Last month I wandered around the national trade show for pet retailers, SuperZoo. I was there to scope out new items to sell at Positive Approach, a dog-training, day-care, pet boarding and retail store in Tacoma. I saw an eclectic array of goods including pet furniture worthy of an 18th -century English manor, homeopathic meds for Fido and the Furminator pet hair elimination tool. But mostly I saw real entrepreneurship, vendors and buyers in real-time, not the mythical ones that politicians like to pander toward.
I loved talking to the entrepreneurs about how they got their idea, why they were passionate about it and what prompted them to start it. The essence of small business is relationships built on trust. I can’t even count the number of vendors who told me that they like to know who they are dealing with and look them in the eye. I was struck by the high number of women at this event who were the product creators as well as the buyers.
One of the businesses that intrigued me the most was Dog is Good . I had long been a fan of the company’s irreverent, humorous products such as my teenage son’s t-shirt that reads, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.” It put a punctuation mark on my enthusiasm once I met Gila Kurtz, the tour de force behind Dog is Good. Gila is a tiny woman and a bundle of dynamite. Within five minutes of meeting each other we were talking about the challenges of being a mother, wife and entrepreneur.
As stated by Natalie MacNeil in Forbes magazine in June 8, 2012, “Many women start businesses that align with personal values and offer freedom and flexibility when it comes to things like scheduling.” I asked Gila about the back-story on her business and she confirmed the assertion of MacNeil. Kurtz told me that she had wanted to create a clothing line that was fashionable and expressed her love of dogs. In addition Gila and her husband Jon, after moving around for his 27 year career in the Navy, were craving a place to “anchor” with their daughter. They liked the idea of not only producing products they would buy for themselves but also the freedom and control to conduct business in a principled way. Jon and designer Nichole Smith are the other partners in this family enterprise.
It was clear from talking to both Jon and Gila that they are highly ethical and value social responsibility. Their booth was constantly busy as they not only had good stuff but were easy to do business with and cared about their customers. They embodied the ideal of risk-taking, exhaustion –inducing, optimism-encouraging entrepreneurship.
Women are expected to create nearly half of the new jobs through small businesses in the next decade and I left the trade show feeling buoyant about these vibrant purveyors of pet products. Gila’s personal motto is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” However, she is also leading the way for other women to give themselves permission to pursue a doggone good idea from their store, “Always leave your mark.”
Carol Lewis Gullstad, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 15, 2012