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This Millikin alum keeps business all in the family ... including her three dogs

Xena, Roxy and Riche, also known as the TriPoms, are more than just a namesake. They personally taste-test each and every batch made by their "parents" to ensure their canine friends are getting nothing but the best.

The first of the TriPoms, Xena, is 4-years-old, tri-colored and five and a half pounds of pure personality.

"You never have to guess what she is thinking," Gullifer says. "It is written all over her face."

Roxy is believed to be 8-years-old, blonde, and a puppy mill rescue who is absolutely addicted to Gullifer.

"She didn't know how to be held, loved and cared for at first," she says. "She was skinny and scared, but now she is a beautiful little girl who is spoiled like you wouldn't believe!"

And last, but not least, is Riche, the 3-year-old, all black, male of the TriPoms.

"He is happy-go-lucky, loves to play fetch, absolutely loves the cold and snow and also loves to cuddle," Gullifer says. "He will run up on us and throw himself upside down for belly scratches!"

In case you couldn't tell by the fact that they started and named an entire business for them, these three dogs are more than just companions to Gullifer and Bryant.

"Our three Pomeranians are our little poof-ball kids!"

What are small, business-savvy and furry all over? Xena, Roxy and Riche, three Pomeranians known as the TriPoms. Using her dogs as the inspiration behind her business, as well as the face of it, Autumn Gullifer '97 proves that running your own business can be a treat.

Gullifer operates TriPom Chews out of her home in Bath, Maine, with her fiancé and co-owner, Ken Bryant. According to Gullifer, educating others on the dangers of dog treats and food made in China has been the biggest perk of owning her own business.

TriPom Chews are all-natural, homemade chicken jerky dog and cat treats packaged by the owners themselves, using no preservatives or additives. The business was started in February 2010 after Gullifer and Bryant found FDA warnings issued specifically for chicken jerky dog treats made in China - the same chicken jerky that is sold on store shelves today.

"We started to come across hundreds of reviews online about this Chinese-made chicken jerky and how it was killing dogs or making them horribly sick," Gullifer says.

According to Gullifer, Chinese chicken jerky causes Fanconi Syndrome, which affects the kidneys. Although researchers have been unable to determine which ingredient in this jerky causes the syndrome, Gullifer and Bryant know of many people who have either lost their dogs to this, or have spent thousands of dollars on veterinary bills in an effort to save them.

Recently, there has been yet another warning from the FDA regarding chicken jerky from China, and this time the media picked up on the story. Gullifer's business has since exploded with orders coming in from all around the country.

Originally operating out of Chicago, Gullifer and Bryant experimented for a year with different cooking techniques, using their TriPoms as taste-testers. Once they perfected the recipe, they gave sample treats to the pets of friends and family members, who demanded more.

"We really believed we had a great product and were fulfilling a need within the pet treat realm," she says.

After researching the aspects of owning and managing a business, Gullifer and Bryant began marketing and selling online in March 2010, and by April, their treats were being sold in a pet store. However, working full-time jobs in human resources and IT, respectively, and running their treat-making operation on nights and weekends proved to be a heavy work load.

"It got to a point where we didn't have time to develop any more products or make any more jerky than we already were, and we were barely keeping up with sales," Gullifer says. "In June, we decided to move to Maine and do this full-time."

Their mid-August move helped them turn an up-and-coming mom and pop shop into a thriving business. After just two months of building their reputation by attending dog-related charity events and craft shows, Gullifer and Bryant were selling TriPom Chews in 17 stores, not only in Maine, but also in Massachusetts, New Jersey and their original flagship store in Chicago.

"Maine has a very 'buy local' mentality, and we knew people would appreciate and support our business," she says. "I'm not saying it wouldn't have survived in Chicago, but there are fewer road blocks here. For example, in Chicago, we wouldn't be able to legally run this business out of our home, but we can in Maine."

When thinking about the success of her business, Gullifer credits the education she received at Millikin as the strong foundation she needs to remain successful. As a theatre major with an emphasis in directing, she acquired most of her management experience by stage-managing main stage productions. "Stage management was like a full-time job on top of 20 or more credit hours per semester," Gullifer says. "I gained a very strong work ethic at Millikin, which translated over to my career and now to my business and being self-employed."

Thanking instructor Denise Myers and adviser Barry Pearson, vice president for academic affairs, for the chance to manage her first main stage production, Gullifer believes her stage-managing experience helped prepare her for life as a business owner.

"I may not have pursued my major, but I absolutely relied on my education as I grew into my career," she says. "Everything has been a stepping stone, but Millikin and the theatre department built a strong foundation."


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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL