In 2017, Jen Fleming started ScratchPad for Dogs in her garage. Her motivation? Her rescue dog, Ripley. He was terrified of having his nails trimmed, and when it was suggested that she consider having him sedated for nail trims, she knew there had to be a better way.
After much research, the original ScratchPad was developed. Ripley, now the company spokesdog, learned to do his nails on his own terms and absolutely loves to play the game!
Before starting ScratchPad, Jen studied risk management and finance at the University of Georgia. After she graduated, she began working in commercial insurance, first as an underwriter, and then as a broker. After she left the insurance world, she took a little time to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, and it was during that time that she and her husband lost their first dog they’d adopted together. Eventually, they adopted Ripley, who ended up being the inspiration behind ScratchPad!
Learn more in our interview with Jen below!
Our Interview with Jen Fleming, CEO and Founder of ScratchPad for Dogs
What should people know about ScratchPad? And why are you passionate about it?
I am passionate about ScratchPad because I have seen it change lives for our dogs. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Consider how often we have to perform basic maintenance on our dogs’ nails – most vets and groomers recommend weekly nail trims to keep them at a healthy length. For many people, that means pinning down their terrified dog and praying they don’t cut too much off, because they and the dog are nervous about the whole process – and that doesn’t even consider dark or especially hard nails.
What I love about ScratchPad is that with a few simple training steps, we not only teach the dog to file his or her own nails, but we grow the bond between owner and canine. The dogs see their ScratchPad as a game and are so excited when it’s time for their pedicure. We recommend just a few minutes each week to maintain a healthy length, so it’s quick, easy, and fun for all involved.
I started the company when my dog, Ripley, was just a couple years old. We tried everything with his nails, but he was so scared of nail trims. The vet suggested that we could sedate him for nail trims, but that sounded expensive and unnecessary. Before committing to such a big step, I did my research about alternatives to the typical nail grinder or clippers. I made the very first ScratchPad iteration, a piece of sandpaper stapled to a small 2×4, and even as rudimentary as it was, it was an instant hit. Within 10 minutes of beginning to teach him to scratch at it, he was having a blast scratching at the wood for treats. His nails were nearly a healthy length and, not only was he not afraid, he was excited to use it! I knew immediately that it was something that I could use to help other dogs, I just needed to come up with a better version of my new scratch board.
Can you walk us through the development of the product? From the initial product concept to actual product production?
The idea of using a nail board or scratch board for dogs is not new, but we’ve found that some of our clients have been frustrated with their homemade versions. We worked hard to develop a scratch board that wouldn’t wear down quickly and would support even giant breeds without feeling too cumbersome for our smallest clients.
We did R&D using many different types of sandpaper before finding the professional-grade paper that we use now – ours will last a long time without losing most of its grit. We’ve been through a couple iterations of the product before we got to the current ScratchPad that we now make, and it’s definitely the best version that we’ve produced thus far.
Because we know that our clients’ nails are all different, we offer several different options for the coarseness of the scratching surface. We recommend our medium grit for small breeds or any dog with softer nails, but it’s really a great all-around grit. The coarse grit is great for giant breeds or dogs with hard or very long nails. Our best selling board is our double-sided combination board – it has scratching surfaces on both sides of the board, one side medium, and one coarse. You can use the coarse to take off length more quickly and the medium to soften the edges a bit.
Do you make the ScratchPad yourself, or do you work with a supplier to produce it?
At the current moment, we produce the ScratchPad ourselves. We’re growing so quickly though, we’ll need a supplier soon. I guess that’s next on my list!
How has the COVID-19 climate affected business? Have you had to pivot or rethink your strategy at all during this time?
The current COVID-19 climate has dramatically increased business. As groomers and veterinarian offices have been closed or only taking urgent cases, the places people generally turn for nail trims were unavailable. We were there to fill the gap – and help them realize that they’ll save money in the long run. The main bonus is their dog will love the game!
