What started as a mere dream of opening his own storefront has become a reality for one Kitchener resident.
Owen Fleming opened his virtual store, Terrible Toby’s -- in October 2020 in an effort to raise money for animals in need. Selling unique pet products and donating 50 per cent of the profits to rescue organization New Collar Collective, Fleming was able to donate nearly $4,000 in just over a year of operating.
After a whirlwind year of running Terrible Toby’s online, Fleming opened his first brick and mortar storefront this past Saturday. The store, which is named ironically after his own dog, Toby (Fleming assures that Toby is not in fact terrible), is located at 501 Krug Street in Kitchener.
The store will still be donating to NCC, but with lower donation rates.
“When we started it was 50 per cent of the profit from every single item. But we made an announcement in January that, unfortunately, just because of the significant operating costs that we’re incurring, we’re going to have to lower that. So we do between 50 cents and $5 from every item that we sell.”
But he doesn’t think it will slow their donation rates much, as sales increase with the new storefront.
He’s also already hired two “really amazing” staff members to help out.
However, despite the rapid growth, Fleming says it hasn’t exactly been a profitable endeavour. In fact, he’s still been working his other jobs, one at a tech startup and then as a DJ, to supplement his income -- that is also how he was able to launch the storefront.
“It’s definitely not a profitable venture for me yet. The other jobs that I work are able to pay the bills and expand Terrible Toby’s,” he said.
But it’s a labour of love he doesn’t intend to quit.
“I’ve asked myself a couple times why I’m working completely unpaid for 50 to 80 hours a week. It's always been a dream of mine to open up a storefront and just be able to connect with customers on that kind of level. And so just being able to live my dream, whether it's making money or not, is really making me happy,” he said. “And of course, raising funds for a great cause, [which] was really my driving factor in the beginning.”
Fleming said they try to be more unique than other pet stores, offering things that you won’t often see elsewhere. For instance, he says they have things like treat dispensers and unique, extremely durable toys.
They also have a full line of pet food for everything from hamsters to lizards. Patrons will also find a “local business highlights” section in the store, featuring local businesses manufacturing their own pet products -- that includes products for pet parents.
“So it's kind of a small selection of everything,” he said. “We're trying to take those products and put them out on display where you can actually see how they work, figure them out, try them out with your dog before you buy it, and give people that opportunity to have a new experience at a pet store.”
He says his number one goal was to make the store feel inclusive and welcoming. The store is relatively open concept, with a dog agility bench in the centre for visiting dogs to try out. So, of course, pets are welcome (provided they remain on a leash), and he says when COVID restrictions are no longer an issue, they will have a lounge area for both people and pets -- encouraging people to stay a while, even offering up free coffee.
“It’s just kind of that relaxing, inclusive social environment instead of just your standard ‘go in, buy your products and head out.' I really want to make it an inclusive and social and just fun environment,” he said.
The store is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., on Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
You can find out more on their website.