THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
I had intended to start this blog on January 1st, but close enough. I’m doing a blog as a memory for myself and you are all welcome to follow along. Believe me, I’m not all that interesting, I won’t have sage medical advice on your dog’s health, or training tips to have the best behaved dog in the world. What I will have, however, are ideas that work for us, and my journey as an online business owner. And many people (okay maybe 10) have asked why I started The Birthday Puppy. I hope this entry explains a bit about me, and how I got here.
Let’s start out with my age. And I’ll tell you why that is important. I’m 58. Do you care, maybe not. But it’s important because last week, Ana, one of my dear Instagram friends, referred to me as a technologically savvy youngster. I can assure you, I am neither. Just ask my webmaster, my husband,my children, or Julia, the Mom to one of my Birthday Puppy Team models. She had to tell me what a google spread sheet was, and is oh so patient as I muddle through, destroying what she has perfectly created. But I digress.
I started out in NYC corporate America 35 years ago. The day I made Vice President I found out I was pregnant. (and if you knew me better, you would know that I am a walking Murphy’s Law) I knew I wanted to stay home with my daughter, so I resigned when she was a year old, and reinvented myself as an Interior Designer. I ran my company for 20 years. I traveled a great deal as my girls got older, following clients to their summer or winter homes. But then, my Mom (the gorgeous lady in the photos who just turned 90), was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And the travel that I thought would become easier now that I was an emptynester, would have to stop altogether. Mom lives with us, and the woman who has always been my best friend, biggest cheerleader and role model, deserved much more of my attention. So reluctantly, I eased out of my decorating business, turning it over to my partner. I cooked and ate my way through 2 additional dress sizes before deciding that a new business was in my future.
At the same time, my precious golden retriever, Ivy, died suddenly on Father’s Day one and a half years ago. She was just one of those dogs that fills your heart with so much joy, that you think it could never heal when they are abruptly yanked from your life. Fern, our second golden was just as devastated as I. They were inseparable, and Fern who was always shy, couldn’t be cheered. We decided that we needed to get a new puppy as soon as possible. On a trip to Maine, we met a Goldiva Golden owner, and put our name on a waiting list. Enter Willow. If you follow Willow’s Instagram account, what you see is what you get. She is a clown, she is independent and she is my muse. My younger daughter started her IG as a chronology, one that I wish I had for all my pups. But being the Type A mother that I can be at times, I took over the account after a month because she was not posting as often as I liked. I have met the most wonderful people on Instagram. And I have done what I have told my children over and over not to do. I shared. Dangerous I know. But you can just tell who is good. (I like to tell myself that). The first holiday, I refused to give an address to anyone who wanted to send a card. Come Valentines Day, well, all caution to the wind.
But if I hadn’t done that, The Birthday Puppy would never exist. I knew I loved my dogs, I knew I really enjoyed Instagram and the genuine community of wonderful pet owners. So, how do you combine both? You close your eyes, cross your fingers and go for it. I knew I had several missions. To enjoy what I was doing, to try to bring a positive experience to any life I touched, to help other women who were trying to get started as I was, and to give back to those who needed it as I moved forward. I think I have managed to achieve all my goals so far. I know there are those who ask “why another box company for dogs”? And my answer is simple. There is enough space out there for all of us without stepping on each others toes. And we, The Birthday Puppy, are different. We are completely custom. We design exactly what you ask for. Every box will be different, because every dog is different. It means a lot more inventory, but that’s our problem. Because that’s our business model. And when we stop listening to exactly what you want, then it’s time for us to stop.
But I have made my share of mistakes along the way. Some call it a learning curve. Okay. I call them mistakes. I had broken cookies, balls that broke on the first chomp, and boxes that went missing because in my haste I wrote down the wrong zip code. I had boxes that cost more for me to mail than I had made in profit. I ran out of holiday boxes two weeks before Christmas. But you were all so kind and my customers and friends never made me feel badly. I have this thing I think is inherent to females. The need to please. So I felt terrible if something went wrong. But, one thing in my favor is that I am the eternal optimist. I see the glass half full, even when it’s totally empty. I don’t know the word “can’t”, and I’m just learning the word “no”. So here’s how I’ve remedied my mistakes.
