Our Journey to Bring Back Our Gentle Rise Dog Ramps
As many of you know COVID was an impossible time for Dog Quality and though the threat of the pandemic has been diminished, we are still picking up the pieces. The hole we found ourselves in after 2 very difficult years has made supporting all of our products difficult including our beautiful ramps. They are expensive to make because we insist on a very high quality and because in order to achieve the gentle slope we know that senior dogs need, our ramps are quite large which makes shipping much more expensive.
During COVID I had attempted to get our ramps made in Canada to try and keep the flow of inventory moving in a more manageable way and to avoid the problems we were facing with our global supply chain. I reached out to roughly 30 manufacturers here in Canada and across the US but only 1 was interested.
For an entire year, we worked with them to create a design that could be made somewhat affordably here in Canada. We had prototypes made, we tested, refined, and then finally launched an aluminum version of our bed ramp in white, with plans to launch the couch ramp next. Then the unthinkable happened.
After we launched the new bed ramp, had the first 10 orders for ramps made and shipped and then submitted the next 10 orders, they told us that they could no longer make the ramps for us.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. They told me that production was proving to be too difficult, taking them too long and costing them too much, so after they stalled for weeks on delivering the orders they had committed to, I had to give up. A whole year wasted with no product to show for it was and still is incredibly frustrating, especially knowing how much people need our ramps.
For the next year we were forced to go without ramps as we tried to recover, focusing mostly on our Dogger strollers and our newly launched and domestically sourced Nibbles freeze-dried treats, waiting for the world to stop being so crazy. I never gave up trying to find a way to bring back our ramps but knew it was going to take more time.
I decided to use the time to make improvements. I worked with our original manufacturer to make some changes to our design to try and make it more affordable to manufacture and ship so it could become a more viable product for us.
Design changes were needed because the way we made the parts originally meant that the package was huge and UPS flagged every ramp as being oversized which meant that the already expensive rate for such a big product became grossly expensive. So while we were working on our recovery we also worked on changes to some of the really long parts like the side rails so they could be packed into a smaller box to eliminate the oversized package fees.
The other benefit of making these changes is that it made the assembly of our ramps even easier. Originally it was difficult to hold the ramps' really long pieces in place while support bars were installed, but now, with smaller sections to work with, it is much easier to manage the assembly. In addition, the cost savings on shipping will mean that we can generate better margins on our ramps which in turn will help Dog Quality tremendously.
The other major issue I wanted to address during this time was the non-slip flooring. Our original ramps used a non-slip rubber flooring we were sourcing from the United States. It took me forever to find a rubber that was almost (but not quite) odorless. It provided good traction and proved to be the best flooring I could find at the time for our ramps.
Carpet is terrible, other rubber flooring was much too stinky to be in anyone's home and that sandpaper material that other ramps use is just pointless. And while we found a great deal of success with our rubber flooring, it always bothered me that it did not provide enough traction for all dogs.
So during COVID I went back to the drawing board to try and solve this flooring dilemma. I had heard from some customers who had senior dogs with severe mobility issues that their dogs were unable to use our ramps with our current flooring because they could not get enough grip given their dogs' lack of strength. And closer to home, Moon Pie, my own special needs frenchie, was unable to use it as well, sliding down on every attempt, so I knew we needed to make a change.
I have always followed a rule when developing our products and that is to solve for the most challenging use case because if successful, not only can we help more senior dogs and their families, but the quality of the product becomes so high that all dogs will benefit.
If I could find a flooring that allowed dogs with severe mobility problems like Moon Pie to get the traction needed to use our ramps successfully, then think of how much our ramps could help. Dogs that no longer have the strength to jump or simply shouldn't jump can now get themselves safely and easily onto couches and beds. Just thinking of how much restoring independence to our dogs can help them mentally kept me going.
So I started testing flooring again. The first set of tests were around ribbed and double-ribbed carpet. It looks so grippy and gives you the appearance of a ladder so it made sense to me that this could work well as an alternative. Boy was I wrong, it was awful. Carpet in whatever shape or form is too slippery to be helpful when it comes to an incline. Dogs with mobility issues simply cannot dig in well enough for it to be effective. Moon Pie could not even get a few inches up the ramp using carpet so that was eliminated.
I re-explored more rubber flooring but the odor was overwhelming. Given that our original rubber flooring, which was almost odorless, had complaints about the smell I knew that anything else would be even worse. No one would want this strong odor in their homes let alone their bedrooms, so rubber was out.
Then I remembered what so many of our customers would tell me over the years about how they'd place yoga mats on their floors to help their senior dogs get the traction they needed, so I started to explore the many different types available.
Yoga mats come in a variety of materials with PVC being the most widespread. The problem is that PVC, like rubber, has a very strong odor, with the added problem of it being quite toxic, so I knew that would never work. I explored cork mats but that did not give enough traction so finally I decided to test EVA mats.
EVA, which stands for ethylene-vinyl acetate, is a type of foam that is considered to be an environmentally friendly and non-toxic alternative to PVC (polyvinyl chloride). EVA manufacturing doesn't release the harmful chemicals that PVC manufacturing is criticized for and it is biodegradable, unlike PVC which sits in landfills for decades before breaking down.
Mats made from EVA foam provide more cushion which in turn means that it provides more traction than PVC and significantly more than rubber, but the tradeoff for this is that EVA foam is not as durable. I decided to test EVA to see how it performed and how well it stood up to use.
I was able to order a large enough yoga mat to start testing and the first thing I noticed was that it had zero odor so that was a major win right there. Then within seconds after installing it onto our bed ramp I was BLOWN AWAY! Moon Pie walked right up the bed ramp, something she could never do before with our rubber or with the carpet. See for yourself in this video!
I almost cried watching her. She was so proud of herself for being able to get herself into my bed. I am not sure if I could ever explain how much my heart swelled to see her maneuver the ramp with so much ease and to see how happy it made her. Up to this point, I would have to pick her up to put her on the bed but now here she was doing it all by herself.
I knew at that moment that with this flooring we could help dogs even with severe mobility issues find success with our ramps. I continued to test. I will say that the downside of switching to EVA foam flooring is that it is not as durable as our rubber so that's the tradeoff, but to me, it is much more important that we provide maximum traction.
I decided that we would stay true to our promise of creating products that solved the most challenging use cases and go with the EVA flooring that did exactly that. The dramatic difference it has made for Moon Pie and Ellie Bellie convinced me. And to address any durability issues we will make replacement EVA flooring available so customers can easily change it out if needed.
A couple of months ago we were finally in a position to go back into production of our ramps, implementing the new changes to the design and flooring. I worked out a more manageable payment arrangement with our manufacturer who also allowed us to order a smaller quantity. I decided to just focus on our bed ramp on this first order with a plan to add our couch ramp to the next order.
To help with the costs we made the bed ramps available for pre-order with only a deposit needed to secure your order and the remaining payment not due until the end of November when the actual production has been completed. And as our way of saying thanks, we are giving everyone who pre-orders an early bird discount.
I feel like we have been on this 2 year journey to bring back our ramps and I'll be honest it has been a real battle, but I am beyond excited to know that they are just around the corner finally and I cannot wait to see how well dogs do with our new flooring. To help make this re-launch successful I would really appreciate it if you could help spread the word about Dog Quality and our ramps (or other products).
We are only still here because of all the support we are so fortunate to receive from our customers who not only keep us going from a business perspective, but keep me going from an emotional perspective. I am determined to make Dog Quality a success because of all of you and I will continue to fight for all of you. Thank you for sticking with us and thank you in advance for sharing!
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of innovative assistive products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs and the families that care for them.