Episode 17: Luke Silverman – Bark Social

Luke Silverman

Bark Social is the first “dog bar” in the Mid-Atlantic region. It has a 25,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor craft beer, wine, and coffee bar and a professionally monitored (Bark Rangers) off-leash dog park.

Bark Social is the culmination of more than two years of research and refinement from founders Luke Silverman and Jeff Kurtzman. Silverman, an entrepreneur and former reality TV producer with credits including American Idol and The Bachelor, and Kurtzman, a seasoned entrepreneur whose past experience includes co-founder of Better World Books and CEO of Aid Through Trade, both socially responsible ventures.

More than a dog park, the year-round venue offers beer, wine, and coffee, small bites, a climate-controlled “clubhouse” with TVs and Wi-Fi, in addition to a “dog treat bar” (pupsicles and puppy ice cream), dog boutique, and dog wash stations.

Bark Social has partnered with a local coffee roaster, Ceremony Coffee for the morning program, and will complement this with a rotation of local and national craft brews and wines for a “beer garden” like atmosphere in the afternoons and evenings. The Pike & Rose location will offer an array of events such as Doga (dog yoga), daily Yappy Hours, a Halloween dog costume contest, pictures with Santa, singles nights, and even dog birthday parties.

Giving back to the local community and dog non-profits is a critical part of Bark Social’s mission. To honor its launch, Bark Social has launched a t-shirt fundraiser to support five local dog nonprofit organizations; Montgomery County Humane Society, Humane Rescue Alliance, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, MCPAW, and one national organization, Tails of Valor Paws of Honor, a Veteran organization providing social interaction and human/canine bonding resulting in trained services dogs able to assist with the post-combat physical and psychological issues affecting Veterans and their families. Bark Social will donate $5 from each t-shirt sold to its non-profit partners.

 

Learn more about Bark Social!

Visit their website at www.barksocial.com.

Follow Bark Social on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/barksocialbar/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bark_social/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/bark-social/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bark_social/