I’ve teamed up with incredible quality manufacturers. Tough toys, beautiful and quality. I’ve replaced and repackaged. I told myself that after Christmas I was going to brand my boxes with my logo, but instead, I’ve put the profits back into really great items. So, unfortunately, you will have to see the same box with the sticker (it’s really cute, isn’t it) for a while longer. But you will see Planet Dog, and Lulubelles and Haute Diggity Dog and Mega Tuff toys in your boxes now. And having goldens, my focus was on the larger dog. Now, we have an entire small dog appropriately sized line. And we will have clothing too. And I will buy enough of it too. I really did sell Willow’s outfit right off her back. Just ask Hilary! I replace when something goes wrong and I now have a safeguard to make sure the address is always correct. Still haven’t entirely figured out the annoying expense of shipping, but that will never be my customer’s problem.
It truly is going to be an exciting year. We are adding so much to an already exciting website. We started out with our College Football Boxes which were the brainchild of Tucker’s mom, Gina. Which leads me to one of the most important parts of my business. My Birthday Puppy Team. I can say with complete honestly that I could not have made it through the past 4 months without their help. Not knowing the actual dynamics among them, it is hard for me to actually let you understand with words the comradely, kindness and loyalty these women exhibit, not only to me, but to each other. Four months ago, no one knew each other and I only knew a few. As of today we have 36 brand ambassadors, all of which give so much of themselves. I truly ask myself every day why I am so lucky to have these women in my life. This is a blessing and a gift from God, because nothing else explains it. I have said it before, and I have really meant it. I wouldn’t want to do this without them. They give me ideas, and feedback. They tell me what’s great and what’s not so great. And when they know I am stressed that something didn’t work the way I thought it would, I know they buy boxes they don’t need just so I don’t feel badly. They don’t think I realize it, but I do because no single dog needs a dozen boxes. I take nothing for granted, especially friendship. So to my team of beautiful dogs, and their amazing Moms-my friends-I thank you. And everything you do, from your comments to your posts, to your participation in our contests, to your staying up all hours of the night with me to figure out a concept or a collage,to your emails with fabulous ideas, to your google sheets and record keeping, to your support of our paws for a cause,to your running contests featuring our boxes as a prize, to your words of encouragement and your unwaivering loyalty, I thank you. And I will never forget. I wish all of you the same joy in life you have given me.
I’d like to close with one more thank you. And that is to Meghan. You, my friend, are lovely. Your bandanas are beautiful, and I know that my demands are many. We have worked hand in hand over the past four months, and it has been such a pleasure. And Lisa, you too are a master craftswoman like Meghan. Both your products enhance my website and I am so proud that you have chosen to be a part of the venture and adventure. My ideas are endless and you both humor me by creating bandanas and leashes and collars to compliment my ideas and boxes. And as we plan to launch 3 new boxes each month, you will both be very busy. Thank you for your talent, your patience and the pleasure of working together (and for buying endless 1 yard samples to please me).
So diary, I close with this. I love what I do. XO Deb
THE VALENTINE CRUSH STORY
Valentine’s Day, 2017
Today is the end of a busy, fun and fulfilling 4 weeks. We launched Valentine’s Day in mid-January, despite the unhappiness of some of our followers who were still riding the high of Christmas and New Years. But in retail, especially e-commerce, as I am learning, you need to stick to a strict schedule because of several reasons. Number one is buying. I planned Valentine’s Day boxes in early December, but to my dismay, most products were already sold out. But, that is a challenge I gladly accept. I knew our boxes couldn’t contain the ordinary items, which in all honesty, has little appeal to me anyway. I toyed with so many ideas, and came up with our I Can’t Keep My Arms Off You Cupcake. I must say, during our round table family Sunday discussions about the new launches, this one was greeted with the expressions like the straight lined mouth emoji! I actually thought it was funny, while others thought it might be just a little off color. Come on, we’re adults and these are dog toys. Can’t say I didn’t hold my breath until the Team said the boxes looked great!
