The thought of losing his job as a marketing webmaster was far from Jorge Gutierrez’s mind three years ago. But in 2008, the battered economy, dwindling sales, and corporate belt-tightening made it a reality for this Clifton, New Jersey resident.
With his own belt pulled to its final notch, dim job prospects, and unemployment insurance running out, Gutierrez knew he had to do something. He unexpectedly found inspiration during a mundane errand. On a routine trip to buy dog food, Gutierrez came up with an idea that would change his family’s life.
The idea? Create practical, useful pet products featuring flag designs from around the world. “While I was browsing through the pet supply section, I noticed dozens of types of dog collars. None of them recognized or had fun with nationality or even the country of origin for any particular breeds,” Gutierrez said.
Proud of his own Colombian heritage, Gutierrez knew he was on to something. “I thought, ‘If we could make something that would allow dog owners to have fun with their ethnic roots, we’d have a hit!’” Gutierrez recalled. “I went home and told my wife about the idea, and PatriaPet was born.”
PatriaPet offers unique dog collars, leashes, and even doggie t-shirts providing dog owners from many nations a chance to display their patriotic spirit. The ever-widening selection includes the national flags from the United States, the U.K., Canada, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Poland, and others — 23 designs in all. Gutierrez continues to receive requests for new designs. Made from polyester webbing — the material used for seat belts — the collars are strong enough for everyday use.
Gutierrez admits his web design and marketing skills provided an edge in PatriaPet’s early days, but the company still had to overcome obstacles beyond the normal growing pains all new businesses experience. While most were related to the stagnant economy, PatriaPet’s biggest challenges were getting the word out about a new product and finding the best venue to connect with customers.
“Our first instinct was to exhibit at pet expos and dog shows, for the obvious reason that that’s where the dogs are,” Gutierrez said. “But sales weren’t the best, because in that venue, we were just another dog collar company. It wasn’t until we focused on cultural fairs and festivals that we discovered how excited people got about our products.”
While he prefers to stay close to home, exhibiting at last year’s Van Houten Street Fair in Clifton, Gutierrez has traveled from New Jersey to Virginia, Ohio, Long Island, Connecticut, and points in between, in search of Italian, Irish, Polish, and German festivals. The road trips are starting to pay off. PatriaPet has doubled the number of designs it offers since it began, and it has plans to sell bandanas, pet clothing, and toys in the future.
The learning curve all new business owners ride has taught Gutierrez a thing or two, and he offers aspiring entrepreneurs the following advice:
By all means, take advantage of today’s technology even beyond social media. Capitalize on the availability of free directories, reciprocal links, affiliate programs and networking opportunities. All of these can provide an inexpensive way to get your message out and find people who are excited about what you do and get them talking about it.
Really know your product and what makes it special. Instead of trying to stand out among every other collar out there, we learned that we have to find that dog owner who is happy and proud of their heritage and want to have fun with it. We tap into that happiness and fun aspect of dog ownership and are rewarded with loyal following.
The company website www.Patriapet.com continues to grow in popularity. PatriPet is working to launch a second website www.patriapetwholesale.com to better service an increasing number of wholesale accounts.