According to the Odie & Board website, business namesake and CEO Odie “personally designs, builds and inspects every item produced at the Odie & Board workshop.”
It is possible, however, that Odie, who happens to be a standard goldendoodle dog, has a little help.
In particular, the woodworking background of Odie’s chief communications officer, Brian Li, may be of interest. Although Brian took shop class in high school and helped his dad build stuff around the house, it was when he and his wife, Erica, bought a house in 2012 that he started building more projects.
“My wife wanted benches for our little porch area. When we went to the store, everything was either too expensive or looked cheesy. So I built some out of cedar planks: a couple human-sized and a small one for Odie,” Brian said.
“It was kind of fun doing the project, and it evolved from there,” he said. “I built useful but random stuff. Even if you have to buy the tools and materials, it’s still less expensive than buying the finished piece, and you have the tools for the next time.”
As Erica posted some of these projects on Facebook, some of the couple’s friends started asking about Brian building something for them. In particular, after Brian built a farmhouse style dining table, his best friend asked if he could build a play-size one for his young daughter. The three-foot by three-and-one-half foot “Ariella mini farmhouse table” was the first thing Brian built for someone else.
After that, the thought was, “If we’re going to start doing this, it might be fun to create a business,” Brian said, while noting that, “It’s really a passion business rather than something we’re hoping to retire on.” Both Brian, a finance manager at Target, and Erica, a kindergarten teacher, have kept their day jobs. As has Odie, who maintains his skills of napping and looking out the window.
“We love our dog. He’s like our kid,” Brian said. He and Erica were married in June 2009. Neither of them grew up with dogs, and they had never talked about getting a dog. “On Christmas Eve, 2009, we got a text from a friend: ‘You want a dog?’”
Odie had been born the runt of a litter in northern Minnesota and was 10 weeks old. The friend told Brian and Erica that if a home couldn’t be found for him, “They were just going to let him go in northern Minnesota and let him fend for himself.”
“My wife was like, ‘We’re getting him.’” Odie arrived in their home on Christmas Day. “We didn’t know anything; we didn’t have anything.” After that, Brian said, “Saving dogs is one cause my wife and I are passionate about.” And, with the beginning of the Odie and Board passion business, they started getting in touch with rescue organizations. Currently, they partner with four (Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue, Midwest Animal Rescue & Services, Ruff Start Rescue, and Secondhand Hounds), which receive a portion of the proceeds from overall sales, as well as earmarked contributions from specific items that feature the rescues’ logos.
After Odie and Board launched in October 2016 with items like cutting boards, coasters, the mini farm table and a coffee table made out of birch butcher block with steel legs, the Christmas season saw the addition of other products like a dog-shaped ornament and a keychain, both of which can be personalized.
Adding new products both helps to increase the assortment of products, and “also to keep sanity,” when building through multiple production runs, Brian said. For the “rustic, farmhouse-y” part of the product line, lumber is often 2x4s or 4x4s from the hardware store, while coasters, cutting boards, cheese plates, etc., are mostly hard maple, black walnut or birch sourced from Youngblood Lumber in Minneapolis.
Other woods might be used, too, with Brian noting that Odie “does gravitate toward the cedar in our shop.”
The Odie & Board company name reference, however, does not refer only to the building materials. In addition to the executive leadership team (rounded out by chief creative officer Erica, who has launched a line of greeting cards that are serving as an entry point to retail sales), there is a “board of directors.”
“Some are friends; others are people who pinged us and asked to be part of the board,” Brian said. “It’s kind of a fun way to highlight other dogs” – a key requirement for board eligibility is “Be a dog.” (The other requirements, Brian said, are not stringent: “You basically have to be able to send a picture.”)
Board responsibilities? “Assist Odie in creating business objectives, setting strategic vision, and advising on the hiring and firing of Odie’s human employees.”
As for Odie himself, the CEO maintains a personal inspection of every item produced at the Odie & Board workshop to ensure it meets his high quality standards.