We had some pretty major supply chain issues in April – we had suddenly more than tripled our business from the month prior, and we weren’t able to get some of our own raw materials. In the end, we were able to find an alternate source, and none of our customers felt any delay in fulfilling their orders. We strive to ship every order within two business days, and we were able to pivot to overcome the supply shortage and keep shipping fast and our customers happy.
What does success mean to you?
Success is a moving target – one day, it could mean something different than the day before. But, generally, success to me is helping someone create a stronger bond with their dog, and teaching that person how something so daunting can be turned into a game with their dog.
My absolute favorite part of this job is hearing from my customers who are so very happy with the difference that it has made for them. I love nothing more than a follow-up email, video, or photo of their dog learning to use a ScratchPad. Success isn’t necessarily economic in nature; to me, it’s being able to follow my passion and to help people help their dogs. In that way, I feel successful every single day.
How do you practice self-care?
I practice self-care by making certain I make time for my husband, our family and friends, and our three dogs and cat. My husband and I love to travel, and we make that a priority in our life together. And you can’t beat a lazy Sunday, in my jammies, watching reruns of old TV shows or movies.
Mostly, as you can imagine, my free time is also spent around dogs – two of my dogs participate in dog sports, nosework, and dock diving. We spend a lot of time in class, practice, or trials, and even traveling around the country for competitions.
To practice self-care for my soul, I volunteer for a couple of rescue organizations and a non-profit company who raises service dogs – I work with training the puppies and socializing them while they’re young, so they grow up to be confident, happy, well-adjusted service dogs and can be of the highest assistance to their person or facility.
Do you have a woman in your life, past or present, that you admire or look up to? How has she impacted your life?
This seems an easy answer, but for me, it’s the most true. As I think through female role models throughout my life, I really look up to my mom. She and my dad started their own company when my brother and I were still pretty young. They started the company in our garage. I watched as my dad came home from work each day to work more every night at their startup. I saw my mom support my dad 100%, even knowing that it had to be hard on their marriage with little free time to themselves.
My mom quit her job to work full time at their new company. She left a very consistent job and risked that dependable paycheck to help build their company. After a short time, their hard work paid off, and they moved out of the garage, into their own space, and eventually sold the business and retired. They were very successful and taught me that risk and hard work could really pay off in the end.
My mom has supported my dreams. Even during the steps along the way where I wasn’t sure what was next, she knew I would end up on top and encouraged me to follow my passion.
In moments of uncertainty or doubt that you have in yourself or what you’re doing, what do you do to keep yourself focused and build yourself back up?
This has to be something that every entrepreneur struggles with – we all have days where we need to push ourselves, or we feel let down. My favorite thing to do to build myself back up and reignite the flame, so to speak, is to read my customers’ reviews and correspondence. I keep an email folder with the messages from my clients that are complimentary of our product, customer service, or overall concept. Between re-reading some of those emails or our product reviews, I absolutely can regain the drive to push through frustration or disappointment.
I also love to listen to entrepreneur podcasts or read articles about other founders – it helps me to realize that when things are hard, that’s when we find our most growth.
If you could go back and give yourself three pieces of advice when you first started ScratchPad – what would you tell yourself?
Focus on marketing and realize that this is a big piece of the budget each month. ScratchPad is not an iteration or improvement to an existing product, but a brand new product, so it’s going to take a lot of work to get your brand out there.
Believe in yourself. It’s scary to start a new company, but this is your passion, and you can absolutely do it!
Get ready for growth – be prepared for quick expansion, so the customer experience is impacted as little as possible.
What’s next for you and for ScratchPad?
Right now, we are in product development for a new product line to compliment our existing ScratchPads. We are also considering stocking a few other items in our shop that would be synergistic to our current product lines and provide further value to our customers and their dogs. Further, we are looking to expand our current program that we offer to professional trainers.
We began 2020 with big goals in mind; while COVID-19 has changed some of our goals, we are working hard to pivot where we can and still achieve our goals for the year.