They say, our life is divided into sections. One for education, One for Working, One for Retirement, and so on. But the thing is, life is not rigid or definite. It is the way one wishes it to be. Life gives you several chances every single day. It is up to us to reach up and grab one of them. These opportunities are not correlated with what age you are, or what phase you are in, it is correlated with whether you want to work or you don’t. Whether you have the strength to power through or you will probably fall down the walls.
This exclusive cover story depicts the story of one such couple who decided to grab an opportunity thrown at them and shaped it into something incredible. Dr. Joseph and Judy Roetheli, Founders of Pet’s Best Life and S&M NuTech are the makers of Greenies Dog Treats.
Let us meet them individually.
Dr. Joseph Roetheli
Described as a futurist, learner, and fun-loving, Dr. Joseph Roetheli is from Hermann, Missouri. Joe’s parents grew up experiencing the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Neither had the opportunity to attend high school. His dad was a conservationist and environmentalist long before the latter was popularized. His mother was a frugal saver and would reuse almost everything. She was an excellent and dedicated gardener who canned garden crops to help support the subsistence farming operation. He earned a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri. Being a Vietnam Era Veteran, he spent his post-military career as an employee of the University of Idaho for 8 years in the U.S Department of Agriculture; where he drafted and co-authored several write-ups which were later included in the “Encyclopedia of Agriculture” and “1992 Yearbook of Agriculture.” His drafted legislation for USDA became a section of the 1990 Farm Bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush.
Described as a “Serial Entrepreneur” with leadership and people-oriented qualities, Judy Roetheli was born as the youngest daughter to George and Dorothy Hill in Gainesville. She graduated from Newberry Highschool, also winning the title of “Miss Congeniality” and a recipient of the “Daughters of the American Revolution” Award. Having BA in Education degree from Trevecca Nazarene University, she taught in a school for two years; where she met her future husband, Joseph. Judy taught and influenced elementary, high school, and autistic preschool students for 16 years.
Judy and Dr. Joseph lived a happy life with two sons of their own, Steffan and Micheal. With two adorable dogs named Ivan and Katie. Both the parents made it a point to stay with the young boys in their growing years. Judy took up extra curriculum activities, PTA Board and Church Choir.
Joe’s father knew little of his family’s heritage. He knew the Roethelis were Swiss Germans. He thought they spent the first winter in America in Pennsylvania. Joe’s father did know that of the Roethelis that came to America most had died shortly after arrival, but his grandfather, age 9 at the time of arrival, and one brother had been orphaned but survived.
While serving in the Army in his early 20s in Boeblingen, Germany, Joe had taken a weekend pass to join other soldiers on a weekend trip to Switzerland. There he looked in a phone book and found a couple of handful of Roethelis listed. But at that time the genealogy bug had not hijacked Joe.
Fast Forward to 1992, a weekend fell between the stops. Joe spent that weekend in Zurich. He awoke Saturday morning to a wet, cold, windy climate. No fun being outdoors. So, he pulled out the phone book at the Senate Hotel. He found 10 Roethelis listed. Knowing only a few words of German, he started calling these Roethelis. He only found one of the 10 that seemed interested in knowing there were Roethelis in America.
When he arrived back in Springfield, Virginia, he visited with his sister, Agnes – the brains of the family, and she being a German and French teacher, drafted a letter in German to send to the other 9 Roethelis in Zurich. They received only one reply back. It was from Heinz Roetheli, a medical doctor who said he would pass the letter to his father who still lived in Hägendorf to see if he could trace it back to Franz Roetheli who would have left with his family for America. The doctor indicated that it would likely be fall before they would hear back.
The Moment That Changed It All
So how did this couple, with this settled life of theirs, decide to step into the world of businesses, especially one that produces Dog Treats? When we asked the Founders themselves, Mr. Roetheli says “He had really bad breath, Judy kept after me to do something about it. But there was nothing in the market that worked.” When they tried various oils, treats, and food items, still their dog had bad breath. Fed up with it all, Mr. Roetheli mixed various vegetable oils, a mixture of wheat, chlorophyll, and other edible foods which were served dry, and later molded into a bone with a toothbrush at the tip. When the newly invented treat was given to Ivan, within a few days, the dog’s bad breath problem was cured and his teeth were clean.
