Making Childhood Dreams a Reality
Entrepreneur: Janine Ling
Degree: Associate’s Degree in Psychology from the College of Staten Island (Staten Island, NY)
One Word That Describes You: Mindful
How We Met: I started using Janine’s kin+kind products on my pups a few years ago and luckily, my mom was able to connect me to Janine for an interview!
The Case Study: As a child, Janine loved animals and spent her free time hanging out at the local pet store. When she turned 16, she finally got a job there and said she thought it was the best job in the world and told herself if she could do that for the rest of her life, she would be happy. However, Janine didn’t believe she could actually achieve her own dream of opening a pet store, so she decided to pursue a different track. She started by achieving the 60 credits required to be accepted into the police academy at her local community college. After going through the motions and completing her credits in 2003, Janine was accepted into the police academy. Except right before graduation, Janine had a talk with her father, who is a savvy businessman himself, and told him that her dream was still to open her own pet store. He wisely advised Janine to go back to her childhood hangout and ask that pet store owner how much money it would take to start her own business. The pet store owner told her he opened his business for $40,000, so off Janine went to get a loan for that amount of money, with her father as the cosigner, and decided not to officially graduate from the police academy.
On her 23rd birthday, Janine signed the lease to open up her first business, a pet store named Animal Crackers. When she started, their big draw was a plethora of live animals. Janine loved going into the store everyday to see and take care of all of the pets they had for sale. She worked 7 days a week for two straight years at the store. She also used to do shows for kids and do school talks, up to three times a week, where her focus was exposing kids to various assortments of animals and building up her retail business. Janine states that the $40,000 loan didn’t get very far, but she kept her costs low by living with her parents while she grew her business. Besides the shows for the kids, she constantly hosted events at her store to draw in crowds. Some of the events included hamster races, adoption events, petting zoos, pony rides, and hermit crab races. These events helped to build both her business and personal relationships since they are a brick and mortar retail business that focused on developing reoccurring revenue from their customers coming back consistently for pet supplies.
While live animals were the main draw at the start, the industry began changing and Janine let the market demand drive her store strategy. It was a hard decision to move away from Janine’s passion of raising animals, but she phased out selling live animals in the store due to shifts in the market and the growth in online shopping. Part of the motivation to move away from live animals was also the stress of having an employee devote hours of time to sell a $10 hamster and lose the reoccurring sales of the hamster supplies to internet sources. As far as stocking her store, Janine says she only stocks things that she would feed and use on her own pets, and since the online retail business is so large now, she focuses on supplying products that are more unique and harder to find online. Her store has a good selection for her customers of the best of the best products. When someone comes into her store, they know they can trust the product selection because Janine put the effort into procuring from only high quality sources. In 2014, Janine decided to move her pet store business to a new, bigger location and it is still open at this new location today.
In 2008, Janine was getting a tattoo and became friends with the artist who mentioned that the shop was going to close because the owner couldn’t pay his bills. Being the entrepreneur that she is, Janine purchased the tattoo shop for a few thousand dollars and paid off all of the previous owner's bills. This turned out to be a fantastic investment, even though it was spur of the moment and Janine didn’t know anything about the tattoo business. She kept it for about 8 years, and once she started more businesses, she gave it to her tattoo artist friend to take over full time to free up her schedule.
In 2009, Janine also opened up a dog grooming facility with her friend who was already grooming pets out of her house and building up a clientele. Janine rented a space and helped her friend build a successful grooming business, right next to the pet store, and after about 7 years, decided to give the business to her friend so that she could focus on her new ventures.
In 2011, Janine opened up her fourth business, a hobby store with another friend who she worked with at the pet store when they were kids. A short time after opening, her friend showed her a video of an animatronic dinosaur, so of course Janine wanted to buy their own animatronic dinosaur, custom made from China. At that point, the online sales business was making sales at the retail hobby shop difficult, and after about a year, disaster struck when Hurricane Sandy damaged the store. They both decided it was best to close down the shop.
However, they still had a 14 foot, 100 pound dinosaur to enjoy (how many people can say that in their lifetime), so in 2012 her friend got in touch with a borderline famous YouTuber out in Ohio, who welcomed the idea of using the dinosaur in a new prank video. Well, the two of them packed up their dinosaur and ventured to Ohio. The video ended up going viral and got over 15 million views, including making the news. Check it out for yourself, below. Because of the popularity of this video, Janine and her friend started a new company called K&J Entertainment and traveled with the dinosaur around the US and Canada where it was on TV multiple times, including a UFC appearance with “The Caveman” for one of his title fights. I asked Janine if one could make a living being a professional dinosaur, she said not quite, but it was one of the most fun projects she's had!
