SLEEPY EYE, MINN. — Elena Kalogeropoulos is something of a secret weapon at Chasing Our Tails. As chief executive officer of the company, Kalogeropoulos wears multiple hats — from production to management to the brass tacks of business development — to keep her company on the cutting edge. But her work doesn’t stop there. Kalogeropoulos is also determined to help shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman in manufacturing.
“We only change the dialogue of those who contribute to the industry when we erase preconceived notions,” she said.
In the following Q&A, Kalogeropoulos shares how she went from fine arts to the finance industry to banking to pet consumables, how she keeps Chasing Our Tails running smoothly, and the importance of self-advocacy and lifelong learning.
PFP: Tell us about your business or career in the pet industry.
Kalogeropoulos: Simply put at Chasing Our Tails, we make pet consumables. From manufacturing single-ingredient chews to complete-and-balanced diets, we are a vertically integrated and dynamic processor. In addition to our family of brands, we are a private label and custom manufacturer. We also have direct access to our raw materials through a meat brokerage owned by our leadership. We are privately held, solution-oriented, and can complete projects from farm to finish for our customers and private label clients.
PFP: How did you get your start in the pet industry, and how did that experience lead you to where you are now?
Kalogeropoulos: I grew up in Lowell, Mass., a centuries-long center of the service and manufacturing industries. Four generations of my family (on both sides) have been business owners. My parents ran a manufacturing company for four decades in mechanical dentistry. My love of creating and creativity lead me to pursue my degree in the Fine Arts at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly. There I not only studied; I manufactured an amazing collection of works. From project planning to painting, to fabrication to welding, I became a self-sufficient powerhouse as a result of my time there. Post-graduation in 2003, the job market led me to the financial industry. I worked as a residential mortgage lender for a community commercial bank in New England, Enterprise Bank, where we created solutions for a wide range of people from first time buyers to business owners. After almost 15 years of service in banking, I was presented with an opportunity from one of my mortgage clients to come be a part of his pet consumables company. It was truly a full circle experience to join Chasing Our Tails and our President and Founder Stephen Trachtenberg in the world of pet manufacturing.
PFP: What has been your biggest challenge — personal or professional — related to your work in the pet industry?
Kalogeropoulos: Big or small, an occurrence can reset the trajectory of a plan. As a global community, we have all had our lives reset multiple times since early 2020. Frankly, we are in a time of dynamic transition. Whether it’s how we care for ourselves and others, how we anticipate and listen to our teams’ needs, how we serve our customers, pet parents and pets, manage supply constraints — we must constantly listen, learn and pivot. I love change. I also know that it is not the favorite state of most others. Most of my days are centered around guiding others through situations and creating new plans when the current ones aren’t coming to fruition. You only manufacture when you are moving, so it’s my job to keep the machine going. It’s not easy — it’s hands-on and doesn’t happen on a set schedule. If I fail, I learn from that failure. If I succeed, I take that success, share it with my team, and apply the knowledge forward.
PFP: Tell me about a professional accomplishment in the pet industry that you are proud of.
Kalogeropoulos: I love being a woman leading a manufacturing team. I’m not “the norm,” and it’s still interesting to see peoples’ expressions when I tell them what I do. I am energized by the fact that we have this great team, state-of-the-art machinery, a half-million square feet of space, and we are making quality products every day. I pride myself in the fact that I can jump into almost every role in this company to help push production. Whether it’s with a knife in my hand in the kitchen, working on a massive bagging line, or negotiating a new deal, I am serving Chasing Our Tails. We all work for the company, side by side, focused on action. My proudest accomplishment is creating a culture and product that creates value for all those who experience it.
“I pride myself in the fact that I can jump into almost every role in this company to help push production. Whether it’s with a knife in my hand in the kitchen, working on a massive bagging line, or negotiating a new deal, I am serving Chasing Our Tails,” Kalogeropoulos said.
PFP: What is top of mind for you and/or your business in the industry right now?
Kalogeropoulos: Right now, we are focusing on completing our protein processing plant. Like most manufacturers, we have a zero-waste vision. This allows us to work with raw materials in a variety of states in order to have constantly available supply levels. We don’t need outside parties to grind, mix, slice, dehydrate, etc. We are able to control that part of the process. We will also be able to lend these services to customers in need of domestic solutions. This is a continued commitment to our vertical integration that provides sustainable solutions and a dynamic utilization of materials.
PFP: If you could pick three trends influencing the industry today, which are the most important and why?
Kalogeropoulos: Right now, we are focused on creating sustainable, repeatable treating and feeding solutions. Trends are exciting and fun — of course I want to have products that become a part of someone’s core routine. However, I am primarily interested in creating the best quality pet products to support our fur children. I want products to appeal to the pet parent, but they need to be engineered to support the diets and health of each species we serve. We care for those that communicate in barks, meows and squeaks. It’s the responsibility of my team to have a range of identifiable and wholesome products that make the care of pets easy and enjoyable. We are in this for the long term.
PFP: Just for fun, do you consider yourself a dog person or a cat person? Or, if you have pets of your own, tell us a little bit about them.
Kalogeropoulos: I am fortunate to be a dog mom to Zoë, a 2-year-old tri-black roan English Springer Spaniel. She’s clever, funny and loves to be a part of the Chasing Our Tails team. She prefers chews and balls over stuffed toys and small treats. She loves posing for pictures and showing off her favorite chews to anyone that meets her.
PFP: What advice would you give to other women in the pet industry?
Kalogeropoulos: My advice goes beyond pet, as our industry touches so many others. Go out there and make moves in your career that have people talking about your contributions. It shouldn’t matter what a person’s gender is. It’s okay to be strong, it’s okay to speak up and it’s okay to dress differently. If you do something with professionalism and respect, that should be the standard. We only change the dialogue of those who contribute to the industry when we erase preconceived notions. Challenge yourself every day to contribute to the solution, and not pass them off for someone else to solve. Most importantly: learning is the goal. It is absolutely fine to admit when you don’t know something. A strong person gains knowledge and applies it to bettering the company and brand.
Elena Kalogeropoulos is a hands-on, creative leader with a penchant for problem solving. She earned her bachelor’s degree in fine and studio arts from Montserrat College of Art. Following her graduation, she entered the finance and banking industries as a mortgage loan officer before meeting Steve Trachtenberg, president and founder of Chasing Our Tails, and joined the company shortly after. She has served as chief executive officer of Chasing Our Tails since the spring of 2018.
Continue reading about other female leaders featured in our Women in the Pet Industry series.