WOODSTOCK – Jeff and Jody Minear wanted their lives to dictate their career – not the other way around.
The Woodstock couple wanted to start a home-based business. When they came up with the idea for Cat Tree Kingdom, the Minears didn’t even have a cat.
About 12 years later, they’re fresh into a new Woodstock home that doubles as a workspace, and their product is in pet stores in four states.
Jeff Minear makes the product in his garage. The cat trees are constructed of barkless wood and carpeted platforms. They come as tall as about 7 feet, and can be made special based on a customer’s wants.
To hear about the quirky business and the life it has afforded the Minears, Northwest Herald Reporter Shawn Shinneman recently sat down with the couple at their Woodstock home.
Shinneman: I would have expected you guys to be lifelong cat people, or have made your first cat tree for your own cats. Sounds like that maybe wasn’t the case. Where did the idea come from?
Jody Minear: I wanted to home-school my youngest son. ... And I started to think of what we could do from home so we didn’t have to be gone. And I was thinking, Jeff was really good with his hands.
I was thinking he could stay home and work with his hands, and I was thinking maybe doghouses or something. And a friend of mine, when I asked her opinion, I said dog houses and she said cat trees. And that’s where it started.
It took us about six months to figure out how we were going to do it. ... But we made it work because we were so determined to be at home with our son.
Shinneman: When you first started, did you look at what else was out there and kind of try to find your own niche, or has that happened over time?
Jeff Minear: She wanted to make the stuff out of real trees, and when we went to pet shops and looked into this, we found that there wasn’t any real-tree cat furniture in the area.
Shinneman: How long did it take before things took off?
Jody Minear: When we first started we were like Beverly Hillbillies in a little old beat up pickup truck, with cat trees, going from county to county, stopping at a gas station, using the pay phone and the Yellow Pages, trying to find pet stores where somebody would actually be there that was the purchasing agent to look at us and see if they’d be interested.
Jeff Minear: We’d leave with a full pickup truck, chock full of cat trees, and at the end of the day we’d come home with a bunch of checks and no cat trees.
Jody Minear: And then we got regular customers that way, because those people that did take the trees sold the trees and wanted to order more.
And now we’re at the point that we can just call on a Monday or Tuesday and see what sold over the weekend.
Shinneman: And you’re still delivering everything?
Jody Minear: We do or [our helper] takes it. It’s not that bad because Jeff and I are so used to driving now. We get a chance to talk and take a little breather, enjoy the scenery.
Shinneman: How much of the business come from [direct sales from your website]? Do you have people seeking you out online?
Jody Minear: Oh, yeah. We were gone for the weekend and we had two or three people email. One from Florida. One from Michigan. We had to wait until Monday to call and get a quote, how much shipping would be. Some people want to pay the astronomical shipping and some people don’t.
Jeff Minear: They’re made out of trees, so they are quite heavy, and they’re shipped fully assembled. So shipping is usually a couple hundred dollars – $200, $300, $400 – depending on how far you’re going. Down to Florida is almost $500.
Shinneman: Have you enjoyed making your living this way?
Jody Minear: Yeah, it’s nice.
Jeff Minear: Yeah. We get to stay home. When we are home, we can enjoy taking a nap or eating when we want to. Sit down and eat and watch a little bit of news in the middle of the day, you know. You don’t have to punch out a clock.
Jody Minear: It’s still very hard work. We were just out chopping trees and carrying giant trees out of the woods. It’s not a piece of cake.
A lot of facets to the job. But we do it. We like to do it.
Shinneman: And you do have cats now?
Jody Minear: We do have six cats.
Shinneman: Quick: name them all.
Jody Minear: Kobe, Mynx, Patch, Bentley, O’Malley and Max.
The Minear lowdown
Who are they? Jeff and Jody Minear, Woodstock builders of custom cat trees
Favorite food? Pizza
Last movie watched together? “Gravity”