When Donie Yamamoto’s dog Tuxedo suffered from dry, itchy skin, the avid pet lover couldn’t find a product that offered him relief. She soon found herself diving into research to find a solution. “I’ve always been passionate about the health of my dogs,” says Yamamoto. “I always think there has to be a natural way.”
When she discovered that wild Alaskan salmon oil helped her dog and stumbled across a webinar about how to sell products on Amazon, she soon found herself on a journey that has resulted in her selling the oil herself through her own e-commerce store.
Her self-funded e-commerce business, Vital Pet Life, launched in April 2017 as a side hustle, brought in $2.8 million in revenue in 2020, with four contractors. Along the way, she’s racked up recognition. In 2019, Yamamoto was selected as a Tory Burch Foundation Fellow for Outstanding Female Entrepreneurship. And this year, Vital Pet Lifehas begun a partnership as a supplier to Chewy.
“It’s always been profitable since the very beginning,” says Yamamoto. “We’ve been lucky we were able to capture a market I’m passionate about.”
Here’s how she and her husband Kyle pulled it off in the family business.
Know when to bet on yourself. Yamamoto, who moved to Los Angeles from the Philippines in 2011, had owned a brick-and-mortar children’s clothing store in her home country when she started Vital Pet Life. She tapped into what she’d learned about retail and manufacturing to get herself set up to make her own fish oil. She and her husband used about $20,000 borrowed on credit cards to get set.
“We just took the plunge,” she recalls. “When it comes to my business, I don’t worry about cash. I feel like if you really have a vision and a passion for it,” you can figure it out.”
Stay resilient. The salmon oil product took off, thanks in part to the advertising the company did on Facebook and Google, and by 2018, it made sense for Yamamoto to take the business full-time. Vital Pet Life had soon branched out into a natural shampoo product for dogs and a glucosamine supplement.
Then COVID-19 hit and the company found itself dealing with supply chain issues. “I had some hurdles with running out of pumps and looking for bottles,” Yamamoto recalls.
So, rather than introducing even more products, she began certifying the company’s products, to add to their appeal. Her wild Alaskan fish oil product is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for its sustainability. “I love dogs and love animals,” says Yamamoto. “I want to make sure they have the best support.”
Keep in touch with customers. With a small handful of products, Yamamoto has to make sure she keeps her finger on the pulse of what customers need to keep her business relevant. “We have core customers we talk with constantly, asking ‘What do you guys need?’” she says. Those conversations often take place on social media.
Staying in close touch with its fans has helped the company continue growing and helped Yamamoto find a whole new career direction. “I always thought I’d continue working in the fashion industry,” says Yamamoto. “I love fashion. I love clothes. But having Tuxedo elevated my interest in pet wellness.”