Derek Riker got off to a rough start with the canine world at an early age, but he’s made amends and now, he and fellow dog lover and business partner Zach Capps are staking their futures on Fido.

“I was bitten in the butt by a really big dog when I was 10,” said Riker, who with Capps own “Woof Threads,” a start-up that manufactures and markets dog bandanas. That fear of dogs didn’t last long and today Riker’s 3-year-old Boston terrier, Brhaj, has renewed his faith in dogs.

Woof Threads, bandanas, entrepreneurs

Derek Riker, left, and Zach Capps are surrounded by Woof Threads product, along with Brhaj.

Riker and Capps graduated from Clemson University’s MBAe program in August and already the entrepreneurs have tweaked Woof Threads’ strategy for delivering digitally printed dog bandanas, manufactured in the Upstate by The Bandanna Company, Greenville. The shift in their business blueprint aims to tap into a bigger piece of the estimated $60 billion spent annually in the U.S. on pets.

“Derek and I were finishing up our MBA programs and we both were struggling to find a niche business that we were comfortable with,” said Capps. “In our brainstorming for ideas, we discovered each of us loved dogs, so we did some research and determined there was an unmet need for people like us – dog lovers.”

The Greenville business partners started Woof Threads while still in school, making bandanas from recycled military camouflage fabric. Part of their profits went to Canine Angels, a non-profit providing service dogs to disabled veterans. Since then, Woof Threads’ strategy has been modified to reach a broader audience through college licensing agreements.

Riker, from Charleston, and Capps, of Easley, thought it made sense to marry two things consumers are very passionate about – their pets and their sports teams. “People care deeply about their dogs and love dressing them up. Very simply, we’re leveraging that passion by providing attire made of high-quality athletic material that tells the world they care about their dogs and are loyal to their sports teams,” said Capps.

“On the local level, we currently have college licensing agreements with Clemson and Furman universities,” said Riker. “Our plan is to get national collegiate licensing and we see real potential in the minor league sports, sports apparel industries, and boutique pet store markets.”

The bandanas sell for $19.99 and can be purchased in a couple of Charleston-area retail outlets, in Greenville at Paws & Claws, and a San Diego store.

The entrepreneurial pair know their individual strengths and weaknesses. Each brings a distinct talent to the bandana business. Capps is the creative branding voice, and as a finance undergraduate, manages the company’s numbers, while Riker has an abundance of technical know-how.

“Derek’s a savant in so many technical aspects of the business,” Capps said. “From our web presence to accounting and shipping, he has a knack for being ahead of the game on our operations.”

The pair admits the Clemson football team’s success this season couldn’t have unfolded at a better time for Woof Threads. Among their efforts to market the business was a dog video at Death Valley, built around a college football-hype theme, featuring 40 shelter dogs wearing the Woof Threads bandanas.

Zach and Derek credit the Clemson MBA entrepreneurial program for giving their business a jumpstart.

“The program gave us the guidance, motivation and confidence that was needed to dive into a start-up endeavor like this,” said Derek. “It helped us build the foundation for a scalable, sustainable business that we believe has tremendous potential.”

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