Innovation
December 6, 2022

Breeder’s Choice owner Joey Herrick: ‘I wanted to make animals’ lives better through nutrition’

In 1985, a television show you’ve never heard of changed the way we feed our pets. Today, Wells Fargo is helping Joey Herrick revolutionize the pet food industry once again.

At left, a headshot of Joey Herrick. At right, a close-up shot of dry pieces of dog food being sorted by a machine.
A musician by trade, Joey Herrick co-founded Natural Balance in 1989. Today, he owns Breeder’s Choice and plans to innovate the pet food industry for a second time.

Joey Herrick just knew he had a hit.

His 1985 TV pilot, “Castle Alley,” starred popular comedian Phyllis Diller and Alan Hale, co-star of “Gilligan’s Island.” It was Herrick’s passion project that was sort of “American Bandstand” meets “Cheers.”

But after the cameras rolled and Herrick watched his show, he didn’t recognize it.  “What we shot wasn’t what I created,” he said. “The whole thing changed from my initial idea. It wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t right.” “Castle Alley” didn’t get a series order, and Herrick never made another TV show.

About a year later, one of the producers of the show ran into Herrick in Los Angeles.

“He said, ‘Joey, you almost pulled off something no one ever has,’” Herrick said. “’You should’ve gone with your gut about how the show should’ve been.’”

By then, Herrick had left entertainment behind and was working in the pet food industry. He took that lesson — going with his gut — to heart. And Herrick, co-founder of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, or Natural Balance, used that advice to help grow the company from scratch in 1989 to a $300 million business in 2013 — by doing what felt right.

“I learned so much from ‘Castle Alley,’” he said. “I listen to people and value their input, but if there’s something I really believe in, I’m moving forward. I would rather fail at something because I was just wrong than fail because I wasn’t strong enough as a leader to tell someone ‘I disagree with you.’”

Natural Balance has been hailed as a pioneer in organic and sustainable food for pets since its founding.

“Feeding pets nutritious and naturally sourced foods like potatoes, green peas, and ducks — we created all those formulas,” said Herrick. “I’ve always had pets and loved dogs. I was a musician by trade, but there was always something about animals. I created a canned chicken chili in the 1980s, sold that business, and used the money to create Natural Balance.”

Today, Herrick’s leadership is the backbone for Breeder’s Choice and its Lucy Pet, Avoderm, and Pinnacle brands.

After selling Natural Balance in 2013 and pursuing other interests for a few years, Herrick bought Breeder’s Choice in 2019, bringing with him a thirst for growth and a hunger to again reinvent the pet food industry. For Herrick, taking the 75-year-old company and making it an industry leader isn’t a dream or vision, it’s inevitable.

And to grow rapidly, Breeder’s Choice needed access to capital and credit for long-term projects like a complete refitting of its Irwindale, California, plant, and a state-of-the-art laboratory for food testing and mass-refinement of raw products.

“We wanted a bank that could grow with us,” said Herrick.

So, remembering the lessons learned from his “Castle Alley” days, Herrick trusted his instincts.

At left, close-up of Lucy bag of dog food. At right: “This was a no-brainer for us, and we won the business because of our team approach, cohesiveness, and coordination.” – Brad Whetten, Commercial Banking leader.

“You have to hire great people to run a good business,” he said. “And then you have to take what they say under advisement to make the best decisions.”

Randy Jackson, part-owner of Breeder’s Choice, is a Wells Fargo customer and, during the company’s search for a bank, reached out to Meghana Bhatnagar, senior small business development representative. Eventually, the opportunity landed at the desk of Brad Whetten, Commercial Banking leader, where he directed a cross-Commercial Bank team that won the business for Wells Fargo.

“We worked really hard to understand their current challenges and strategic goals,” Whetten said. “Because they deal with large institutional clients like Chewy and Amazon, we had to customize their line of credit, and that’s one of the things that separated us.”

Wells Fargo’s flexibility in helping clients across the revenue spectrum was a plus for Herrick. And his relationship with Whetten, as well as the bank’s treasury management technology and platform, didn’t hurt either.

“Brad’s a good salesman and banker,” said Herrick. “We felt good about him. After talking with him, you feel like you can trust that he can do what he says. He’s got a great attitude, demeanor, and personality.”

Whetten, however, gives credit to the entire team that secured the business of Breeder’s Choice.

“Our capabilities as a commercial bank match up well with their strategic goals,” said Whetten. “Joey is incredibly experienced as an operator, and they have a capable leadership team. This was a no-brainer for us, and we won the business because of our team approach, cohesiveness, and coordination.”

With its new financial relationship secured, Herrick is eager to get back to the business of making good food for pets.

“I want to change the industry,” he said. “A company is only as good and honest as the people at the top. And we love animals. It’s a privilege to be working to give dogs and cats high-quality food.”