Attention dog lovers! Are you looking for stylish and functional handcrafted accessories for your canine companion? SmartBiz Loans recently worked with a unique company based in Nashville, Tennessee that creates made-in-the-USA hemp products for furry friends.
Their motto is “Good for the earth...even better for your dog.” Learn about the history and future plans of earthdog, owned by Dave and Kym Colella since 1997.
Kym and Dave, originally from New Jersey, moved to Nashville in 1994. Dave, an accomplished drummer, came for the music. “I was doing things completely unrelated to earthdog– drumming and working in restaurants. We had no intention of starting a business.”
Like many entrepreneurs, their business idea was sparked by something they were passionate about.
“Once we got here, we quickly found out that there was an overpopulation and homeless dog problem that didn’t exist in New Jersey. We had moved to Nashville with two dogs. But before we knew it, we had seven or eight dogs through rescue and fostering for the Humane Society.”
Kym was always looking for cool dog collars but didn’t find any that were decorative with unique designs.
“Being creative people we loosely formed the idea to make the collars ourselves,” says Dave.
They started kicking around ideas for collars made with eco-friendly materials. After a visit to New York City’s garment district, they chose to work with the textile hemp.
“Being environmentally friendly was important to us…and still is,” he says. earthdog products are now made from Asian-grown 100% hemp canvas and webbing and hemp rope from Romania along with low impact, non-toxic dyes.
Early on, they crafted the collars themselves on a home sewing machine. “We put the collars we made on foster dogs that went back to the humane society for adoption,” Dave says. “A woman there took notice and asked if we wanted to sell them.” That woman happened to be the owner of Nashville’s first dog boutique. She made a second, third and fourth order and earthdog was off and running. “Before too long, she told us about a pet industry trade show in Chicago and asked if we wanted to go.” They garnered attention from across the US.
Dave learned the handy work side of the business – running the sewing machine – while Kym managed the finances and organization required for the business to work.
“I bought a home version commercial machine and fit everything in between playing gigs and working at a café.”
Eventually, Dave left his job at the café – although he is still drumming - and Kym left her full-time job soon after.
“It was necessary for us, there weren’t enough hours to concentrate on the business. It was a leap of faith and luckily the cost of living in the 90s in Nashville was pretty low.”
To say the early years were busy is an understatement.
“It was constant, honestly. The memory of it is a little more romantic but we were grinding it out all the time. Business began picking up steam and sales were going well. We ended up hiring a friend to sew with us but we were still barely keeping up.”
The earthdog headquarters has always been home-based.
“We didn’t want to go to a work space and leave the dogs. Within a few years we had eleven. We both wanted to keep the business small.”
Dave and Kym hired independent contractors, locals that could sew. “It was kind of tricky. I knew how I wanted the stuff to look and the quality I wanted it to be. I was overseeing women who had been sewing their whole lives and I’m a guy in my 20s that could barely run a machine. We went through a bunch of sewers who were turning in horrible work.”
The business now has one core contractor who has been with them for 12 years. “She’s great. I’m not sure how she does it.”
Dave doesn’t have to sew anymore – he’s now in charge of the website photography, production and social media while Kym still handles the business side.
Initially, earthdog was self funded and the business was sustainable for a while. However, they needed capital to take advantage of opportunities that were coming up. “We did take out a small loan from a friend that Kym grew up with. He’s a small business owner and understood that we needed funds.” Dave describes himself as fiscally conservative minded. “We didn’t want to take out a big loan as we didn’t really know where the business was going.”
When the recession hit, earthdog wasn’t immune.
“Business fell off during that time,” Dave says. “We had five or so rough years. ” During those years, the business amassed expensive credit card debt. “Credit cards are a necessity in our business but we don’t like carrying debt. It became a juggling act – a lot of fees and a lot of stress.”
When the recession was over, earthdog started growing again and the need for capital increased. Kym read an article about the SBA loan program and found SmartBiz Loans online.
“The process could have been cumbersome but it was as easy as it could be with SmartBiz,” says Dave. Their SmartBiz Relationship Manager helped walk them through the loan process. “The requirements for a loan are higher when you’re self employed. It goes with the territory. We’re happy with the way things turned out.”
Dave and Kym secured a low cost SBA loan through a SmartBiz Loans bank partner. Some of the proceeds will be used to pay off and consolidate high interest debt. The rest will be put back into earthdog. “We’re looking to improve website traffic and build onto our business. We had a predictable business for 10 years. After the recession, the whole retail landscape changed drastically. New stores were not opening. We’re kind of dinosaurs and are still learning how to sell in today’s marketplace.”
In addition to making dog owners happy, the company actively gives back. Ten percent of earthdog profits go to support kody's fund, a non-profit organization that funds spay and neuter programs.