Addison Edmonds and I talk about how Gunner Kennels came to life, how he learned to design and build them and the safety features their kennels deliver to protect your pets.
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Addison Edmonds And Gunner Kennels 5 Star Tested Quality Dog Crates
This is episode 186 of the show with Addison Edmonds from Gunner Kennels. Addison and I talked about how Gunner Kennels came to life and the safety features their kennels deliver to protect your pets. Before we got into the interview, my book Trails to the Top went live on Amazon. Go to Amazon.com, search Rick Saez or Trails to the Top, and grab your copy. The Kindle version is $9.99 and the paperback is $14.99. Great stories, outdoor career advice, and more from guests on the show. You’ll be entertained and you might even learn a little something from these characters.
Addison, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
It’s great to catch up with you. You have a pretty unique angle on the outdoor business. What was your introduction to the outdoors?
In terms of the first job?
Yes. How did you get excited about hanging out outside, hunting, or whatever it was as a kid?
As a kid, it’s being obsessed with John Wayne movies and one was The Cowboys. I probably picked up my first BB gun when I was 5 or 6. I became obsessed with fishing and hunting. It was always an obsession that I could never get enough of it. It has shaped the entire direction of my life.
Where did you grow up?
In Brentwood, Tennessee, which is South of Nashville. It’s basically Nashville.
There’s a lot of hunting and fishing back there.
I went to college in Mississippi and there are even more opportunities in Mississippi.
Did you have a traditional outdoor job? Did you work retail or anything? What was your first outdoor job?
There was not anything until I started this company. When I was in college, I started an advertising company, but it didn’t have anything to do with the outdoors. I came up with the idea to build the best dog kennel in the world. I sold that and started this one. That was my first hop into the outdoor industry.
Where did the idea for Gunner Kennels come from?
I was on my way to a hunt. I bought Gunner when I was a junior in college. I always had a Chocolate Lab, but I never had one that I trained to hunt. He was a phenomenal dog and I became obsessed with it. He was my little sidekick. I would go everywhere with him. I worked at a tree farm and I would take him out there. He would run around while I was watering all the trees. I didn’t like the kennels that were available in the market. I always felt so uneasy about traveling with them. There’s no good way to tie them down. The doors would always break and the whole list of features. Everything that I put into this kennel is what I felt was lacking for the available kennels.
How did you research that? What was the inspiration? Did you look at all kinds of other roto-molded kayaks and stuff? How did you figure that out?
When I decided that other people would probably want the same thing that I want, which is the best kennel out there, I started looking into, “What does that mean to be the best?” Number one, it means the safest. Number two, the most utilitarian, like all the features that I wanted in a kennel. Number three, the best-looking and the whole gamut. The part about safety was weird because I didn’t start the company saying, “I want to make the safest dog kennel,” but that was a feature that had to be.
All the dog kennels on the market are injection-molded and they would all be very brittle. I had been introduced to YETI Coolers and heard the term roto-molding. After looking into it, the toughest plastic, you’ve got the option of injection molding and roto molding. Having that rotational molding makes the plastic not brittle and bomb-proof.
You learned it as you went then.
I’m still doing that.
You have no design background. No nothing?
I wish I did. I had a good engineering school, but it was all trial and error. My dad was handy. I would always steal his tools and work on my trucks. I’m always doing tinkering. That’s where it came out of him. When I convinced myself this was an idea that I wanted to pursue, I sold the company that I started and put everything I had into starting this one.
How did you learn about the crash test requirements? Are there specific requirements for kennels?
I was thinking like, “I need to do some crash testing.” I looked around on the internet and found this organization called the Center for Pet Safety. They had done some crash testing with harnesses but not with crates. I contacted her and said, “I want to do a crash test on this kennel that I’m designing. I think it’s going to be able to hold up to everything that takes place.”
I remember her laughing and being like, “I don’t care what you’re going to design. It’s not going to hold up with these crash tests with these dummy dogs. There’s no crate on the market that can hold up.” I was like, “Let’s give it a shot.” Sure enough, we got the first kennel in and went and ran a crash test. It’s a very violent test. It’s only representing 30 miles an hour. Basically, your car is going 30 and you hit an immovable wall.
Doesn’t it account if the kennel falls out of the car and tumbles down the highway?
No. With this test, they set up guidelines for it. They based it off of a test platform for baby car seats and then they designed the requirements. The whole goal for crash testing for a dog crate is the containment of the dog before, during, and after the wreck. The first thing you want to ensure is the dog is not going to break out and then go through the windshield of your car and run away.
We did our first test. To make our door, it was originally a wire door. The manufacturers over in China for the door said I had to go ahead and place a fee of $15,000. We did our first crash test and the dummy dogs broke right through the door with ease. I was like, “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board now.” We designed what the door is now where it has got its own doorframe system.
