Alum’s dog treat business finalist for Super Bowl ad
Many of the world’s biggest companies will pay millions of dollars to buy a coveted TV commercial spot during next month’s Super Bowl.
This year, Illinois State University alum Scott Beaudry’s home-grown dog treat business could be right there with them—and it didn’t cost him a penny.
Beaudry’s Barley Labs LLC is one of four finalists in Intuit’s Small Business Big Game contest, sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks. Beaudry and his partner, Theresa Chu, make all-natural dog treats using recycled barley from a local brewery, and if they win the contest Intuit will pay to produce a commercial for Barley Labs and air it during Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2.
“We’re still in awe that we were selected out of the almost 15,000 companies that entered the contest,” said Beaudry, a 2002 master’s graduate in industrial and organizational-social psychology. “We couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to share our story and our business with dog and beer lovers across the country.”
Needless to say, a Super Bowl ad would be a game-changer for Barley Labs, which Beaudry launched in fall 2012 out of his home in Durham, North Carolina. He had recently upgraded his home beer-brewing equipment but felt guilty just throwing away the 60 pounds of leftover grain after each session.
“You can only compost so much,” he said, and the bread and cookies he tried to make using the spent grain were “pretty terrible.” So Beaudry and Chu started using the grain to make treats for their dog Barley, an adorably goofy Lab-mix they adopted from a local animal shelter.
Barley loved them, and so did other dogs who tried them, and Barley Labs was born.
Last year, Beaudry and Chu entered the Small Business Big Game contest and tried to rally public support for the voting stage. That got them into the Top 20, and Intuit’s staff put them in the Top 4.
So how did Barley Labs beat out thousands of other small businesses?
“We have a compelling story,” said Beaudry, who grew up in Arlington Heights. “People love beer and dogs. And people love the idea of reusing what would have been thrown away or given to (livestock). I think people appreciate that.”
What started off as a hobby has grown into something else. They now get their grain from local dog-friendly Fullsteam Brewery. Beaudry still does most of the baking and Chu “does everything else.” (Beaudry and Chu still donate 10 cents from every bag sold to a local shelter in Durham.)
The winner hasn’t been announced yet, but just being a finalist has generated a lot buzz and exposure for Barley Labs. They now have nearly 20 retailers in six states (plus online sales), moved from their home to a commercial kitchen in Durham, and gotten some IT and software help from Intuit to scale up.
Beaudry still works full time at North Carolina State University, where he puts his data-driven master’s degree to good use as a data analyst. Chu, meanwhile, may shift full time to Barley Labs in the near future.
When they made the Top 4, Beaudry and Chu were visited by entrepreneur and reality TV star Bill Rancic, who spoke to Beaudry and shook up his initial vision for how quickly Barley Labs might expand after the contest. What if it’s not slow and steady, but rapid and seemingly overnight? Could they handle it?
“It was an interesting thing to experience,” Beaudry told STATEside. “It has me thinking about Barley Labs in a whole new way—a much bigger way.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.