My original plan for Secret Crush was much different than the final result. And I am so glad it transformed the way it did. The plan was for every box you bought, we would send a secret crush bandana from you. We would find out the address, wrap it and send a Valentine card. I wanted it to be a throwback to simpler times, where the only thing that mattered was the surprise of feeling remembered. Well, here’s what actually happened. When we posted the game, I received so many messages on the first night asking if it were possible just to send the bandana. From a business standpoint, this is not the course I hoped it would take. But, from the personal side, I knew this was the exact course I wanted it to take, and Game ON! I had ordered 30 bandanas, besides the custom made ones for our other boxes. They were gone within a week. I laughed and thought, “Gee that was fun”, until the next day when I got orders for 2 dozen more. Fortunately, the bandana company is on speed dial and they shipped 3 dozen more overnight. I still am extra cautious about over buying, and in retrospect should have just ordered another 100. But no, every other day until the end of the contest I ordered 2 dozen at a time. What a wonderful problem to have. Not because I was selling so many bandanas, it had nothing to do with business, but because something so small as a Secret Crush bandana was bringing joy and smiles to so many faces. The messages I received every day, recharged my batteries well into the night as I wrapped in tissue, put on a sticker and addressed a very simple child’s Valentine card. I just kept remembering my children running home from school on Valentine’s Day with their perforated cards with sweet images and the name of a classmate. It didn’t take anything more elaborate to tell some one you were thinking about them. And it went “viral”. The outpouring of kindness and love in our Instagram community is amazing. And the messages on each others photos, the concern for one another to make sure no one was left out, to say nothing of the generosity among people who only know one another through a photo and a few typed words. Every day was renewing to me. I couldn’t wait to get to my desk and read your messages, and the messages to each other. I know now how true the statement is that you feel like your heart is jumping for joy. In a time where we think that we don’t care about our neighbor, I can assure you, if this small microcosm is an indicator of the world, nothing is further from the truth. And we need to keep reminding ourselves of that. I sent bandanas and boxes to Scotland, Australia, England, Germany, and Italy. To think that the outpouring of love touched so many. I had messages from people I didn’t know, and can tell you, that I hope these people will be my lifelong friends. I only wish you could have all experienced the kindnesses that were going on behind the scenes. I know that so many of my posts were long and mushy, but I truly wanted to share every second of everything I was experiencing. I could go on and on, but I think you understand how I can say this event has changed me. My birthday fell in the middle of this game, and my friends had a lovely party for me. And all through the evening I couldn’t help but share how wonderful this all was. My dearest friend said to me “dogs are making you giddy”. It wasn’t the dogs. It was all of you. And your goodness. And warmth. And kindness to one another.
So last night when I worked well into the morning hours to make sure this slide show was perfect for you, I felt a bit of sadness. It was like the last kindergarten recital, or the last high school field hockey game, or the last parents visitation day at college. Anything that evoked a happy memory. I didn’t want this feeling that was flowing through our community to end. I learned so much from this experience. I learned that we all really are the same. We are all kind. We may be busy, and rushed, but it doesn’t take away from who we are. I learned that things didn’t change much from those days 20 years ago when my children ran home with their brown bag of Valentine cards. I learned that no matter how busy we are, it only takes a moment to let someone know you care. It only takes a bandana.
Thank you for letting me be the vehicle to share your love and kindness with one another. It was an honor. And thank the first person who asked if they could just send a bandana. You are so smart. I admire you for asking. And I look forward to making this an annual tradition, and adding other ways in our company where we can come together as a community to help and lift up one another. The meaning of this day doesn’t have to end. Continue to carry love in your heart, and wear your heart on your sleeves.
Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends. And so I will end with this. You have given me the biggest Valentine gift I have ever received.