Alexander and Sebastian Martin, of Chesterfield, came up with the concept of Woof Works last year after learning how to use a laser etching printer at school.
They printed a favorite photo of their beloved dog onto a cellphone case and shared it on social media. Immediate demand ensued from family and friends. That’s when the brothers realized there was a void in the custom gift marketplace — but not for long.
“We made many prototypes and showed them to friends and family, keeping the good ones as permanent products,” Sebastian,14, said.
The duo originally invested in an inexpensive 3D printer, but soon decided that a laser etching printer was needed for the quality they were trying to achieve. With better equipment, the boys can etch on wood, glass, marble, slate, leather and plastic.
The early days of the company consisted of creating a website and finding quality products from trusted suppliers, as well as making designs to meet their customers’ demands. They agreed that the website was the most grueling part of starting their own business.
“We [worked on the website] every day for months, enduring many challenges throughout, but we eventually got it done,” Sebastian said.
They credit their parents for their continued success. Their mother is a veterinarian with a legal background and their dad “has been an entrepreneur his entire life and has really been there for business advice and to answer our questions on just about anything,” the boys said.
“Our parents have given us an unbelievable amount of support. Our mom has given us great advice on everything along the way – whether that is legal advice from her legal background or a woman’s perspective on a developing design,” Alex, 16, said. “Although we have done most of the actual work, without their guidance and support, we would be struggling.”
Balancing school, extracurricular and other adolescent responsibilities with such a big entrepreneurial undertaking is the hardest part of owning their own business; but it’s worth it, they said.
“The stuff the business world has taught us is stuff high school and middle school don’t teach you. Some of the things we’ve learned is how to fill out an invoice, calculate margin, properly deal individually with customers and large corporations, and, among other things, better our time management skills, something almost inevitable when faced with a task like this.”
For additional business guidance, Woof Works has a board of advisors that includes a pet industry executive, a designer and a video producer.
Alex and Sebastian have such a passion for animals that they decided to give a portion of their profits from Woof Works to the Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles. While they are still tallying their sales from the Christmas season, the plan is to give the shelter 10 percent of their profits.
The brothers began volunteering at Five Acres in June 2015. Erica Bishop, the volunteer coordinator at Five Acres, said that most of the time they spend [not surprisingly] is with the canines.
“We really want to help [Five Acres] in any way possible, and giving a portion of our profits is a great way to help,” Sebastian said. “As Woof Works grows, we are looking to help more animal shelters across the nation. We want to help as many homeless pets as possible!”