In 2015, Janine adopted a Pitbull that suffered from skin issues. She tried every trick in the book, including feeding her the highest quality food, and discovered that her dog, Mishka, had environmental allergies causing her itchiness. Janine tried every product available on the market, and none of them could fix her dog’s itchiness. The vet recommended she try steroids, and Janine knew that she didn’t want her young dog to be put on steroids for the rest of her life, so she decided to create her own remedy. That is how she started creating her own products and when her twin brother, a corporate lawyer, saw the success of Janine’s homemade remedies with Mishka, the twins decided to go into business together to bring Janine’s products to market under the brand name kin+kind. Janine started by making two products for Mishka, which became their Hot Spot Stick and Charcoal Shampoo, and when her brother, Thomas, decided to join in to start a business, the two worked to create a full product line to bring to market. In the last 3 years, they’ve been able to create and launch over 30 products including candles, flea and tick prevention, supplements, shampoos, conditioners, and skin treatments.
Janine is hands on in the creation process of all of the kin+kind products to ensure the highest quality possible and she is still involved in the pet industry, so she knows the industry trends and market direction well. She does all of the initial formulations herself and will pass them along to a chemist to finalize into the finished product.
As kin+kind grew, Janine and her brother decided recently to open up a contract manufacturing facility called Kind Manufacturing. This is a USDA certified organic facility which is a one-stop shop for product mixing, filling, labeling, and packing. They also have private labeling options where a brand can use their ready to sell shampoos and soaps for an immediate product launch, with the helpful option of using their graphic design services to help create product labels. Essentially, Kind Manufacturing can take a brand’s dream and bring it to market.
In hindsight, Janine recognizes that her choices, while some would consider unconventional, ended up leading her down the exact path she needed in life. She is very proud of all of her business partners and employees along the way that became successful in business due to joint ventures with Janine or seeing her as an inspiration.
Nature vs. Nurture: The question is: what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Are some people born to be successful entrepreneurs or did they learn the skills necessary to make it?
Janine attributes her success to both nature and nurture. She was born with a naturally good instinct to make sound decisions. She received a lot of advice along the way, which was not always a positive contribution to her path, so Janine knew how important it was to trust her instincts to make the hard choices. After 10 years of success in her first retail location, she knew she needed to move to a bigger location, which ended up being the right call. Her dad is a financial planner, so he helped Janine cultivate her knowledge base and helped her learn how to grow and succeed in business. The leaps and bounds she has learned since opening her first business at 23 have led her to become even more successful in her ventures with kin+kind and Kind Manufacturing today.
Adversities: Janine states that her biggest adversity was getting people to take her seriously as a young female. Luckily, she was able to start her pet store business at the age of 23 because her father was willing to cosign on the business loan. Once she started her business, there were times that she had to fight to be seen as a legitimate entrepreneur instead of people asking to speak with her parent or husband. Now that Janine has been in business for 14 years, she no longer feels like she has to face this adversity.
In 2016, Janine also faced a true bullying situation when her landlord for the pet store tried to get the tenants to sign new leases, and pay for expenses that were unwarranted, so Janine had to take him to court in order to not get evicted and be forced to pay huge bills. Once in court, her twin brother Thomas represented her, but since he was a New York lawyer and the trial was in New Jersey, the judge did not let him talk, which meant Janine had to deal with the trial and be a lawyer for the day. No worries though, Janine ended up winning. Add lawyer to her impressive resume too!
Advice: Janine’s advice is to start young, where possible, because it is hard work and is easier if you have flexibility to lean on your parents, or not have huge overhead costs while you are trying to get things started. She would never discourage anyone older to start a business, but if you can start young while you have less responsibilities and more energy, it will be easier.
“Definitely have a plan. Besides your passion, you need to really know what you’re going to do,” advises Janine.
Long Term Goals: Now, Janine is focusing on her kin+kind products and Kind Manufacturing. Eventually, she wants to move to the desert, get a tiny house, and raise goats and chickens. She has no long term monetary goals, she just wants to end up living a simple life.
Gwenalysis: In my humble opinion, Janine has it right when she says she trusts her gut to lead her down the correct paths. She took risks in each venture she started, but she was able to work hard and build businesses in every industry she tackled. Keeping a brick and mortar retail location thriving for over 15 years through the internet shopping boom is no small feat. In fact, Janine beat the odds in every way through competition, moving locations, and lawsuits with her landlord. Our interview lasted almost an hour and it could've lasted much longer because Janine's passion for making her childhood dreams a reality is captivating. She won't let anything stop her and I love it.
I also personally use her kin+kind products on my pets because she made quality and safety her primary drivers in product development. Consumers are getting smarter about what is in products they purchase, especially for their beloved pets, so to know and trust that the creator of your products cares about quality is huge. Janine started her kin+kind product line to solve a problem she personally faced with her dog, and because she already had a decade in the pet industry, she had her finger on the pulse to know what would be beneficial and what would sell. Janine keeps standards high, so I know that her contract manufacturing business, Kind Manufacturing, will continue to be successful as well. There aren’t many times you meet people that are just plain ole good at being an entrepreneur, and Janine is one of them. Thank you, Janine, for caring about the safety and health of our pets! Head over to Janine’s online store to purchase some safe and effective products for your furry friends, I promise you’ll love them all.
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