It was in 1986 when Charlene Woodward saw the need for a retailer in Seattle that catered to customers looking for unusual books. The budding entrepreneur founded Direct Book Service.
Little did Woodward know then that her new business would eventually go to the dogs.
Woodward soon discovered it was very difficult to find high-quality books for clients looking for specific information about dogs. Seeing a potential niche market, she decided to start selling dog books at dog shows across the region.
It didn’t take long for customers to begin asking how they could buy dog books between scheduled dog shows, so Woodward designed a simple catalog and orders soon started rolling in. The business gradually began a new chapter as a mail order company, and changed its name to Dogwise (www.dogwise.com). Charlene’s husband, Larry, joined the growing company and serves as its president.
The company grew quickly and eventually the Woodwards decided it was time for a change. Because it was now exclusively a mail order business, Dogwise could be located anywhere. The Woodwards began a search for a smaller town, found what they needed in Wenatchee and made the move over the mountains in 1992
“We had visited Wenatchee on a number of occasions and we really liked the area and the weather,” Larry said. “Having lived in Seattle for some time, our family was ready for a change. Wenatchee is close to skiing and is still close enough to our extended family who remain on the west side.”
At that time, the couple’s son Nate was in the eighth grade. After graduating from Wenatchee High School, he attended Central Washington University and majored in business administration. He returned in 2002 to help with the family business, and he now serves as the company’s vice president.
That same year an author had an out-of-print book that had been dropped by the original publisher. She had written a second edition of the book and needed a new publisher. Charlene worked with the author and coordinated with a printer in the Midwest to print the second edition of the book. Once again Charlene launched another arm of the business, putting on her publisher’s hat.
The growing business needed a larger warehouse and found it at 403 S. Mission St. in Wenatchee. It purchased the property in 2008.
“Today we publish six to 10 books a year,” Nate said. “If we didn’t publish books, our business would be very different today — probably half of what we are today.”
Dogwise contracts with United Graphics, a printer in Mattoon, Ill., for most of its printing jobs.
One of about 10 small book publishers nationwide, Dogwise has eight full-time employees and does 95 percent of its business online. In addition to books, Dogwise sells DVDs, pamphlets, e-books and toys — practically anything and everything pertaining to dogs. All products are thoroughly tested by the three resident dogs helping run the place. They welcome visiting dogs who bring their owners to the store.
But don’t look for dog products imported from overseas at this business. Dogwise makes a point to find products made in America and proudly displays “Printed in the USA” on its books. Many of its customers — and even employees — appreciate that fact.
“I’m really proud to work for a company that publishes our books and carries products made in the United States,” said Kristy Allen, customer service manager.
“We prefer to keep our business in the United States,” Nate added. “It may be less expensive to print overseas, but we like to deal with a U.S. company. There’s a service and quality we need. For example, if we have a book that sells faster than expected and we need more copies quickly, we can’t wait for a slow boat from China.”
However, with the vast majority of its business conducted on the Internet, Dogwise has customers worldwide. “We don’t have the staffing to translate in different languages, so we’ll sell the right to print our book to foreign publishers,” Nate said.
The company has sold book rights to many countries, including Japan, Germany and Russia, and it has purchased book rights from Germany and Norway. The price of the book rights vary, typically selling for between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on how the contract is written, Nate said.
Dogwise books are also sold on Amazon.com. “We get orders from Amazon every Tuesday,” Allen said. “Amazon is our biggest customer for books and e-books.”
E-books are the wave of the future for the company. The process to turn a print book into an e-book is labor intensive, so Dogwise works with Innodata, a New Jersey business that claims it “is the leading provider of e-book services to publishers.”
“We’ve really amped up our publishing,” Allen said. “We have been publishing e-books for three years, and that business has really taken off. Our revenue from e-book publishing has increased tenfold since we began.”
E-book revenue accounts for about 10 percent of the company’s annual income, but that is expected to increase in the future, Nate said.
“The most interesting thing about the book industry is we are going through an incredible change right now,” Larry said. “All of the growth is in the e-book field. E-books require no printing, no storage and no shipping.”
Despite the company’s recent success with e-books, it has been affected by the slumping economy.
“Our retail business definitely dropped off when the current recession started,” Nate said. “But our customers are dog enthusiasts. Their dog is very close to being their child, if not a child replacement in many cases. They cut back, but they didn’t stop spending. I think we have weathered this recession about as well as any other company. Our name is pretty established in the dog book printing and e-book world.”
Professionals in the field agree.
“Dogwise has been an important part of the move toward providing positive, science-based books and DVDs for trainers,” said Mychelle Blake, executive director of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. “They are a ‘one-stop-shop’ for many dog trainer and behavior consultants’ educational and reading needs, and the APDT has been proud to work with them through the years.”
Authors from across the country have come to depend on the professional services Dogwise provides. Brenda Aloff lives in Midland, Mich., and is the author of “Canine Body Language” and “Aggression in Dogs.” She’s also an international clinician and speaker.
“I have worked with Dogwise through several publications now, both as an author and as a marketing partner,” Aloff said. “Dogwise has a family feel about it that is friendly and welcoming. They have helped me from conception of an idea and moral support to the finished product of editing, printing and marketing. My books would have never reached the shelves of big book stores like Barnes and Noble without their knowledge and connections.”
Seattle resident Grisha Stewart is the author of “Behavior Adjustment Training.” She depends on Dogwise for keeping abreast of the latest information available in her field.
“Dogwise is the go-to publishing house for positive dog training books in the United States,” Stewart said. “Whenever I need a book on a certain topic within the dog world or I hear about a new dog book coming out, Dogwise is the first place I check.”
And locally, Dogwise has developed a positive standing in the community.
“Dogwise has done a lot to help us over the years,” said Dawn Davies, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society. “They have kept us involved in everything going on in the world of dogs, and they have provided great support to the center.”