Editor’s Note: Selling on Love

When you sell hope and compassion for a beloved companion you are not competing by the penny. Eddie and Leslie Grinnell have built a business and a life since 1989 by attending to the needs of ailing dogs, their anguished owners and the animal healing community.

They are brilliant champions of the “follow your passion,” “believe in your intuition,” and “if you build it, they will come” philosophies. They live the clichés of the Brian Tracey, Tony Robbins and Jim Collins books, making wheelchairs for dachshunds with degenerating discs, and spaniels with failing spines.

They have built a market where euthanasia was the first option a few years ago. Their conveyances made salesdogs out of their own four once-disabled dogs.

According to Leslie, their company Eddie’s Wheels for Pets started because their dog Buddha needed a way to get from here to there in the local woods after disc disease hobbled her. Eddie couldn’t stand seeing her misery, and built her his first custom dogcart, a variation on the human wheelchair.

Eddie himself was ailing from severely flat feet. It made his long gigs standing on cement as an engineer, specializing in big installations of complicated machinery, a labor of pain.

Buddha needed wheels. Eddie needed a career shift. The two coalesced in Eddie’s Wheels in rural Western Massachusetts.

Word spread about Eddie’s wonderful handmade dog wheelchairs. Orders trickled in, and he refined the product. He and Leslie went to Veterinary Medicine conventions and product exhibitions a few times a year. Knowledge of the product spread amongst dog lovers in Japan and Europe.

Animal surgery became more sophisticated in the 1990s as vets and owners demanded recovery devices. Eddie’s Wheels rode the building wave of reconstructive medicine and the business grew.

Eddie and Leslie bought the components for their dog conveyances from local distribution houses and job shops. They priced the product from $300 to $1200 per wheelchair, depending on how large and complicated the job was. The key to success was getting perfect measurements to exquisitely customize the product. What worked for a Siberian husky wouldn’t suffice for a leggy greyhound.

There are a few other dogcart builders now, but Leslie says her website and referrals keep Eddie’s Wheels growing. She says people call and ask her what the price is. She asks them about their dog. After a half hour of listening to the story of love and woe that each owner tells, price is no longer the point.

Eddie’s Wheels recently won a Massachusetts Exporter of the Year award. The advent of pet health insurance has been a boom to the business.

Eddie just invested $50,000 in a small Hurco vertical machining center, the first sophisticated machine tool in their 4000 square-foot plant in bucolic Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, overlooking a pond.

Leslie is shifting her marketing focus to the holistic pet healers. The animal chiropractors and acupuncturists are gaining respect in the veterinary medical community. They are interested in Eddie’s Wheels.

The story of Eddie’s Wheels is feel good music for the small business magazines. Leslie says that Daisy her dachshund is by far her best salesman, as she cavorts after a chipmunk next to the plant. But the wonderful vibe of Eddie’s Wheels does not deny 17 years of hard work and dreaming to build a business that sells on love, not on price.

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