Today we’d like to introduce you to Barbara Barzee.
Barbara, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My mother taught me how to cross-stitch when I was very young, gradually adding other skills like embroidery, cross-stitching and crocheting. As I grew older, the demands on my time gave me less time to enjoy these hobbies, but every now and again, the “bug” would bite me. For example, during my early career as a teacher, one of my housemates had a sewing machine and she rekindled the love of sewing for me. We made lots of fun things from costumes and clothes to curtains and other fun household items.
A few years after I got married, I bought my own sewing machine, later upgrading it to a sewing and embroidery machine. I loved making my own clothes using fabrics I loved and the styles I wanted and adding my own embroidered embellishments. My husband and I also decided to adopt a couple greyhounds, and that decision pretty much changed our lives permanently. We became a dog mom and a dog dad with all that implies.
Part of my new routine was our daily walks – our girls love them! One day, I came across a pattern for a dog walking bag and it was perfect! One of the challenges I often faced on our walks was where to put all the paraphernalia I needed to bring – the poop bag rolls, my phone in case of emergency, my house keys, training treats, etc. – and either my pockets were stuffed or my outfit didn’t have pockets. Dog walking bag! Brilliant! I even embroidered a greyhound on it. Now I just kept it hanging next to leashes for grab and go. Light weight. Cute.
All of this got me thinking. My husband and I had been talking for awhile about starting a sewing business but nothing had really inspired me as to what my focus would be. Now, I had an inspiration – cute dog walking bags could be a starting place. Surely I wasn’t the only woman who would love something small, useful, and cute to take on dog walks. But, I didn’t know how to get started – enter Christy Wright’s Business Boutique event that came to Phoenix in May of 2016. I attended and came back all fired up, started my business that summer. It’s been full-steam ahead ever since. I created a line of dog walking bags, eventually adding in new products, such as a variety of line of dog-themed embroidered towels, over the collar embroidered bandanas, and my most recent, embroidered key fobs in a variety of breeds of dog.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Starting a business is not an easy road, but it’s a fun road.
Probably, the most difficult struggle when you own and start your own business, especially one run out of your own home, is separating your work life from your home life. Keeping work life out of personal time can be challenging and vice versa when you’re not driving home from a physical work location at the end of the day but maybe just leaving the kitchen table that’s your office space or the spare room you’ve turned into a studio. It’s also easy to get distracted from your work when there are still errands to run, etc.
The other major challenge I’ve had along the way is the sheer amount of new skills I’ve had to learn. For example, I’d love to simply drop my product off with a professional photographer but when you’re just starting out, there’s just not money for that in the budget. So, I learned how to do my own photography, editing, etc., as well as building my own website and filling it up with listings. Then, there’s learning all the tricks of the trade for learning how to use social media to advertise and get yourself found. All while trying to find time to make what you’re selling. It’s a balancing act.
The most important advice I have for other women, of any age, is to start small and treat your business as a business, not a hobby. Don’t go into debt to start your business. Make and sell a few things, pay yourself a little from the profits and then reinvest and grow from the remainder. If you price your items right, this will work. The biggest mistake I see other handmade artisans is under-pricing. I see so many women practically giving their work away at events and on Etsy and wondering why they are not making any money. We have to value ourselves, our skills, and our time.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Hound Street Boutique – what should we know?
Hound Street Boutique is all about celebrating our love for our dogs (and yes, cats, too). Dog moms love their dogs, and while there is a large market of goods for dog owners, most of what you find at places like the big box chain stores is utilitarian but not pretty, fun, or imaginative. My mission for Hound Street Boutique is that it should be a place – whether it’s my booth at an artisan fair or my website – where you just can’t help smiling because everything is just so dang cute and communicates “I Love My Dog.” I want to help you say “I Love My Dog,” too, by having products for your home, life, and a dog that celebrate that love.
One of my most popular product lines is my embroidered “I Love My Dog” towels. So many customers tell me that they can never find anything with their dog on it – for example, a Schipperke or an Australian Cattle Dog. While I certainly don’t have every dog breed, I have over 100 breeds of dog available in this product line that can be customized to match the color of someone’s dog or even embroidered with the dog’s name on it. I love being able to help so many people have something to display in their home that expresses their love of their dog or that they can give as a personalized gift to someone who cherishes their fur kid.
I also love being able to offer dog moms and dog dads beautiful bandanas that their dogs can wear at home, at events, and when they are out and about. My bandanas are embroidered with fun sayings like “Pet Me, Please!” and “Best Friend.” My most popular bandanas are a tuxedo bandana for the boys and princess necklace for the girls. I am so happy to be able to offer customers high-quality, durable bandanas that are eye-catching and sure to get lots of compliments from everyone the dog meets. Customers also love that they are easy to take on and off, stay in place, and are comfortable for the dog to wear because they are worn on the collar instead of being tied on with a knot.
One of the biggest benefits I am happy to offer my customers is that I pride myself on the quality of my work. Everything I sell is made by me in my home studio in Chandler, and if I’m unhappy with something, it doesn’t get put out for sale. So much of what is offered commercially in the big retailers do not have the attention or quality of workmanship that I am able to offer as a handmade maker. My goal as an owner of a small business is that my customer will have something that they can love, use, and enjoy for a long time.
Which women have inspired you in your life?
Which women have inspired me in my life? My mom, of course! Moms are awesome – they love so much and give so much! Moms rock.
My mom blessed me in so many ways, but the way I want to mention today is that she taught me, by example and by her teachings, to pursue and follow my dreams – but I especially appreciate that she taught me that I had to work for them, that success in whatever I chose to do would not fall in my lap but that I would have to give my all to achieve my goals. She taught me to work in the home by giving me chores, she taught me to work hard in school, she taught me that it was important to learn how to be good at many things, not just “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” She taught me by example, by working hard herself to support her family. But importantly, she taught me that all things should be done with joy, love, and optimism. My mom, even when there were hardships, was a happy, joyful person, full of love, compassion, and forgiveness. She taught me that women are strong and courageous people.
- Dog walking bags – $38
- Embroidered towels start at $13
- Embroidered bandanas start at $14
- Embroidered key fobs – $8 each or 2 for $15
- Address: Retail booth inside the store Moon Dust FarmsPower Square Mall
2055 S Power Rd, Mesa, AZ 85209
Open 10-5 M-S, 12-5 Sunday
- Website: www.houndstreetboutique.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/houndstreetboutique
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/houndstreetboutique