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A pet cause

Al Harris November 17, 2009 0

puppybumpersWhy dog-proof the fence when you can fence-proof the dog?

Richmond resident Anne Price had a problem with one of her dogs slipping through the bars of the baby gate in her house. Now she has a thriving business selling a pet collar that looks like an inner tube. That makes Price the third specialty pet product producer we’ve written about. (You can read about Bully Sticks here and a special pet motorcycle helmet here. )

Price tried padding the bars with Styrofoam, but Daisy, the smallest of three Maltese dogs, would always find a way through.

Then Price was leaving on a boat trip when she watched her friend wearing a large life vest get stuck trying to get through a wrought iron gate.

And if life were a cartoon, a light bulb would have lit up over Price’s head — and soon after Puppy Bumpers was born.

“It was an idea when you tell people about it they look blank for a minute and then they say, ‘Gosh, I know so-and-so, whose dog fell off of the balcony,” said Price. “It just made sense and I really believe in it.”

The Puppy Bumper is a stuffed collar — it looks somewhat like a travel pillow — that fits around the dog’s actual collar and prevents it from slipping through railings and fences. The product sells for $23.95, and Price said she has sold thousands of them since launching last year.

“I have catalogs buy 700 or 800 at a time. The first catalog to order from us, In The Company of Dogs, sold out almost immediately and reordered within three weeks,” Price said.

puppybumpers1Price said the product is available in four catalogs, a handful of pet boutiques across the country and through her website.

The company started blowing up after she took out an ad in Dog Fancy magazine last year. She was later picked as the winner for the magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award for best product of the year.

“I was still making them in the kitchen. Then we got really busy,” said Price, who lives with her husband and three dogs on Monument Avenue.

Now they are made by STEPS Inc., a private nonprofit in Farmville that provides jobs and training to individuals with disabilities and welfare recipients.

This year, Price said she went to her first trade show in Las Vegas where several distributors bought 40 to 50 Puppy Bumpers at a time.

Price said she has a background in real estate and that her husband owns a small printing company. She admits she didn’t know the first thing about running a retail operation.

“Everything has been an education. I wasn’t looking for a job,” she said.

But the business has become a hit, and Price is still coming up with ideas. She is working on a BooBoo Bumper, which is a thicker version of the Puppy Bumper designed to replace the plastic cone collar pets wear after surgery to keep them from chewing at their stitches.

When she isn’t running the business, Price trains and evaluates therapy dogs and teaches workshops at the SPCA.

And while she says sales are growing every month, Price said the most rewarding part is the e-mailed photos and stories she receives every day.

“It’s amazing. It really makes me feel good to hear about the first time people can let their dogs be off-leash in the backyard,” said Price.

Al Harris covers retail for BizSense. His dog Rocket does not currently wear a Puppy Bumper, as he lives in the Fan and does not have a fenced-in yard.  Please send news tips to [email protected]

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