Hey, my name is luke Silverman. I’m the Ceo and co founder of bark Social and you’re tuned into the Animal Innovation show. You’ve tuned into the Animal innovation show where we feature people, products, services and ideas that are helping animals and the people who care for them live better lives if it’s innovative and if it helps animals, you can find it here first. So get ready. Here comes this week’s newest innovation for animals. I like it. You’re gonna be my spokesman. So thank you for coming on. Glad to have you here, excited to be here. Thanks so much chris I’m really excited to talk to somebody who’s mission driven and you know, their mission and the goal of the organization is to really help animals because at the end of the day, I think there’s a huge opportunity to merge a successful business and also give back to our four legged friends. Well, thanks, I appreciate that. So why don’t you tell us who you are and tell us about how you’re innovating and helping animals? Yeah, absolutely. So my name is luke again, I’m 34 years old originally from the mid atlantic region, grew up in new york city in pennsylvania, lives most of my time on the west Coast Post college on you know, actually California Oregon and Washington. I spent some time in texas as well, NBA from University of michigan and you know, just like most people when you’re going back to grad school, you do it for a reason. My reason was I was not happy with my career. I was formerly an entertainment and the biggest regret I ever have was leaving entertainment and getting into corporate MedTech and it just wasn’t happy. Yeah, I went back to grad school realized that you know, my entrepreneurial spirit just crumbled to ashes when I was in corporate America and I basically walked in one day and I, I quit my job on the spot and I just took time off and tried to figure out what I wanted to do next, right. I was going to grad school and I was pretty much a, you know, a 30 year old full time student, which was fun and my now wife was not thrilled by with that, said I started going to similar concepts that were, you know, quote unquote dog bars and I just felt like they were great businesses, they were great people, they had an awesome community and I could take it to the areas in which I grew up, which is the mid atlantic region. I also felt that entrepreneurship is something that’s really exciting to me. I’ve had, you know, side businesses before. Most of my family members are entrepreneurs and I believe in doing good, both for my shareholders, but also for people and other causes that I care about. And that’s how bark social kind of came to be, where we can create a great business with a great community, but we can also give back through fundraising events, adoption events and then some of our merchandise that we sell, we can identify, I guess socially responsible companies that give back a portion of their products and stuff like that. So today we’ve donated over $600 to local pet charities. And that was before we even opened through uh, selling a T shirt where we gave a portion of the, of the sales to six different charities. I also carry a couple of different lines, ones, a CBD line that gives back percentage of sales to veterans who suffer from PTSD. And they basically get emotional support dogs as well as actually trained their uh, service dogs and transfer them and train them up and give them to people in need. And then also, there’s another dog toy company that I that I partner with and their whole mission is every dog tore. They sell, they give two meals to widows and orphans in another country. And so for me, it’s about, you know, creating great returns from my investors and my shareholders, but then creating a great experience for my four legged and two legged customers, but also doing it the right way. And, you know, more or less like actually giving a darn about what we’re doing. Yeah, I love that. So tell us more about the concept. Tell people what is bark social, what is it going to be? Yeah. So bark social is essentially an indoor outdoor dog park that you pretty much just drop a coffee shop and a beer garden in the middle of it. Don’t have to think much. Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I didn’t create the idea, I was inspired by some other great entrepreneurs and some people who I’m still friendly with today and I appreciate the encouragement that they gave to me, but basically what it is, it’s just a great place to hang out, have a beer or a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, you know, pop on your computer, hang out with your friends, your significant other and uh, you know, if you want to watch some tv, we’ve got that too. But really it’s about elevating the dog park experience and creating that cool cohesive group of of, you know, responsible dog owners. Yeah, and I really like that, I like the fact that it’s like a mixed use, right? I mean the dogs are always having fun, they’re hanging out and playing together and I know you guys have people even watching the dogs, it’s kind of like a doggy daycare. I can go have a drink at the bar and watch the game and somebody is making sure that my dog’s not pissing everybody off. Exactly, you’re right. And so we’re super excited about that. You know, it’s, it’s one of those things where you kind of killed two or three, maybe even four birds with one stone. Uh I know this is an animal products, but exactly, but yeah, so, I mean, you know, for me, I love coffee when I was working with Jeff, my co founder on this business, very early on before anybody would even pick up a phone to talk to us. We were working in coffee shops and you know, you gotta make that fundamental choice to say, hey, do I stay home and have a cup of coffee with my dog? Or do I go out to the coffee shop and grab a cup and you know, most coffee shops don’t allow dogs. And uh, my dog is like my child, my wife and I, we call him our baby and most people are most of our friends and a lot of people in our, in our age bracket feel the same way. And so for us, it’s just, it goes hand in hand, right? I mean if my dog can hang out underneath me or sit on my lap while I’m working on my computer, well, why can’t I watch tv in the background or have a cup of coffee or take a zoom call? Right? And so that was kind of the inspiration. And then I kind of went to similar concepts and I really, I liked some things, I didn’t like some other things and and I just felt like there was this opportunity to kind of really kind of create the experience and make it a place where, you know, at the end of the day, if you’re going to be upset that you get a little dirt on your jeans here, it’s probably not a place for you and that’s okay, right? Because dog owners, you know, I think I just saw a report today. Over 50% of U. S. Households have at least one dog. That means over 50% of households understand that dogs drool, right? If you’re going to get upset, the dog licks