How did you become an entrepreneur? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you have an ‘ah ha’ moment that propelled you into a new career path?
For Roxanne Pettipas it was her dog that inspired her to start her own business. Before that, Roxanne was working as a supply teacher and she and her partner had been splitting their time between Toronto and the Bahamas. Eventually, Roxanne grew tired of coming home to an empty apartment so she decided to get a daschund named Buddy to help keep her company.
“I used to take Buddy out for walks using this little neck collar, and after a while I thought he had developed allergies because he would gag and cough every time we were out,” she said. Roxanne admits she didn’t know much about dogs at the time, but she quickly realized that Buddy was choking from the pressure that the collar was putting on his throat. Roxanne searched far and wide for a solution to the problem, but every harness she found was bulky and awkward with too many clips and clasps. “Buddy wasn’t happy and neither was I, so that’s when I decided to make something for him.”
Perhaps it was her background as an art teacher that made her so industrious, but instead of waiting for someone else to produce an acceptable harness Roxanne decided to create one herself. “At the time I was using a soft pliable tire rubber in my art class, so I used that material to create the very first Buddy Belt.” She then consulted a shoe maker and a clothing designer to help her understand how to work with leather. “I had to learn it all,” she said, “Whether it was working with an industrial sewing machine, or learning about patterns, dies, and templates, it all stemmed from wanting to create something comfortable for Buddy.”
Like a traditional collar the Buddy Belt has one buckle that is fastened between the shoulder blades instead of around the neck. The animal’s front legs are then extended through the two holes underneath the collar that helps reduce strain on the neck.
Once Buddy starting sporting his new harness around the neighbourhood, the orders started rolling in. After spending countless hours at the library making patterns, Roxanne developed 11 different sizes of Buddy Belts to meet the needs of teacup, toy and standard size dogs. As Roxanne became heavily invested in her idea, she was offered a full time teaching job. At that point Roxanne found herself having to choose between her business and the teaching career she always wanted. In the end she decided to pursue Buddy Belts full time. “It was a hard decision, but I knew I’d regret it otherwise,” she said.
What I took away from interviewing Roxanne is that you can turn a problem into a business idea. If other people are having the same problem as you, there may be a gap in the market for a new product or service that addresses that problem.
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