Entrepreneur Mom: Designer Turned CEO, and How I Built a Brand

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My journey began about twenty years ago when my family sold their previous business – a nursery and garden center in Loveland, Colorado – and moved to the Willamette valley of Oregon. My family bought a tiny custom horse blanket business, and we came up with the best blanket ever made for horses, and a miniature version for dogs. Word got out about our abilities and pretty soon people from all over were bringing their dogs to us to be measured and have something made for them. We noticed a growing demand from dog owners, and we knew this was a real deal market – animals that needed what we could make, in an affordable way. So in 1994, my mother closed the horse blanket department and became dedicated to improving the lives of dogs, changing the name to Gold Paw Series.

I wasn’t always a part of my family’s business. I received my degree in Apparel Design at the Art Institute of Portland and, although the pet industry was in my blood, I went the human apparel route first. I used my love of fashion to help start Opal Collaborative, a woman’s couture studio in Portland. While I loved the fine fabrics and meticulous craftsmanship we put into our garments, Portland just isn’t a couture town. After all, our last Governor wore jeans to meet the President! Did I let that stop my entrepreneurial spirit? No way! That was just a lesson in making sure your product has a market.

I knew my womenswear company was fatally flawed so I started casting around for the next idea. My mother had a great product but little in the way of production capabilities or brand identity. I had a marketing class and some sourcing skills and just enough naïve confidence to try again. Eight years ago I took over the reigns of Gold Paw Series, and took what started out as a hobby business of my mother’s and turned it into a well-regarded brand with a reputation for quality and superior service.

Of course there were many bumps along the road, but each year I got savvier, figured out better ways and means, and found the right people to partner with for each aspect of the business. In just eight years, Gold Paw Series has grown from selling to just three stores to close to 600 retailers around North America today.

My biggest strength in this endeavor has been a stubbornness that has kept everything the company does in line with the brand identity that we determined right at the start. We wanted a simple, practical product that could be made in the USA with environmentally friendly materials and methods. We wanted every box ticked in the customer’s mind so that they feel only warm fuzzies when they think of their product – nothing frivolous, nothing too expensive, nothing hard to care for, nothing made overseas or destined to be thrown away.

I’ve been able to do it with a dedicated team, mostly made up of mothers. I feel that I can get more from my employees if they have less stress in their lives. So if they need to stay home with a sick child, I want them to. If it’s a school in-service day, the kids are welcome at the warehouse. My four-year-old daughter has been here at work with me since she was born – although it sure is nice to have her preschool now!

The best advice I can offer to any moms out there trying to start a business is to get a professional photographer – unless you are absolutely amazing with photography yourself. You’ll see that no money is better spent than on photos of your product or service/location. I can tell you from my own personal experience that photography was one of the biggest factors in being taken seriously by large accounts and the media. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but I promise that it will be money well spent.

I hope my entrepreneurial journey will encourage other moms to follow their dreams. It can be scary but one thing I’ve learned is that building a business is really about building relationships. Sometimes it may take years of working at a relationship before it becomes an account, or before a vendor says that they have something special that they saw and thought of you, but don’t let that discourage you. Mothers have a knack for this aspect of growing a business because they can tap into that profound empathy that comes with having children combined with the dogged persistence that comes from teaching a toddler to say please and thank you!

Bio:
Rebecca Gadd is President of Gold Paw Series, a family-run dog wear company dedicated to improving the lives of dogs and their owners with thoughtful, practical solutions to everyday problems. All of their products are proudly sewn in the USA, which is also where many of the materials are sourced.

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