Jen Hartmann thought she had landed her dream job at a firm in Dallas in 2019.
Instead, she experienced sexual harassment from an executive there, forcing her to consider other opportunities to get out of the uncomfortable working environment.
Hartmann, a Bellarmine University alumna, moved back to Louisville and started working remotely for the company. That’s when she started the side hustle that would become NEAT Marketing, a marketing consulting and coaching business. She quit the corporate job with $3,000 to her name, not knowing where her next client would come from.
Many would assume 2020 was a tough year to strike out on your own, but Hartmann said the coronavirus pandemic took her business to the next level. She built up momentum working with small businesses and ended up hiring her first couple of team members.
And while the pandemic was great for her business, Hartmann said she felt alone.
“I was super lonely,” she said. “As an entrepreneur, it can feel very isolating. Not a lot of people really understand you, you work a lot of time and I was like, ‘I need to meet friends — how do I meet friends?’ I thought, ‘I’m just going to go to the dog park and maybe I’ll find my people.'”
That desire to build connections and friendships is ultimately what inspired Hartmann to create Doggy Issues, an ethical and sustainable clothing brand for dog lovers, in July 2021.
In an interview Monday, Hartmann told me she sought out apparel to show that she was a proud dog mom, but she couldn’t find anything she liked or anything that was sustainably and ethically sourced. After the success of NEAT Marketing, her first endeavor, she thought, “I could start a fashion brand… how hard could it be?”
But little did she know, starting the second business was three times as difficult — and three times as expensive. Hartmann said she spent roughly $12,000 to launch Doggy Issues’ website with minimal products.
It’s more expensive to start a sustainable clothing company, she continued, noting that she works locally with Kopilot, a woman-owned screen-printing business in Butchertown, as well as Bella and Canvas out of Los Angeles. Doggy Issues’ prices range from $18 for a dog bandana to $52 for a hoodie.
“I was very nervous about the launch because we have shirts that say ‘Doggy MILF’ on them and things that are like a little bit cheeky,” she said. “I was like, ‘Well, people are either gonna love it or they’re going to be wildly offended by some of the clothes we’re putting out.’
“Turns out a lot of people loved what we had put on clothes and we saw a huge uptick in sales after we launched.”
At first, Hartmann assumed that Doggy Issues would always be a direct-to-consumer business, but it has steadily grown its wholesale business through boutiques. In Louisville, Doggy Issues clothing can be found at Woman Owned Wallet and The Dog Shop, both in NuLu.
Hartmann, who started her career in influencer marketing, said she partnered with influencers to raise awareness of the Doggy Issues brand. That influencer marketing — and a viral video — caught the eye of Chewy.
The video in question featured Drake “Puporov,” the golden retriever of influencer Madison Leigh Fairhurst and Philadelphia Flyers player Ivan Provorov. Fairhurst was wearing one of Doggy Issues’ “Full Time Dog Momager” sweatshirts.
It was Doggy Issue’s only paid influencer collaboration — and it paid off because a Chewy category manager came across the video. Hartmann said she got a direct message from the manager on Instagram.
“It was the craziest thing — I thought it was spam when I first saw the message. I was like, ‘There’s no way this is real. We’re such a small company… we just launched,'” Hartmann said. “We hopped on a Zoom call and I was like ‘Wait, this is real. Oh my gosh, they want my products.'”
That was six weeks ago and now Hartmann is gearing up to launch her products in the Chewy marketplace in the next four to six weeks.
Hartmann said after the first 30 days, Chewy will do forecasting for her to help figure out how much inventory Doggy Issues will need, so she’s not scaling up inventory just yet.
“I really am nervous when it comes to scaling this business because my first business, NEAT Marketing, has done so well, we’re profitable and I have a handle on how things work there,” she said, “But with Doggy Issues, I’ve never scaled a fashion brand before — I don’t know what I’m doing.”
The company will also do marketing for the brand, from SEO to email to influencer marketing, too, Hartmann said, noting that those wraparound services are worth giving up a small percentage of her sales.
“I just knew it’d be a great partnership because they have such good brand recognition. Everyone who has a dog knows what Chewy is,” she continued. “They just are great marketers too — from someone who’s been doing marketing — I look at what they do for their marketing efforts. And when I saw that part of the partnership included 24/7 marketing, I was like, ‘That’s a good deal. I can’t pass that up.'”
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