your face at a bark social, that’s fine. But we’re not we’re okay with, you know, having that person who is not a dog owner, like not be happy here. The prerequisite to enjoying bark social is, you know, you got to love dogs and uh it’s not for everyone, we get it. But you know what if you like dogs or you can tolerate dogs and you’re probably gonna like Mark social, we know you love animals, but maybe you’re not sure how you can get involved to help save the hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs needlessly euthanized every year. Did you know there’s one place you can go to to sign up as a volunteer transporter foster or even social ambassador for rescue animals, Joubert dot com is custom built by animal rescuers for animal rescuers. You simply create a profile and choose the ways that you can help do, but is proud to support more than 5000 rescues and shelters and more than 30,000 duper tears just like you working to save animals, join us and you can save lives, simply go to www dot google dot com to get started today. Are you designing it as a place that I come hang out for the day or is this just pop in for a coffee or a drink? Give me the idea is there going to be lots of places for people that sit and hang out. Yeah. Yeah. So the big thing is kind of dwell time right in retail. And so for us, we want people to be productive. You know, whether that’s coworking kind of um, whether that’s there, you know, working on their Excel spreadsheet or their power point or their weekly report. These locations are typically pretty quiet. They’re not as as loud as one would think. And so in the event you don’t have a pitch to the board, you could probably take a phone call here and a lot of people are doing that. So there’s, that’s the daytime format. The evening format is, is more along the lines of a traditional bar, beer garden, you know, groups of people post Covid during Covid. It’s, it’s all out, most of its all outdoors. Uh, the county continues to have different regulations for everything, but with that said, you know, it’s going to be an outdoor, socially distanced experience that as close to normal as possible pre Covid. But yeah, you know, my wife and I, if this wasn’t my business, I would most likely meet some of our friends there and we would have a night out where our dogs were running around like lunatics chasing balls while, you know, my wife’s having a glass of wine and I’m having a hard shelter beer. And so, um, yeah, yeah, this is, uh, it’s a hangout. So I’m curious like, where were you in the launch when Covid hit last year? I mean obviously this must have major tilt a little bit and say, do we have to adjust how we’re doing things? Yeah. So we had just closed our first round of funding and we were kind of, we’re kind of nervous. I don’t think anyone ever knew what Covid would be. Right. I um, I mean, I think, I think the health professionals had a good idea and probably some really smart bankers and research analysts who, you know, saw this coming for a while or had something planned up or mocked up. I’m definitely not there. And so yeah, there were a lot of questions. These locations take time from a planning and building and construction standpoint. So we said, you know what, we’re gonna do this and if we come out on the other side of this, then we’ll be better off. Covid has been interesting because it’s both helped us. And it’s hurt us in the sense, helped us in one way because we’re mostly outside, uh, it’s hurt us in the sense that it’s hurt everybody where communication, coordination, you know, supplies, right, are all difficult to do in a, in a new normal. I would say that to the business, it didn’t really affect it. It was more operational and logistics. Nightmare. Great example. I’ve ordered 350 patio heaters and I have less than 10% of those. And that was because I didn’t need 350 but I figured out early on that I kept placing orders and they kept getting canceled. So I said, you know, I’m just going to place a bunch of orders and then see what comes in. And so, you know, I placed orders for, I think lots of 15 like all the time. I mean it was crazy. I had 15 patio heaters with probably 20 different suppliers and I had multiple versions of each. And it’s because like they kept getting canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled. And then I had some partial orders come in. And so those are the things that hurt. Right. Great examples. Adirondack chairs. I placed over 200 Adirondack chairs and I knew again they were kept getting delayed and canceled and stuff like that. And so I have nowhere near 200. I have about 10% of hat and then I was able to buy some one from another store in the area. But those are the types of like Covid related things that hurt. And I would say that the business is healthy. We’re excited and the challenges that we’ve had are really not unique to this concept, but more just the new normal slash dumpster fire that Covid has created. It’s definitely changed things, right? You had to approach things differently. But like you said, there’s always opportunities in these things. So what’s, what’s the vision for bark social? I mean, where are you going with this now? You’re going to get it going right? You get people coming and hanging out. What’s the future look like? Yeah, no. Great question. Number one, we, uh, we hope to be a thriving business where we’re bringing jobs back to our local economy. I think that’s number one, you know, I’ve been unemployed numerous times throughout my career and when you don’t have a job, it hurts, it hurts to your self esteem and uh, you know, I know what it feels like. And so for me, one of the coolest things is to create jobs. I’m an entrepreneur, I love the fact that I could work for myself, but I also think that creating jobs and ideally a happy workplace is something that like really, really drives me. So number one, I want to be a great place to work. Number two, I want to have a great experience for my customers. Again, both four legged and two legged customers, or even three, maybe maybe three legged customers, one leg of customers and no, like, I mean it doesn’t matter for all of our human and canine customers. We want to be a really great place that we really kind of create this bond between the human and the canine and most importantly, just have a great group of customers and loyal customers who feel as though it’s a cool place to come bring your friends, show them off, show off the, you know, the location, but they feel this sense of community and I think that’s something that a lot of people are really yearning for right now. I also think that bark social can be a place for healing, you know, not going to get political, but we all know that, you know, we’re deeply divided country right now. And the one thing that I really appreciate and what I, what I continue to tell people over time, every time I talked to media or do an interview or podcast is, you