PERHAM, Minn. — As you walk along the aisles of the Backyard, your eyes will familiar pet store favorites, such as toys for Fido or food for your feline. Yet, as you continue to walk down the aisles, staring at the stocked shelves, you may see an item that is not a usual pet store staple: perhaps milk replacer or shavings for your chicks.

The Doll family of Perham didn't set out to run a pet store in the beginning. But changing rural demographics, with fewer farms and ranches to use their original services as a feed, nutritional consulting and seed company, meant that they had to diversify to bring on a second generation.

From cattle to hogs, to kittens and dogs, the average farmer has many different mouths to feed and tend to. While the list of feed and supplies may seem a bit daunting and time consuming, the Backyard has set out to be a one-stop shop for animal needs.

Before the Backyard

In 1995, Joseph Doll and his wife, Lori, created J&L Nutritional Consulting. While Joseph had been working in the livestock industry prior to the creation of J&L, he decided to break away and become an independent consultant in 1995, never looking back.

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Joseph Doll became an independent consultant in 1995. (Agweek / Emily Beal)
Joseph Doll became an independent consultant in 1995. (Agweek / Emily Beal)
“We do service accounts 150 miles west of here and 70-80 miles east of here for beef, dairy and cow calf operations. I am usually out in the country three to four days a week working on dairy farms, walking through the cattle, going through the cattle and going through the feeding process. We sample the producers' forages and look at the feeding process to help better the herd,” Doll said.

After the forage samples come back from the labs, Doll will help the producers incorporate the missing component to their livestock’s diet.

“We incorporate what the animal needs into their diet. We try to match up the correct protein for that rumen,” Joseph said.

Within J&L Nutritional Consulting, the business sells feed to local producers as well as producers scattered throughout Minnesota and North Dakota. However, Joseph noticed another important piece was missing from their business.

“We saw that a lot of the corn being utilized was not being digested by the animal. So, after doing a bunch of research, we quickly found out that 97% of the corn sowed here in the United States is used for grain, it's not used for livestock,” he said.

This discovery led J&L Nutritional Consulting to dive into another area of business, a seed company. All seeds that are produced through J&L are made with one thing in mind: your livestock.

While J&L Nutritional Consulting undoubtedly grew from its start in 1995, when Joseph and Lori’s sons came back to work for the family business, the sons were faced with a challenge: the need to diversify.

Diversifying the Business

“When my other son decided to come home after he graduated from Jamestown and wanted to get involved in the business, we were kind of at a crossroads. We said, ‘For you to come home, you have to be able to generate some income, and you have to be able to generate your own income, because there just isn’t enough here to do it.’ So, he and his brother went and did some demographics, and they brought them to my wife and I, and they said ‘Hey, will you listen to it?’ And we listened. We ended up opening what we call a pet center here. The farming industry and the dairy industry has just gotten worse and worse. There’s no small farms anymore, even a 500 cow farm now is almost small. So in that respect we knew we needed to do something, and so we diversified,” Joseph Doll said.

The Backyard offers a wide variety of animal products. (Agweek / Emily Beal)
The Backyard offers a wide variety of animal products. (Agweek / Emily Beal)

The diversification of the pet store, also known as the Backyard, came in 2007, and has been growing ever since.

Since opening in 2007, the Backyard has added grooming, boarding and doggy daycare services to their business.

“When I came back, we focused a little more on pets and transitioned almost to a full on pet store, anything you need for your backyard animals, companion animals and farm animals too. The grooming was a big deal for us. Once we opened that up it was good. It brings in a lot of traffic, and while they are there, the owner can shop for their dog too,” said Taylor Doll, general manager of all operations.

The Backyard offers grooming services. (Agweek / Emily Beal)
The Backyard offers grooming services. (Agweek / Emily Beal)

In addition, the backyard has something for everybody, no matter what animals you may have.

“The name ‘the Backyard’ kind of encompassed everything you could think of. You have your cats, your dogs, some livestock, a little bit of everything. The market kind of keeps on changing, but with the Backyard name we were able to catch it all. Our demographic is extremely versatile, we do have a lot of farmers, they are probably our No. 1 clientele. Now, we have farmers who need milk replacer and calf starter, and they might get a 50 pound bag of dog food while they're in. But, we also have clients that have small dogs that may want to come in and get their dogs groomed once a month” Tyler said.

While the diversification of their business helped to bring in customers, like many businesses, the pandemic threw the Backyard a curveball.

“We started doing curbside pick-up during March due to the pandemic. I’d say we even picked up customers because during that time Amazon was really backed up,” Tyler said.

However, due to the pandemic, the boarding facility has seen fewer canines.

“Things have been a little tougher on the boarding side of things due to COVID. People are staying home and their dogs are staying home too. But otherwise, we have been very fortunate with our seed. We still have to get our seed to the farmers, they still have to plant it, we still need to feed our animals. So, we have been busy in that aspect,” Taylor said.

The Backyard offers boarding services for both dogs as well as cats. (Emily Beal / Agweek)
The Backyard offers boarding services for both dogs as well as cats. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

Looking back, Joseph Doll never imagined his family’s business would transform into what it is today, but he has enjoyed the journey every step of the way.

“It's been interesting. It's been fun. If you would have asked me 25 years ago if this would have happened I would have never known. It's been fun. It's been an adventure,” he said.