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Doggedly pursuing pet project

Nike employee's Bark Boutique collars a spot in national market


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kristine Smith works full-time at Nike during the week, but on nights and weekends she makes fancy dog and cat collars in her Bethany-area garage studio as part of her company, Bark Boutique. The collars are sold in 80 stores across six states, and on the Web.To say Kristine Smith works like a dog is an understatement.

From 8 to 5, she works as a legal assistant at Nike. Then she races home to her Bethany townhome to spend time with her beloved Labradors, Murphy and Bailey. By 6 p.m., she’s in her garage workshop, working on her own business, Bark Boutique, and stitching up heaps of fun, colorful dog collars.

When Smith gets a run of big orders, typically between August and January, “I literally work 95 to 105 hours per week.”

As a one-woman factory, there must be occasions when she has to turn away orders, right? “Never,” she booms, laughing. “I never turn away money, even when I don’t get any sleep.”

Seven years ago, Smith’s collar business started entirely by accident. “I lived in California and there was a pet store in Laguna Beach. The collars were expensive and I thought, ‘I can make my own,’” she says.

“I was working at a magazine, in ad sales. I’m a creative person and I started making collars for my dog and my friends’.”

Enough people raved about the collars that she started selling at a farmer’s market in San Clemente.

Even in an economic downturn, Smith’s collars sold well. “It’s not like the car business where it’s a $25,000 purchase,” she says. “It’s a smaller purchase, at the time $25 retail.”

Savvy marketing move

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Smith's pet collars can be purchased at 80 stores in six U.S. states.Smith’s collars weren’t just fun to look at; they differed from her competitors because of a snap-off, easily changed license and ID tag. “No

broken nails,” says Smith, demonstrating.

In a way, the snap-off tag unit was a savvy marketing move to sell more product: The easier it was to switch collars, the more customers might want to buy.

Smith eventually approached a pet store owner, showed her the line, and was stunned to receive a $700 order.

Within six months of sewing her first collar, Smith moved to the Portland area and began to sell collars with the help of her stepsister, who had a pet store in Seattle. Her sister sold the shop and went to work as a sales representative for wholesale pet products.

“When I linked up with rep firms that could get me into stores, that was a huge thing,” Smith says. “Mud Bay — a huge store with multiple locations — began to carry my line.”

Once Smith began attending pet-product trade shows like SuperZoo, with nearly 1,000 exhibitors and more than 12,000 attendees, her business took off like a greyhound.

Her products are sold in six states and 80 stores in the United States and two in Mexico. Almost all the outlets are concentrated in Washington, Oregon and California. (Locations can be found at www.BarkBoutique.com.)

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Murphy, a chocolate, and Bailey, a yellow Labrador, fashion dog collars that her owner, Kristine Smith, made at her home in Beaverton. Smith works at Nike and produces products for her Bark Boutique business in the evenings and weekends.

Barcodes are a surprise

In seven years, Smith has produced, sold, packaged and shipped more than 13,000 collars, with only crunch-time sewing help from her mother.

National and international sales meant a huge leap for Smith. She began to order source materials from all over:

• Ribbons with glitter or printed with campers, chickens, polka dots and owls come from New York, San Francisco, Northern California and China.

• Webbing (the heavy-duty strip of material that serves as a backing to the ribbon) comes from the South.

• Hardware such as D-rings

and tag attachments come from a distributor for dog products.

• Only thread and hang-tags are purchased locally.

“Barcodes were a real surprise,” Smith says. “To get a UPC code, first you pay $1,500 for up to 1,000 barcodes. Then you pay $500 for every year you continue to use your barcodes.”

The names Bark Boutique and Kitty Kaboodle (her cat-collar line) needed to be trademarked and a website designed. Then there were catalogs to design, credit card and merchant services to arrange, accounting to catch up on — not to mention boxing and shipping.

“I never expected to get to this point,” she says, in a rare moment of peace on her couch, dogs nuzzling for attention. “But I’m not burned out. It really is a creative outlet. Making something yourself is so satisfying.”