We had to engineer that. We ran more crash tests and the dummy dogs still would go through the door. We engineered some lock-up latches on the top and bottom and the dummy dogs still went through the door. We realized that we were using aluminum rivets in the frame to connect the hinge and we switched to stainless steel rivets.
Before that crash test, I was sick because I was like, “If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will. I have tried everything. We spent a whole lot more money into it than we planned and we had to scrap a bunch of other parts.” Thankfully, it kept the dummy dog in the kennel and that’s the design we’re going to go with.
Who is doing the engineering for you? Did you have friends or buddies who are engineers? How did you get all that worked out?
It was an engineer for a custom rotational molding company. One of my board members connected me with an old college buddy who happened to be the chairman of the board of that rotational molding company. They said, “We don’t work with startups, but you can use one of our engineers.” It took about one year and a half to design. I didn’t know what I wanted it to look like. I didn’t know anything. I just knew the features I wanted. It took a long time. After that, we found a different manufacturer to produce the parts.
The whole goal for crash testing a dog crate is the containment of the dog before, during, and after the wreck.
They’re all produced in the USA.
I got burned from that first. I’m scrapping all that now.
Where in the US are they made? Is it down the South?
The top and bottom half of the kennel, the rotational motor part, is in Iowa. The door panel is up in the Northeast. The doorframe is in the North-Midwest. We’ve got different vendors all over the country for smaller components.
Where are they assembled? Did all the parts come to you there?
Yes, everything comes through our warehouse here in Nashville. All the assembly and fulfillment goes on in our warehouse.
You get to travel all around to these factories and check designs and production. What is that like?
It’s pretty cool visiting with them and seeing how everything is done. The most important functioning part of the kennel is the door. We build that in-house and we’re able to QC-check it in real-time. Everything is still being fulfilled and quality checks and everything here in-house.
How big is your team there?
We’re about seventeen people. We’ve picked up. We’ve added about 4 or 5 where we’re going to add another 4 or 5.
Tell us about your first sale. Do you have a sales background? How did that come about?
I started that advertising company first. I hated advertising and selling, but I was the salesman. It was a low-key approach to sales, but I made it work. Here for this one, I was lucky in the fact that right about the time we came out, Subaru of America and the Center for Pet Safety conducted a crate crash test worthiness study. It turns out that we’ve got a top performer, so we had the best kennel.
We got a lot of publicity from the start with USA Today and Good Morning America. The sales part of it was a little bit easier than I had planned. Dealers were coming to us to sell the kennels. We were rarely reaching out and trying to get them sold. For the first three years, we were backed up. We never were able to ship on time. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem.
I bet it wasn’t challenging to convince consumers to spend $500 on a kennel. They spend way more than that on some of their dogs. Everybody wants to keep their pet safe.
I originally wanted to sell the kennel at $349. That was the goal, but then when we realized we had to make a better door, it cost so much more than we intended. We had to start selling them at $500. Being the non-salesman that I was, when we go to a show, somebody would go, “I would never pay $500 for a kennel.” I’m not going to try to convince them. If somebody says, “What makes this kennel worth that $500?” I was like, “What don’t you like about your kennel?” I walked through all the features and stuff. I didn’t hear as much pushback as I thought that I was going to.
Once you talk about the features, advantages, benefits and then they look at their pet or hunting dog, some of these dogs are a lot of money right out of the gate and then they train them, $500 is nothing to keep your animals safe.
Once I had my kennel strapped in the back of my truck and put Gunner and Goose, our other dog, in the two kennels and I was driving down the road, I had a sigh of relief going, “I’ve done everything I can do to give these dogs the best shot if I was to get in a wreck.” When you look at it like that in the grand scheme of things, it’s what I typically had or the customer that myself would be. You have a lot of money in that dog.
Not only money but a lifetime. With some of these dogs, you grow up with them as a kid. It’s like another member of the family, so you want to take care of them. Do you sell online or mostly at retail?
We went direct-to-consumer in 2020. At that time, we had about 300 dealers throughout North America. Most of them are small mom-and-pop shops and then specialty dog stores, but mostly hunting stores, and then we went direct. Now, it’s all online.
Is it mostly sporting goods or hunting stores? What’s the ratio of hunting/outdoor stores to pet stores? Was it 50/50?
When we were doing retail, a small percentage was the specialty pet food stores. Most of them were the hunting stores. In the end, we had Bass Pro and Cabela’s. I had them in a few stores. I didn’t put them in all. They were given a test run right up when we went through it.
Do you sell any retail now or it’s all online?
It’s all online.
I read somewhere where you’re planning to build out the product line. What does that look like or maybe you don’t want to talk about that yet?
I can talk about that. It’s exciting. I had a year and a half to design the kennel with nothing else to do besides I would work odd jobs to pay the bills and I got married. When I started, I was trying to keep the company afloat and run things. I didn’t have as much time to work on products. That’s what my strong suit would be. From winning that award, we got requests for larger and smaller kennels. We ended up building out four sizes of small, medium, intermediate, and large.
