By MIKE COPELAND
Raelynn Rhodes, 17, who lives on a farm near China Spring, is slowly but surely becoming a success story.
She has launched a product line called Hank’s Natural Choice Dog Treats, and customers in five states have ordered her Peanut Butter Puffs, Hearty Hearts, Large Bones and Tiny Bone Bites — all made in her family kitchen from simple ingredients.
“My revenue has reached $900 a month, and I’m using nearly all of it to better my business,” said Rhodes, who is seeking to relocate her venture to a building away from home. “You’re shrinking if you’re not growing.”
Rhodes said she may attend Texas A&M University someday to study graphic design or business administration.
But for now, her top priority remains Hank’s Natural Choice Dog Treats, which she officially launched in May after receiving the license she needed to produce dog food from the Office of the Texas State Chemist.
The regulatory process proved so aggravating and time-consuming, she said, that she wrote an award-winning essay on government red tape that landed her an appearance on John Stossel’s show on the Fox Business Network. Stossel, an outspoken libertarian who decries what he perceives as government meddling in free enterprise, reported on consumer affairs for ABC News before switching networks.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned in starting my business is the importance of pursuing your dreams and not letting the government win. You keep on trying,” said Rhodes, who was home-schooled by her mother, Brenna Rhodes.
Her father, Mike, is environmental coordinator for the Texas Department of Transportation.
She said her younger brothers, 13-year-olds Haden and Houston, and her sister, 6-year-old Sarah, have helped make her venture run smoothly. They often take time to mix ingredients and shape the treats on the kitchen table for baking.
The makings of Hank’s dog treats include water, rolled oats, freshly ground oat flour, natural peanut butter and eggs laid by the free-range chickens that share land with goats, pigs and cattle on the family farm.
The finished product is shipped free of charge to customers who order online at hanksdogtreats.com.
Hank is a schnauzer mix who serves as the namesake and fuzzy face of Rhodes’ company.
Rhodes said the inspiration to launch her own niche business came during a visit to the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.
“I saw a lot of dogs walking around, and I thought I could fill a need for treats that they would enjoy,” she said. “I began making them out of our house, but I’m about to finalize a deal on a new headquarters, which I can’t yet identify.”
She said for years she had enjoyed creating recipes for human consumption, while decorating cookies and making cakes and cupcakes for special occasions. It was only natural, she said, that her baking interest led her to develop a treat for animals.
On her website, Rhodes writes, “In addition to running my dog treat business and attending school, I also play violin in my local symphony, drive a tractor here on our farm and sell our eggs, veggies and fruit at our farmers’ market and to local restaurants.”
Her mother, Brenna, said: “We are very proud of Raelynn. She is a motivated and very self-disciplined young lady. I’m proud of what she’s accomplished; she can probably do whatever she sets her mind to do.”
Brenna Rhodes laughed when asked about Raelynn’s apparent disdain for government regulations and the fact that her husband, Mike, works for a government agency. She said Mike is supportive of Raelynn “and agrees with her on this point to a degree.”
“While there is a place for regulation, it very often turns into overregulation, which can stifle business,” Brenna Rhodes said. “We’ve worked very hard to teach our kids how the free market works for business people like Raelynn.”
Raelynn Rhodes said she begins preparing a batch of dog treats almost immediately upon receiving an order. She said she has generated business from the states of California, Oregon, New York, Louisiana and Texas.
The treats come in bags priced from $16.49 to $19.49, and that price includes door-to-door delivery.
Rhodes said she would like to sell her product in stores once she has moved into a larger space and has more baking capacity.
“Right now, I have all I can handle with repeat orders generated by my website,” she said.