know, I think dogs are the great neutralizer, it doesn’t matter who they are, where they come from, what they’re, what, what beliefs they have, right? Um, but dogs are inherently loving, curious and loyal beings and I think there’s a, there’s something that humans can take from dogs right now that I think we all need a little bit is that we should all just kind of come together and you know, be like dogs and just play around, have fun, you know, and just have that genuine enthusiasm and love for each other, which I think we’re missing as a country right now. Finally, I think being mission driven and always giving back to those causes near and dear is something that’s really important. So, um, I’m an entrepreneur, I believe in free market, but I also believe in doing it responsibly morally and ethically. And that to me is something that I believe we can do pretty easily. And I don’t think it’s, it’s this radical idea. And so how do we do that? We give back financially to local organizations that we support. Like there’s six that we’re currently working with right now. Most of them are kind of adoption agencies and you know, foster networks and stuff like that. We’ll do adoption events with some of those partners, will do fundraising events with some of those partners and will continue to work with vendors who are mission driven. Um, and so I have some sort of story that ties back to mainly a dog, uh, focus type of nonprofit, but that’s not exclusively K nine because you know, just like you and me and probably every other person, there are other things outside of dogs that we care about, right, Whether that’s cancer, heart disease or, you know, muscular dystrophy or something like that. And so really, I think we will be an event space for some really cool opportunities to bring awareness to causes that are near and dear to our heart. And if we can do all those things, uh, and we can create that experience, then I think we’re going to be okay. Have you seen amazing animal foster videos on facebook and instagram and wondered how you could create videos for your foster cats to highlight their true personalities and get them adopted? Do you want to be an adoption ambassador for your foster animals but lack the tools to easily capture and post compelling video of their true personality? Is your shelter rescue groups signed up as an organization on Dilbert through the revolutionary foster space module. Do. It is the only platform that has adoption ambassador pages so that you as the foster can upload videos and photos of your foster animal to their own unique instagram style page, Be an adoption ambassador for your foster animal and help them to get adopted faster. Sign up for free at www dot dilbert dot com and fill out your foster profile and let your shelter rescue know today about Joubert foster space so that you can get started. Yeah, no, I really love the mission focus, the local community focus, right? And like you said, dogs are kind of like the Great Equalizer and they build bonds with us and they help humans to build bonds with each other. And you know you look at your dog and you go, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to be a dog some days, right? You’ve got a nice easy life. So I really like the focus that you’re putting on this. I love the community aspect. You know the place that people can go and hang out and your dog as you said, I know our dog is part of the family, we pretty much don’t go anywhere without the dog unless we’re going on vacation in which case someone else comes, take care of him. So making a place that I can go that’s dog friendly, catering to dogs, right? That has what I need for my dog. I think it’s just a great concept. I’m really excited to see what you guys are going to do with this. Yeah, yeah, no, I appreciate it. We’re excited and you know, I think I sum it up, sum it up by saying, I hope we’re the modern day cheers, but not in that dingy Chicago bar in the basement, but the feeling that cheers evoked from, you know, some of some of those episodes where it’s kind of like a family, right? Uh, and they look out for each other and they help each other, you know, fast forward from the eighties to today. That’s what we’re going for. Nice. Well this is really cool luke. I’m really excited to see what you guys are going to do with this. And as it grows, if people are interested, they want to learn more about it. Get in touch with you, where can they go? We are on the major social channels. So instagram, it’s bark underscore social and then on our website it’s bark social dot com, you’ll see all of our e commerce products there. Everything we sell in, our small retail store is available online for purchase, we ship internationally as well as domestically and some of those kind of philanthropic mission driven products are on there, including the dog toys that I mentioned, the give back t shirt that I mentioned. Yeah, so so you can do that on, on facebook, it’s bark social bar and uh, on twitter it’s bark underscore social, so same twitter and instagram hashtag additionally, if anyone has any questions, you know, you can always shoot us an email through our website and that’s info at bark social dot com. Very cool. Well this is really great. I’m really excited to see where you’re going to go. Is there anything else you want to mention before? Wrap things up? No, I’m just, you know, we’re excited to open, give back to the local economy, create jobs, create a really cool, safe experience during Covid via social distance thing because a lot of our space is outdoor and open air and really just do the right thing and give a darn about what we’re doing and do a moral, ethical and, and most importantly a mission driven way. And uh, and if we can do all that, then we’re happy. And, and hopefully if anyone gets inspired by this, that’s great. And if anyone has any great connections to mission driven organizations or you know, other great canine nonprofits feel free to reach out, always happy to chat and uh, you know, create a better place in this world for for for the creatures that give us so much love back. Yeah, I love that. And we’ll remind our viewers before we wrap up here luke that if they’ve got an idea or know somebody that I should talk to for a product of place, anything that’s helping animals let us know, just go to innovations dot show on your browser and let us know and we’ll get them on the show. So thanks again. Look, I really appreciate you coming on tonight. Absolutely. Thanks so much. Have a great night. Thanks for joining us for the animal innovations show. If you want to volunteer to help animals, check out Dilbert dot com where you can join tens of thousands of duper tears, supporting rescues and shelters around the world to help animals. And if you know if something or someone innovative that’s helping animals let us know by going to www dot innovations dot show

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