Taking the Lead
Once a one-woman business, 2 Hounds Design is now a major manufacturer of leashes and collars.
From starting in a spare bedroom to celebrating more than 15 years of business in a new, custom-built facility, 2 Hounds Design has come a long way. Throughout this successful journey, the collar, leash and harness manufacturer has stayed true to its central goal of making safe and stylish products for pets.
Founder Alisha Navarro is the one person who’s been with the company from its launch in 2003. Though she has a background in theoretical and applied physics, Navarro always enjoyed sewing as a hobby. She started 2 Hounds Design with $500 and a sewing machine in her home. Six months in, she was able to hire her first employee. Since then, 2 Hounds Design has outgrown two buildings and is now housed in a 20,000-sq.-ft. space in Indian Trail, N.C. Navarro designed the facility herself.
“I like to brag that I’ve done every job in this building, from cutting to sewing to shipping to sales and customer service,” she says.
2 Hounds Design is best known for its Freedom No-Pull harness, which is often used by veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists.
“It has a patented martingale loop on the back, which distributes the pressure evenly with no pinch points or pain points, as well as a connection in the front, which fits better and sits higher on the chest, but below the trachea,” Navarro says.
The manufacturer also offers a fun array of product patterns that allow pet parents to express their personality and those of their pets. Its Coqui collars have a tropical theme inspired by the company plant manager’s home of Puerto Rico, while its Buffalo Plaid products have a snowflake pattern reminiscent of the holiday season. Pet owners who enjoy computers can purchase the Circuitry collar, while those who love superheroes can select the Super Dog! option, which has a comic book theme. There’s also the Stars and Stripes collar which can give a pooch patriotism all year round. The collars come in multiple sizes to fit all types of canines.
The company’s leashes can come in matching patterns and there are even ones that include a reflective stripe for increased safety during nighttime walks. The Euro Dog Leash Double Connection offers multiple connection points that works with the Freedom No-Pull harness to provide both front and rear control.
All of the company’s offerings are made using a custom industrial sewing machine that can sew in hardware. Each D-ring is crafted from stainless steel and the buckles are made from nylon and acetal, so they won’t become brittle and shatter when exposed to chilly temperatures.
“Our products are all made in the USA and we are very open about our manufacturing processes,” says Navarro. “We use lean manufacturing principles to ensure quality products delivered on time.”
A Women-Led Business
In addition to having an emphasis on U.S.-made products, 2 Hounds Design also prides itself on being a business helmed by women. Navarro says that the company attracted female employees early on because 2 Hounds Design is a cut and sew manufacturer and the majority of applicants were women.
“Because we always promote from within before hiring from outside when possible, the result is that the majority of our leadership team is also female,” Navarro explains. “My longest employee, one who started as a production assistant, is now my office manager and human resources manager.”
Navarro says there have been some challenges with being women-led when working with suppliers and other companies, but there are advantages too.
“Women leaders have an opportunity to stand out in the manufacturing world because we are rare,” she says.
When asked about giving advice to other women who are thinking of starting their own manufacturing businesses, Navarro says they should be able to comprehensively describe their manufacturing processes and explain any changes or improvements made.
“If you want to launch a pet business, find your niche and know your stuff,” she adds. “Understand not only your own challenges, but understand the challenges of the people you are trying to sell to, and help them solve those problems.”
Making the Sale
Navarro also has some wise words for pet retailers when it comes to showcasing products like leashes, collars and harnesses.
“Help customers select products that are safe,” she says. “Many people are concerned about made in the USA, so highlight the items that are. Explain the safety details and the importance of adjusting for the proper fit.”
She adds that retailers should be able to advise pet parents on how to look for signs of scratching or wear and tear, so they know when to replace items when they wear out. 2 Hounds Design even has a warranty for its Freedom No-Pull Harness and will replace the harness for a small fee if it’s damaged from chewing.
Stores can even offer free custom fittings to customers looking to purchase harnesses. Navarro says that her company often works closely with retailers to help them effectively sell these types of products.
“Talk to us and we can run a promotion with you for a Trainer Day and help you find a trainer to come in and give advice while you fit and sell harnesses,” she says.
When it comes to collars, Navarro says these items can often be impulse buys, especially during the holiday season.
“Show them in the context of gift-giving and suggest a wardrobe spruce-up,” she adds.
Navarro also recommends using mobile displays that can be easily moved around to show off collars, leashes and harness. These kinds of displays will help keep the store layout fresh and interesting for return customers.
With all of 2 Hounds Design’s success, the manufacturer has always believed in giving back. It has held donation with purchase events and will match products that customers buy and donate them to adoption groups. Navarro says the company donates thousands of products every year.
“Rescues have always been a big part of my own life and a huge part of 2 Hounds Design’s history,” Navarro says. “We’ve had many programs over the years, including hosting auctions to benefit adoption groups.”
As 2 Hounds Design continues to flourish and expand, promoting the welfare of pets both through its products and charity will continue to be a part of the company’s core mission. PB