When Jason and Molly Smith adopted their first puppy in 2009, a miniature schnauzer named Jaeger, they fed her Hill Science Diet pet food on a veterinarian’s recommendation.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of research,” Jason Smith said.
That changed when Jaeger began exhibiting signs of “innumerable” health issues, Jason said.
“Molly started doing a lot of research into a more natural diet, and that opened up our eyes to what was out there — and there not being too many options for consumers in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We just have a really big heart for natural nutrition for dogs and cats.”
The Smiths launched Republic of Paws, an online business selling food made from natural ingredients to pet owners nationwide.
“Whole food inclusion in a dog’s diet is essential,” Jason said. “That dog is primarily a carnivore … so the more meat in your dog’s diet is — in our opinion, and all the research that we’ve done — essential to a healthy life for your pet.”
Inventory quickly outgrew the couple’s home, prompting Jason and Molly in 2010 to open a small boutique inside a Victorian-style house at the corner of Bijou and Wahsatch streets in downtown Colorado Springs. By 2011, thanks to word of mouth from customers and work with numerous local dog rescue groups, Republic of Paws had outgrown its second space in as many years.
“We realized, ‘OK, we either need to go all in on the retail front, or we need to draw back and spend more time on our web business,’” Jason said. “About that time, Amazon was growing pretty rapidly and kind of eliminating the web potential, so we decided to go in on retail and do a brick and mortar.”
In 2011, Jason and Molly settled on a storefront at 2411 W. Colorado Ave in Old Colorado City, and business hasn’t slowed down since.
“The store has gotten progressively bigger,” Jason said. “We used to have an office in the back, and we got rid of the office and expanded the retail.”
In 2016, the Smiths launched Republic of Paws’ Salon and Day Spa a block west of the Old Colorado City boutique. As the name suggests, staffers aim to cultivate a calming atmosphere for pets who may be anxious about the grooming process.
“We always had customers coming to us saying, ‘Where should we get our dog groomed?’ and we learned enough about it from just talking to other groomers in the area,” Jason said. “We don’t force-groom any dogs and we have a pretty low-stress environment. … At one of our locations, we don’t have a cage facility at all, so we do one dog at a time. … That’s good for dogs that don’t do well with other dogs. … It’s nice they can come in and leave without encountering another dog,
“We’re not trying to do volume; we’re trying to have a better atmosphere,” Smith added. “It’s a little less chaotic than most.”
In late 2018, Republic of Paws acquired Ruffin’ It, another local independent pet retail outlet. The stores’ two locations — one at Stetson Hills and Powers Boulevard; the other at South Academy Boulevard and Highway 115 — were far enough away from the Old Colorado City store to not naturally compete with Republic of Paws, Jason said. When the previous owner decided to pursue other endeavors, he and Molly were able to keep both stores open.
“We considered them not necessarily true competitors, but more cohorts in trying to convert people from terrible dog food,” Jason said. “We were able to input and upgrade the grooming facilities at both of those locations as well.”
Republic of Paws has managed to keep pace with technology during its decade in operation. Toward the end of 2019, the company rolled out a program that allows customers to select products online for pickup or delivery, Jason said.
“Customers can make those choices and decisions on their own time so that all they have to do is come and pick it up, much like at Target,” Jason said. “That’s something that I want to say we’re on the forefront — we’ve acknowledged that that is where the market might be moving, and so we’re anticipating market trends. Realizing what people want and having those products in your store before they want them is always a challenge, but it’s something that we strive to do.”
Although Republic of Paws has grown far beyond their living room, the Smiths have never strayed from their primary mission: educating customers about nutrition and helping ensure both quality and quantity of life for their pets.
“We love growing up with our customers,” Jason said. “Our customers come in with their puppies and if we can provide what they want and do it well, we get to see the dogs grow up. We have customers that we’ve had since the beginning that still shop with us.”