It's in most ways your typical suburban office park midrise, this one outside Nashville along a leafy four-lane boulevard in Franklin, Tenn. But every morning as hundreds of people arrive, so do hundreds of dogs on leash-big, small, quiet and sometimes a little noisy.
In a setting where people are usually seen heads down seriously going about their business, there are dogs outside in the shrubbery or the fenced-in dog park across the parking lot doing theirs.
This would be the Mars Petcare headquarters, where every day is "Bring Your Dog to Work Day." Among them are the dogs who bark excitedly as they arrive, knowing they're about to see their friends, human and canine. And then there's the "4:30 dog," famous for barking every day around that time when he senses it's time to leave.
It's a "love me, love my dog" company. So when Mars Petcare relocated from California to Tennessee in 2007 and found its first office building in Brentwood, where newly acquired Doane Pet Care was based, wouldn't allow pets, it soon relocated to offices in nearby Franklin that would.
About half the employees at Mars Petcare are registered to bring dogs (as with boarding, they need to provide vaccination records and such). Not all registrants come by every day. But there are enough roaming the halls or laying beside their owners' desks that Stephanie Myers, a human resources (or People & Organization, as Mars calls it) manager, feels the need to point out: "You don't have to own a pet to work here."
However, it may help. "The mission of the company is to make the world a better place for pets, and having pets around the office keeps that top of mind," said Brian Nugent, senior brand manager on Iams, which was acquired last year from Procter & Gamble Co.
Mr. Nugent is a second-generation Mars employee who knew from his father about the dogs-at-work policy, which helped attract him to the company. He got his dog Isaac, a poodle-Bichon mix, shortly after joining Mars and has been bringing him to work ever since.
"Isaac will be pulling me into the office every morning to see the people he likes and his dog friends," Mr. Nugent said. "It's a stress reliever to bring your dog to work, and it's a benefit to the dog too."
Some days, however, Isaac does stay home with his sibling, who's proven to be "a little too hyper to come to work."
Denise Truelove, a senior brand manager on Pedigree, got her Pomeranian Sasquatch just about six months before she joined Mars Petcare in 2007. "So when I interviewed here and learned you could bring your dog to work, that alone was reason enough to come to Mars," she said, though she also liked the rest of the culture.
Part of that culture is that it's not uncommon to introduce strangers to someone's dog before the person. "I know more people's dog's names than their names, though I don't like to admit it," said Andrew Dubois, brand manager on the Nutro team who moved into marketing from product development last year. But some may know him better as the owner of a yellow lab named Chief.
Having all the dogs around, he said, "is a great icebreaker, and it forces you to get away from your desk to talk to people."
Besides the many other human benefits, the dog-rich environment has been useful to Jennifer Rader, a corporate communications manager who's training Lorry, a black lab puppy, as a guide dog.
"She can meet people, go through elevators, go through doors, sit through meetings, so it's a really good way to socialize her," Ms. Rader said. "She may be placed with someone who's working in the city or an office. So it's really good exposure."
But, bottom line, it's not a bad idea for a pet-food company to have pets around (there are occasionally cats, but in part because of all the dogs, it hasn't worked out as well). There's an old marketing adage about dog-food marketers needing to eat their own dog food. No need here, since there are always plenty of consumers endemic to the category around. Mr. Dubois believes Chief was happier when he was part of the Greenies innovation team, sampling new products more often.
"You get a different energy from them being here, because so many of the people here are pet owners," said Ellen Thompson, director of wet dog food. "You have people you can talk to about their pets and what creates enjoyment for them. It's a nice creative space."