By TED CARTER
Sometimes your best business idea is sitting right behind you.
Addison Edmonds discovered that as he drove his pickup truck with his British chocolate lab Gunner in the back. Was Gunner really safe back there in the truck bed, enclosed in a flimsy portable kennel he’d bought for him?
Hardly, decided Edmonds, a 2005 University of Mississippi business management grad whose worry over Gunner’s safety led him to develop and now market what the Center for Pet Safety says is the strongest and safest portable kennel it has tested.
“I wanted a top-of-the-line pet carrier that I knew would be safe,” he said.
For a guide, Edmonds settled on the super durable Yeti Cooler, whose maker claims its Tundra model can withstand a hungry grizzly bear’s smashing, prying, scratching, biting and tossing.
So far, Edmonds and the engineers with whom he works have developed an intermediate size kennel for dogs up to 75 pounds (Gunner’s size). Larger and smaller size kennels will soon be designed and put on the market, said Edmonds, who has based Gunner Kennels LLC in his hometown of Brentwood, Tenn., and contracted with a manufacturer in North Carolina to make the kennels.
“Mine are the same material the Yeti is made of,” Edmonds said, referring to the polyethylene plastic that Yeti rotationally molds to produce a cooler of one-piece construction.
The result for Edmonds is a kennel that “out-performed everything we tested,” said Lindsey A. Wolko, whose Center for Pet Safety teamed with automaker Subaru for testing the kennels at the Center’s Reston, Va., facility. They used “crash dummy dogs” to test the sturdiness of the kennels at various collision speeds.
Ahead of the tests at the Pet Safety Center, Edmonds had borrowed a crash dog from the Center to do testing of his own. “We selected his product for testing because of the due diligence he was doing in the background,” Wolko said. “Until we independently tested it, we had no idea how it would hold up.”
With the main test – the 30 mph crash – “the whole goal was containment of the dummy dog before and after the wreck,” Edmonds said.
Other kennels that cost in the $3,000 range and claim to be safe performed poorly, he added.
“We won overall.”
The study results landed Edmonds and his kennel an appearances on Good Morning America and Fox News and in publications such as USA Today and Motor Trend, he said.
Edmonds credits the rotational-mold manufacturing process for his kennel’s exceptionally strong performance at the Pet Safety Center.
It starts with plastic pellets that produce a powdery polyethylene after placed into a giant mold of the kennel, he said.
“They clamp it all down and put it into a 500 square- foot oven,” Edmonds said of the mold. “It rotates around” in three different directions on a trio of axes as the polyethylene melts. The rotations ensure the plastic coasting goes on evenly, he added.
The kennel still rotates after it is pulled from the oven and the mold begins to cool. With the cool down, the liquefied plastic is rotating in the mold and solidifying evenly and creating a consistent wall thickness, Edmonds said.
The kennel is secured in a truck bed by tie-downs at each corner and held in place by stainless steel fasteners. Gunner Kennels sells tie-down straps with each kennel. It advises purchasing them “because they were the only ones that didn’t tear during testing,” Edmonds said.
Making each kennel takes some time and for now Edmonds is putting only one kennel mold at a time into the giant oven.
“We have capacity to make four at a time,” he said. “We’re getting more tooling to help make more at one time.”
Edmonds will need to step up production if he carries out his goal is to get Gunner Kennels placed in national outdoor stores such as Cabelas Sporting Goods and Dick’s Sporting Goods. At the moment, he is selling the kennels through GunDogSupply.com, an online retailer based in Starkville, and at Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart, Ark. The keenls also are avilable on his company website, GunnerKennels.com and sell for about $500.
Orders are at about a two-week backlog, according to Edmonds.
As recently as four years ago, Edmonds would not have had a way to independently demonstrate the strength of his kennels. That changed with Wolko’s founding of the Pet Safety Center, a task the pet safety advocate took on after a sudden stop injured her dog.
No federal effectiveness standards exist for pet safety products, largely because the government does not classify pet products as consumer products. “It is their convenient way of looking away,” Wolko said.
“In 2013 we published the first standards for the safety harness. We work with notable crash experts to develop the standards.”
The Pet Safety Center’s efforts often get assists from private sector sponsors, such as with Subaru in the kennel testing.
The Center tests the safety of such products as pet food, in addition to crash survivability using kennels and safety harnesses.
“We’re not trying to federally regulate,” she said. “We’re not being a nanny state.”
Rather, the Center seeks to separate fact from marketing spin on products that claim to keep pets safe, Wolko said.
Each product that proves itself safe can be shipped to market with the Center for Pet Safety’s Seal of Approval, she added.
The Gunner Kennel will have one, she said.
Edmonds is pleased. “Dog tested dog approved,” he said.