This is what ignited the little spark to make this newly invented treat of theirs into something big, into something useful for not just them but others as well. With a newfound purpose, Mr. Roetheli quit his job and the couple spent all their time trying to market their Canine Halitosis cure. Judy’s leadership qualities and Joeseph’s hardworking qualities came into play. They started going to banks asking for loans, a 100 people according to them, for $250,000.
“We thought they probably laughed their heads off after we left, But okay. We were going to keep going. We refused to give up”, Mrs. Roetheli said.
The never giving up spirit is what kept The Roethelis going. For the next three years of their entrepreneurial journey, they earned nothing. They had to resort to asking family and friends for money. They were drowned in around $200,000 in credit card debt.
But they were persistent and determined to get through this and make their plans a reality. This little family from Kansas knew they had it in them to make it big. With that very strength, they made S&M NuTech, named after their sons Steffan and Micheal, what it is today. Fast forward a few years, S&M NuTech became the eighth largest Pet Food Company in the world.
The Roethelis and Their Collaborative Successes
Joseph and Judy together developed several more products like Greenies, Pill Pockets, and Yummy Combs. They worked with Ryan Campbell and founded the company SM Products, with innovative high-performance power tool accessories under the name Spyder. The Roethelis won numerous awards while co-leading S&M NuTech, like The 25 Under 25 Award, Exporter of the Year, and Vendor of the Year in both 2004 and 2005.
In November 2016, the Roethelis were honored with the Marion & John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship. In February 2018, they were honored by Thinking Bigger Business of Kansas City with The Legacy Award presented to individuals whose contributions have created an environment in which entrepreneurs can thrive.
Their products are recognized by and available on SuperMarket, Amazon, Chewy.com, PetFlow.com, and through Animal Supply Company in the independent retail channel and MWI in the veterinary channel.
In May 2006, Mars Inc acquired S&M NuTech.
Their Lives Now
Today, Judy Roetheli is the President of SM Products LLC and Spyder Power Tool. The brand today has its placements in the largest retail stores in the world. Dr. Roetheli served two years on the Economic Advisory Council of Kansas City (Tenth) Federal Reserve Bank. KCB Magazine honoured Dr. and Mrs. Roetheli as one of “KC’s Top Mentors” in 2007.
Helping and Giving Back to Others in Their Own Way
Joseph and Judy opened The Roetheli Lil’ Red Foundation. The foundation’s aim and purpose are to help and give back to others. It has always been a passion of the founders themselves. The motto of the Foundation is, “Inspire…Think…Persist” “Inspiring and Empowering Others”, the Foundation has five specific areas to focus on, Third World Assistance, Pet Therapy, Entrepreneurship, Inspirational Stories and Special Opportunities. The Lil’ Red Foundation works for the poor and needy, providing them with shelter, education, and opportunities.
The Lil Red Foundation is growing under the passion and guidance of The Roethelis and has been working for various villages across regions. They have been building homes and villages for the poor and needy in the regions of Guyana, South America, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Haiti. The Foundation helped make more than 400 homes with sanitary facilities, villages with schools, retail stores, clean water systems, and community worship centers. The Foundation has worked towards making homes while serving 20 communities in Malawi, Africa with clean water systems and an ongoing project in Malawai to improve delivery and efficiency.
With Pet Therapy, the Foundation has allowed interactions with trained certified animals for residents confined to hospitals or long-term care. Because let’s be real, we all need some Dog Therapy!
The Lil Red Foundation conceptualized and provided charter financing for the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame at the Bloch School of Business in 2014 to honor the entrepreneurs in the Kansas City Area.
Milestones and Awards
- Dr. Joseph was invited to present the Key Note Address at the Common Agricultural Policy Meeting of European Nations and presented papers at numerous foreign and domestic conferences.
- S&M NuTech was honoured as a Top 10 Small Business of the KC Metro Area consecutively for 3 years. (2003-2005)
- S&M NuTech was honored by the American Business Association with its prestigious Stevie Award as the Best Business in America with under 100 employees.
- Judy and Joseph were inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Hall of Fame
- Judy and Joseph were the recipients of the Marion and John Kraemer Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2016.
- Pet’s Best Life and Yummy Combs brand earned three pet industry magazines Editor’s Choice Awards.
Today, Joseph and Judy Roetheli have been happily married for 49 years. They are friends, a couple, co-founders, active philanthropists, and more importantly, content that they made it. Living with their 6 grandchildren and dogs, they have the perfect little life.