An entrepreneurial spirit has been driving Nicole Robbins since she was a young girl selling snail shells that she had collected from the creek in her backyard. Now the Cary resident gets that same thrill from selling custom dog collars and leashes online.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own business,” said Robbins, founder and creative director of If It Barks. “I’ve had it in my soul since I was young.”
The idea for the online dog collar and leash company came to Robbins soon after she adopted her first greyhound, Nutmeg, and had to buy a martingale collar. Small-headed dogs can easily slip out of traditional collars, so martingale collars, with two loops that gently tighten against the dog’s neck as it pulls against the leash, are recommended for greyhounds and whippets.
But she wasn’t satisfied with the utilitarian style of her dog’s collar. She wanted functional, high-quality collars with designs that were more simple and modern. So she decided to make them.
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“This was a niche market that I saw,” Robbins said.
Robbins, who has a degree in fine arts from Appalachian State University, quickly deconstructed her dog’s collar to get a feel for how it was made. Then she got to work layering various trims to create the right look for her collar.
“I really do like to get my hands on things, feel the materials and put the colors together,” Robbins said.
Within months of adopting Nutmeg, Robbins was designing and making collars, and creating a website for her business, which she launched out of her home in 2002.
“It was just so exciting to have that first order come in,” Robbins said.
Rebecca Gold, of Atlanta, has purchased five collars and a leash from If It Barks for her 3-year-old Wheaten Terrier, Farley.
The collar’s simple design appealed to Gold when she spotted one at an Atlanta shop, and she was happy to see that it was a martingale collar, which her dog’s trainer had recommended.
“The design definitely caught my attention, but the quality is why I stick with it,” Gold said.
Gold also has participated in the RePaws Hardware Reuse Program, which allows customers to send back used If It Barks hardware.
As the company has evolved, so has Robbins.
When she started If It Barks, she had a full-time job and was not yet a wife or mom. Now, she credits her husband Noah, along with good time management and lots of lists, for her ability to balance a full-time job as a business analyst for Railinc in Cary, running If It Barks, and being mom to two boys, ages 4 and 6.
Robbins accomplishes much of her work for If It Barks after her kids are asleep, she said.
Another big change came in 2007 when Robbins hired seamstress Amy Caliri to make the collars. Once the responsibility for making each collar did not fall on Robbins, she could focus more on the business. Those duties include connecting with people at events, reworking the website, setting up donations to local pet adoption agencies, and creating new products. She is currently working on hands-free collar and leash sets that she plans to debut this summer.
The reward is “the creative outlet and feeding my entrepreneurial spirit,” Robbins said.