsletters that he believes are the soul of his business. Instead of being bogged down in daily website maintenance, he can have a pint and let the creative writing flow.
The Salty Paws blogs and newsletters have a following unto themselves and Don’s wit is evident in the prose that peppers the shop’s Facebook page and email newsletter. (His humor is also evident in hidden gems such as this creative listing in the “poncho” category of dog gear on the website.) Don is very proud of the fact that the majority of people who receive his newsletters scroll all the way down to its bottom. “I want to give people a way to remember their vacation, remember the time they stopped in and got their dog a treat.” The sentiment is evident across Two Salty Dogs’ social media and emails, and our team hopes to someday pop in and grab something for our own four-legged companions.
* selectmen serve on the city council
A post on the Two Salty Dogs Blog “written” by Big Buddy.