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Life and Work with Kathy Burnell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathy Burnell.

Kathy, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The PupLid project began as a problem to solve in 2014. My husband, Tony, and I were inspired by our dog, Buddy, who loves being outdoors but gets very anxious when he happens to look at the sun. As a veterinarian, I wanted to find a way to prevent Buddy’s phobia from being triggered, so we started to look for a hat to shade Buddy’s eyes from the sun. When we didn’t find a well-fitting and functional dog hat on the market, Tony used his engineering skills to design just that. I provided insight on construction aspects to ensure comfort and safety, and together we decided on the trucker hat design to reflect our Southern California beach lifestyle and aimed for a hat that looked like what a person would want to wear.

Making Buddy’s hat was a fun project and a perfect blend of our skills and passions. We were delighted that Buddy now could go to his favorite beach with some protection from the sun. We also saw the smiles and joy people got seeing Buddy running around with a trucker hat, many asking where we bought it, and that is when we realized we had a great idea for a product to create and share with other dogs.

Once we created PupLid, Tony developed a second smaller hat size, patented the design and found a supplier willing to take a chance and make the hats for us. Meanwhile, I worked with graphic artists to create the beach-themed designs as well as an amazing dog photographer to produce content for our online store and social media. Finally, with the help of technical consultants, we built an online store and launched PupLid in 2018.

PupLid’s local debut was as a vendor at the Ocean Beach Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off in 2018. We went into it knowing that live events would be important for product and market research but had no idea how our product would be received. We were completely floored and relieved by people’s exuberant reactions to PupLid hats, how well most dogs accepted wearing a PupLid and the good sales results. Most importantly, we were able to meet our very first customers and connect with them in person.

We continue to participate in San Diego area street fairs and live events, averaging six a year. The people and dogs we have the privilege to meet in the San Diego community are delightful and we value the relationships we have formed with them. Last fall we took PupLid on the road to Huntington Beach Surf City Surf Dog event. Despite the drizzling rain, the energy was vibrant with the dogs showing incredible talent for surfing waves! Surf events are well aligned with PupLid’s lifestyle brand and our Surfer Dog hat design is a huge hit.

PupLid now offers four hat sizes and six graphic designs. Our designs all have personal meaning to us. We chose sunsets as the unifying theme for all our hat designs to exude warmth and our love for the outdoors. We introduced non-beach themed designs in 2019 for a broader appeal, including animal-themed designs to blend in our love for animals with regional identities. The PupLid Bear design is of course an homage to our state of California, but we also have an upcoming Buffalo design inspired by my home state of Oklahoma and a Lobster design to embrace our family ties to Maine.

2020 will be a big year for PupLid! From a product standpoint, we are working on a fifth size to deliver a perfect fit for dogs 9 to 16 pounds, expected in mid-2020. We will be launching matching human hats this year as well, along with those new designs. In April we will participate in America’s Family Pet Expo in Costa Mesa, which is not only a family and dog friendly event, but also the world’s largest pet and pet product expo spanning three full days. Our next big plunge will be in September as an exhibitor at SuperZoo Las Vegas. SuperZoo is a giant international trade show, which allows pet related businesses like us to showcase our products to potential business partners across the country. Through all these milestones, we of course, will be striving to strengthen and grow our brand and business operations.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest challenges we have encountered are production related. While we have had a dedicated supply partner, they have struggled at times to source reliable production from factories, though admittedly our quality standards and novelty of our product have added to the challenge. We are working on expanding our supply as we speak and expect to move past this bottleneck this year so we can focus on growing sales!

There have been silver linings to this initial limited product supply. The smaller volumes have allowed us to take a relaxed and organic approach, and focus on getting to meet our local customers and engage with them as PupLid ambassadors. I quickly learned I truly enjoy the live events and feel in my element at them. As a veterinarian, I value the relationships I develop with my patients and their families. PupLid’s live events perfectly complement my passions as a veterinarian because I get to be around dogs and people and in a cheerful capacity where everyone including the dogs are having fun.

I have also had more time to speak with other entrepreneurs, which has been both inspiring and valuable in laying the foundation for potential new partnerships. If I were to give women advice, I would say to remember that, as entrepreneurs, we are all in this together. Create positive relationships with those around you and know that there is always a possibility that a win-win situation can come of it.

Please tell us about PupLid.
Work involves me wearing multiple hats, expanding my knowledge base and continually evolving. Three days a week I work as a small animal veterinarian in Oceanside, which I love! The other days, I dive into PupLid, which feels like an extension of myself but also a puzzle to solve rather than actual work.

On any given day, I could be working on PupLid’s social media, website, sales, marketing, graphic designs, local and southern California vendor events, applying designs on hats, packing and shipping hats, or strategizing around resources and business opportunities like developing our wholesale and white label distribution channel. It all just depends on the tasks at hand.

With PupLid, I am most proud that our hats help protect dogs’ eyes. As a veterinarian, I understand that certain medical conditions including chronic superficial keratitis and eyelid tumors can get exacerbated or triggered by sun exposure. It fills my heart every time someone tells me how their dog benefits from their PupLid.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
I think our product resonates with women and, as someone who enjoys bonding with people, I am able to connect with other females in person or on social media who want to be partners in building our brand.

One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that you can make your own decisions about working with the people that are supportive of the business and your vision. Whether female or male, it is important to position yourself in areas that speak to your true values and strengths and find complementary partners who excel in other areas that are needed to achieve your business goals.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Allison Shamrell Photography, @foxnwlf, @socalshibaadventures, @adventureswithkeiko, @eeveethebb, @genie.thesweetie

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