TOPSHAM — Not many 15-year-old boys can say they have been in business for more than five years, but Austin Kidder can.
The Topsham teenager started his dog toy business, Dusty’s Toys, at the age of 9. He said the idea came to him during the process of moving to Maine from Minnesota. Kidder broached the idea of creating dog toys with his grandfather, who helped him brainstorm ideas. He tested a few different designs by taking them to a nearby dog park to see which designs dogs liked best.
“They loved it and people said they wanted to buy (the toys),” Kidder said.”Later on, my grandfather said, ‘I know the owner of a store in Belfast,’ The Green Store, and it just grew from there.”
Kidder, a student at North Yarmouth Academy, designs all the toys on his own and manufactures them with the help of his family. There are four designs featuring recycled tennis balls and a variety of recycled rope.
Kidder also expanded to include recycled rope leashes last year after his stepfather taught him how to hand-splice rope, he said.
He said the process involved to create the toys – which his customers have described as being “pretty tough and not easy (for dogs) to destroy” – involves many steps. First is drilling holes in the tennis balls, then cutting x’s to allow the rope through, then tying a knot in the rope before gluing it inside the tennis ball.
Kidder recycles tennis balls from Maine Pines Racquet & Fitness in Brunswick and gets rope from several other local businesses. He recently acquired some climbers rope, but has also used three-strand nylon rope and lobster pot warp rope.
Kidder set his prices – ranging from $5 to $8 for toys and $20 for leashes – based on research of other dog toys on the market combined with his own costs to create them.
He named his business after his grandparents’ dog. Kidder’s own dog, Champ, sometimes helps test new designs, but Kidder said Champ isn’t much of a toy dog.
Kidder also handles advertising and acquiring new stores for his merchandise, though sometimes a store comes to him seeking products. He sold a leash to the daughter of a garden story owner in New Hampshire and the owner called to see about carrying the leashes in her store, he said. He recently was approached at a craft fair by a Portland-based catalog company that hopes feature Dusty’s Toys, he said.
He estimated it takes a couple of hours per month to manage his business.
Fellow classmates “think it’s really cool” Kidder has his own business, he said, adding there is at least one other classmate who has ambitions to start a business.
He estimated sales of nearly 300 toys and leashes last year and said he plans to continue creating dog toys around his other extracurricular activities, which include hockey, the robotics club and music.
Kidder’s mother, Anne Frewin, said there are a lot of repeat customers. She said Kidder has always invented things and said there is a lot of support from the rest of the family.
“Austin’s had a lot of help, but he has all the ideas, he does all the marketing,” she said. “All ideas have been his and how to get them sold.”
Dusty’s Toys are carried by seven stores in three states. Kidder also sells his dog toys at craft fairs and through his website at dustystoys.com.
Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two Jack Russell terriers owned by Tasha Dugas play with a toy from Austin Kidder’s Dusty’s Toys.