We’ve got accessories and built a good name and the fact that we make the best dog kennel. I’m very dissatisfied with every other dog product I use for Gunner, which keeps me mostly from using them. In 2020, we bought Gunner.com. We’re going to be transitioning into just Gunner instead of Gunner Kennels as these new products come out. What we’re doing is trying to make the best possible dog products. It’s going to range from everything you use for your dog’s life.
Is it like from food bowls to harnesses?
Is that product going to be made in the USA also?
Yes, as much as I can. I enjoy picking up the phone and having good, clear communication with my vendors as much as possible.
Let’s shift gears a little bit. What outdoor activities do you participate in, in addition to hunting and fishing?
Camping is so much fun, especially if you can pair it with canoeing. Canoeing and go-camping are what we used to do for spring break because we would go down the Buffalo River in Arkansas. It’s about 70 miles. That’s the cheapest and most fun you can have. If I’ve got time to spend, it’s going to be hunting or fishing. The day our website launched in 2015 was also the day we had our first child. She had her fourth birthday and we had our fourth child about a week after that. We had four kids in 48 months. Between running the company and trying to raise four toddlers and babies, I’m not wasting time by going and trying to be good at golf.
What kind of fishing do you do?
Freshwater and saltwater. I haven’t been able to start fly-fishing. I do big bass fishing around here. As a matter of fact, I took my kids fishing at the golf course. We’re temporarily living on the golf course, but it comes with its perks. It has got ponds so you can take the kids fishing.
Do you have any suggestions or advice for people wanting to start their own business or get into the outdoor business like you did?
That’s why I was wanting to start a podcast of my own because so many people come up and say, “How did you get started? What do I need to do?” You got to dream big and figure it out. You can’t quit. A lot of people have these great ideas for products or company and it dies after step one of trying to figure out what to do after that. You got to be ignorant to all the risks and hard work.
With four little toddlers, you may not have many daily routines. Do you have any daily routines to keep your sanity?
I run Gunner. By the time we get the kids down, I’ll hop on the golf cart and run him with or without a drink in my hand. That’s about the only thing. He is in great shape for being eleven, but a lot of older dogs, you get a tendency to let them start getting out of shape. I try to make that a daily. It was the first time I hadn’t run in two weeks and I felt bad. We’re going to Canada to go hunting. I was trying to prep him for that as much as possible.
That’s probably a daily routine that he likes too. He probably gets a little anxious when you don’t show up for the run and say, “What’s going on?”
He comes to work with me most days, but he just lays there. He is constantly wanting to retrieve. This is his time to get all his fun.
Do you have any favorite books or books to give as gifts?
The only one that comes to mind and it’s only for my friends that get new dogs. I had never trained a dog, but he was well-trained growing up. He has been a little spoiled for the last couple of years. There’s a guy named Vic Barlow and he has a book called British Training for the American Retrievers. I didn’t even read the whole thing through. The first part of it helps you learn and understand how dogs learn. I was able to get in Gunner’s head because of that book. He could do anything I would ask him to. He is smart. That’s a good book to try to figure out how dogs think.
What kind of a dog is Gunner?
He is a British Chocolate Lab.
Dream big, and just figure it out. You can’t quit.
We raised Labs when I was a kid. We had Black Labs. I love those dogs. They’re great, smart, well-behaved, and gentle with people. How about your favorite piece of outdoor gear for under $100?
What I use all day, every day, especially if I’m going outdoors, is the YETI 26 oz Rambler Bottle because the YETI bottle is with a chug cap. I keep ice in it. After I drink all the water, I can go anywhere and get water and still have ice water with me all the time. There’s another one that I thought of because I’ve got it. There’s this product called The Thrash Can Bucket Cover. It’s a net that goes over a bucket with a sled in it and it makes it a little trash can. It’s made for boats for fishing stuff. I keep it in my truck now. Any trash I have throughout the day, I throw it right in there. It’s great. It’s only $15 or $20. It’s a good find.
Is there anything else you would like to ask or say to our audience?
There’s nothing I can think of.
Where can people find you? Twitter or email? If they want to reach out to you, ask questions, or follow up, what’s the best way?
I don’t have any social media myself, but we’ve got a private Facebook group called the GK Discussion Den. If people need to reach me, that’s how they’ll get on there. They’ll call the customer service. You can DM our Instagram. My wife Emily does. She and a couple of other people run our Instagram. DM-ing our Instagram could be a good way.
It has been great catching up with you. I hope to meet you someday at a trade show somewhere.
I appreciate it.
- Gunner Kennels
- Trails to the Top
- rotational molding
- Center for Pet Safety
- Subaru of America
- British Training for the American Retrievers
- YETI 26 oz Rambler Bottle
- Thrash Can Bucket Cover
- Instagram – Gunner Kennels
- GK Discussion Den – Facebook Group
- Facebook – The Outdoor Biz Podcast
- Twitter – Rick Saez
- Instagram – Rick Saez