Small Dog Electronics

Small Dog Electronics owner Don Mayer with his dog Hammerhead.

words // Holly Johnson

photo // Craig Thomas

After the Vietnam War, a scholarship to Goddard College brought Small Dog Electronics business owner Don Mayer to Vermont. This self-taught entrepreneur, along with his son and business partner, Hapy, has turned Small Dog into a successful and socially responsible company.

Mayer’s interest in computers started in the 1980s while working in the wind power industry at Northern Power Systems (NPS). He noticed that Apple Mac users took significantly less time to produce work than PC users. He started buying Macs for NPS and buying and selling them for its employees.

After gaining experience at N.H. PC and River Computer Hybrid in New Hampshire, Mayer decided to move to Vermont saying, “It wasn’t for the job, but was for the people. New Hampshire and Vermont are very different states. Look left—look right—no billboards—but in New Hampshire there are plenty ruining the landscape. Vermont has special and unique people; it is a very special place.”

Small Dog is the third largest independent Apple reseller in the nation. Considering the small size of the state, Mayer credits Small Dog’s success with building the brand as a strong socially responsible business and building a strong Internet business. They also made a commitment to a “clicks to bricks” strategy increasing retail stores in two states, with a fourth store opening in Rutland in 2013. Small Dog has strong biz to biz and biz to government sales. They are one of only four companies authorized to sell to the US government. In addition, its wholesale division and value added products/Hammerhead/Hilton stores have increased their profitability substantially.

Small Dog’s business model and mission statement makes a commitment to communi t y s er v i ce, e conomi c sustainability, as well as environmental and social responsibility. Small Dog ascribes to triple bottom lines to measure its success: People, Planet, Profit.

Whenever you go to Small Dog, you can’t help but smile when you see Hammerhead, the family bulldog. Employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work, as Mayer firmly believes a dog-friendly climate is impor tant for a relaxed, healthy environment at work. There are proven psychological benefits to petting a dog. The company also offers health insurance for its employees as well as vet insurance for their pets. Community service is mandatory and each employee is given a paid day off each year to do something to help others.

Mayer also at tributes Small Dog’s success with the pride taken in providing great customer service and in maintaining people oriented relationships with vendors—having open discussions and not “nickel and diming” each other. Also, Mayer takes pride in Small Dog’s philanthropic and charitable giving. For example, it supports the Paramount Theatre with annual grants; additionally, Small Dog also purchases theatre tickets to events, which it then donates to nonprofit organizations to help leverage their own fundraising efforts. Further, Small Dog is committed to its everpresent community involvement and support, such a s its recent H urricane Irene volunteer cleanup efforts and a toy drive for homeless shelter kids.

One of their proudest achievements is the free ewaste drop-off event that is so important to the employees and the community. Mayer says, “We must account for our impact on people and the planet and have a good business model that allows people and the planet to survive.” Small Dog also gives customers or visitors to their website a chance to make a donation to one of the annual Small Dog chosen charities during checkout that will be matched up to a certain amount by the company.

These days Mayer is working with his longtime mentor, Professor Dave Sellers, an architect, on designing a better electric car. They met at Goddard and then started the business, Northern Wind Power, together. Mayer has an electric motorcycle now, with a sidecar, of course, as he never leaves home without Hammerhead, his bulldog. Eventually he’s like to commute from the South Burlington store to his home in Warren in his motorcycle with the sidecar.

His advice to other business owners that seek to be economically sustainable and socially responsible?

“As you consider starting a business with a pro forma sheet to account for the dollars, it is also time to decide on another pro forma—what kind of impact you want to have on society and how to mitigate your businesses’ challenging impact on people and planet. Take a close look at what your want to be. For example, we would not choose to be in business if we couldn’t be a socially responsible corporation. Think it through. Do you want accessible government? Good roads and schools? Value for tax dollars, I’d put us [Vermont] up against any other state in the country for providing good value in exchange for our tax dollars. Vermont has the largest percentage of socially responsible businesses of any state in the country. I’m proud of that.”