Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Marianne Bertrand – Muttluks Inc.

By Cathy Watters on Jan 04 2010 • Filed under Business

Fifteen years ago, Marianne Bertrand and her husband were pouring over their finances trying to figure out how they were going to pay their mortgage. It was one of Toronto’s coldest winters, and the weather report came on announcing there would be another two weeks of -30 temperatures.

Marianne decided right then and there to make dog boots.

“The first few hours I was really excited,” she remembers. “I said we have a solution! I can do this, I can do that. But my husband said, we don’t have the funds.”

That took the wind out of her sails for a few hours, but then she remembered the mortgage money. They had most of it on hand, just not all of it. After some discussion, they agreed she would spend a certain amount of the mortgage money on trying to get the business going.

“I didn’t tell him I spent most of it,” she says. “If it was going to work, it was going to work. I didn’t want to be back in a couple weeks with the same problem.”

She invested about $650 and in the span of about two weeks, they earned $2000 over and above their original investment.

“It was really good timing. People were coming to my door, asking if I sold dog boots,” she says. “This was before the internet, and they didn’t even have my address. They’d just heard that some lady in the blue house sold dog boots.”

She had people “beating a path to [her] door,” so she sewed up 54 sets of boots and brought them to a local pet store. The owner bought 48 sets and recommended another store for her to go to. She didn’t have enough boots left, so she stayed up until 2 am a few nights in a row and sewed more.

 She  then went to in five or six pet stores in high-end neighbourhoods and ended up selling 130 sets. She had them in ziplock baggies with her phone number on them.

“People were desperate,” she says. The stores were completely sold out, and what had been on the market was low quality. It was so cold, people were willing to try anything.

“We haven’t had a winter like that since,” she adds.

It wasn’t by chance that the couple thought of making dog boots. They had four “recycled dogs,” Basset Hounds that had been previously owned. It was their first or second winter with them, and one of the past owners gave Marianne a set of dog boots, a Christmas present for her former pet. At first Marianne thought it was a joke gift, but she put them on the dog anyway and noticed something unusual.

“When he wore those dog boots, he was just dancing and happy like a whole new dog,” she says. “And everybody else went back to the car and just sat there and froze. I rotated the boots around and whoever wore them was happy.”

Because the winter was so cold, dipping down to -30 for days on end, she decided to get more boots. Unfortunately, all the stores were sold out so she had to make her own.

“I went through all kinds of contraptions, and I finally got something that worked,” she says.

So, when they listened to that weather report, Marianne had already had dog boots on the mind for a month, just not yet as a business venture.

With a BA in Business Administration from Acadia University, majoring in Accounting and Small Business, she had a strong business background. And she was already running a business with her husband. They were self-employed construction contractors focussing on the environmental niche.

The whole mortgage situation was a problem with cashflow; they had money coming in, but it would arrive after the mortgage was due.

It took Marianne a couple days between deciding to sell the boots to actually starting the business. She worked out of her dining room, and she had to buy the fabric, cut out the pieces, and sew all the boots herself. She didn’t want to just copy the boots she had on hand. She wanted to make a better product.

“I tried to think of everything to make it the best,” she says. “But as the years went by, it evolved and progressed. That product I made then, I probably wouldn’t be able to give it away now. Yet at the time, it was better than anything else out there.”

Because she was making a better quality boot, it cost more. Some people told her it was too expensive, but she pointed out that her boots actually worked, and they became known as ‘the boot that works.’

She says she often hears people complain that they can’t start a business because they don’t have enough money.

“I don’t buy that argument,” she says. “I was $500 short for my mortgage payment. If I had had $500 more dollars, or even $300 more, I wouldn’t have done what I did.”

She points out that when you have no money, you have nothing to lose. Therefore, it’s the best time to start a business.

She also hears people say is that they have no time to run a business. However, she had a very short time to make a decision.

 “It was do it now, or winter is over,” she says. “No one was going to buy dog boots when the cold snap was over. The more time you have, the more time you can procrastinate.”

She had people knocking on her door every day, and she thought, “Businesswise, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.”

She set her goals that by the next winter she’d be at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council tradeshow in Toronto. She incorporated her business, Muttluks Inc., that September.

“I made the boots that first winter, for a couple of weeks, and it just about killed my sewing machine,” she says.

She had some bad days and good days. She’d have stores send her away because they didn’t want to look at her product, then she’d get a call at home from some other store wanting to buy her boots, sight unseen.

Lots of things have happened since she sold her first dog boots in 1994. She and her husband divorced, she moved production into a factory in 1997 and has been expanding the business (this year they had 30 seasonal workers) and she has added dog coats and pet beds to the line up. She’s also a single mother raising a young daughter.

“We started quite by fluke,” she says. “Now our sales are in the millions.”

TIPS:

1. Have faith. If you think you can do it, you can.

2. You will have obstacles. Don’t be surprised by it, just take a deep breath and deal.

3. Don’t buy into the scare tactics of people who know nothing about your business. People who tell you “don’t do it, it’s too risky, you don’t have enough money” are not entrepreneurs, they’re employees. You’re an entrepreneur.

4. Be passionate about it. People can tell when you love what you do.

5. Create life balance. If it’s a passion, you’re going to have that balance anyway, but even a passion can get out of balance if it’s too much. The work never goes away, whether you go in one day a week or seven days a week, so make time for yourself.


3 Comments

  1. nice post. thanks.

  2. I need to remember tip # 5 “CREATE LIFE BALANCE.” By coincidence, I just discovered Parkinson’s Law on Google: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Thanks Marianne and Cyril (Parkinson). 🙂

  3. This is a truly inspirational story, thank you!

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