Howard County natives create ShaggySwag, an upscale subscription box for dogs

Chris Riley and Matt Powers wanted an upscale experience for their dogs.

The two friends were using a subscription box for pets, but they felt that the toys, treats and other items weren’t sophisticated.

“We both vented that it was a little cheap and the items were a novelty,” said Powers, 35. “It didn’t fit in an upscale New York City home. We wanted a higher-end experience.”

The two Howard County natives, who now live in New York City, met over beers at a bar (coincidentally named Lucky Dog) in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg to dream up the details of ShaggySwag, their subscription box company that sends dog lovers a monthly package filled with merchandise to enhance the lives of dogs.

The company, which officially launched in May 2017 — they started sending out boxes six months later — has attracted more than 2,000 monthly subscribers and counts supermodel Karlie Kloss, Washington Redskins player Ryan Kerrigan, and former Victoria’s Secret model Lindsay Ellington as clients.

Jennilee Morris, a loyal customer, swears by the brand. The Southold, N.Y., resident uses the box for her two dogs, a chocolate lab named Sinatra and a puppy lab mix named Florence.

“They are hip. They are cool. You never know what it’s going to be,” she says. “The treats are always high-quality and natural. We never worry about giving it to our dog.”

Riley and Powers have been friends since they attended St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel.

“The school is super-tiny. There were 85 in our graduating class. We were friends from the beginning,” Riley says.

And even though they went to different colleges — Riley went to Georgetown and Powers went to Salisbury — the two wound up moving to New York City around the same time in 2005.

The friends remained close while in New York. They would even meet weekly at Redemption, a Midtown Manhattan bar that showed Washington Redskins games. Both got dogs around the same time in the fall of 2016, which led them to their eventual business partnership.

Now their lives revolve around the business.

The two founders work almost every day of the week, whether it’s in the 700-square-foot basement offices of a Williamsburg shared office building or going to expos and dog-related events.

“It’s probably more stressful and more enjoyable” than his old job, says Riley, who left a career in finance to start up ShaggySwag. “Now we have investors and shareholders to answer to. It’s more stressful that way. But it’s more enjoyable being around dogs all day than trading high-yield bonds.

“Just being around dogs all day — testing products and treats. It’s totally different from the world I was in. Me and Matt wear many different hats. It’s really only two of us. For me, it’s a big change.”

Powers stepped back from his production business to devote more attention to ShaggySwag. Powers’ background helped the company get off the ground quicker, according to Riley.

“We’re kind of like the perfect team,” Riley says. Powers is “the missing piece. He really has that side of the equation down to produce strong content. Usually startups spend a lot of money outsourcing this. Having this in-house with Matt — he was the perfect additional skill set with my operational skill set — it was the perfect syncing of individuals.”

And of course their dogs are regular fixtures in the office.

Powers’ two dachshunds, Jerry Brows and Figgy, are in the office every day.

Riley brings his two labradoodles, Iverson and Gatsby, a couple of times a week.

“They are always in the office,” Riley says with a laugh. “My dogs are 40 pounds each. It’s a good mix of size versus the two weiner dogs. They get along great.”

The two spend most of the day trying out new toys and treats with their dogs as well as contacting various manufacturers while trying to curate future boxes, which arrive monthly to customers in a 12-by-10-inch package. That package, which starts at $22, contains up to three toys, two treats and essentials such as grooming wipes and waste bags. The package also includes an item for the human owners. That item usually relates to the seasonal-inspired items in the box. Recently, owners received a ShaggySwag-branded winter hat.

“We continue to surprise customers with better and better products,” Powers says. “One of the fun things for us to do is make a well-curated box. The element of surprise is part of the experience. When the package arrives, the dogs are super-excited. It’s like they know the package is for them.”

Morris’ older dog, Sinatra, has started to know when the monthly package arrives.

“When the box comes, he knows that it is a box for him. He runs up to it. It’s really cute,” she said. “It’s something to look forward to for him every month.

“It’s nice to know that there is something coming because he does so much for us.”

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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