12 Mar 13

by Nancy E. Hassel, LIPetPlace.com

From the Corporate Life to Zelda’s Song, how one business woman changed careers to create a thriving business in memory of her beloved dog Zelda.

I always find it fascinating how people have ended up in the pet industry whether it’s a pet business or rescue group.  A lot of pet professionals I talk to had a former life as a professional person in the corporate world in a completely different industry, and may have always had a yearning to get into the pet industry.

Last spring, in April of 2012, I was at the HH Backer pet trade show in Atlantic City, and at this point it takes something quite different, unique, or just plain fabulous to draw my attention.  I was walking with a friend and at the same time we both walked over to a booth in the new product section called Zelda’s Song.

What drew me to the booth was the quality of the products, the uniqueness of what was being displayed.  I was both admiring Zelda’s Song’s bracelets and key rings – which was unlike anything I had seen before.  Not to mention how beautiful the dog collars and leashes are too.  The quality and craftwomanship was what really stood out.  I was intrigued and asked, how do you get the pictures of the dogs to pop out and look so good?  Sharon Herrman the owner and founder of Zelda’s Song starting explaining the process, that everything is designed by her, all materials made right here in the USA, (Rhode Island and upstate New York), and was so nice about her product, not a typical pushy sales person.  You could really hear her passion about her product while she was talking to me.

I remember saying to Sharon, “I definitely want to get a key ring, I love it.”  I took her card, checked out her website and really liked what I saw.  Fast forward a few months later to October 2012 and as I walked through the vendor spaces at BarkWorld in Atlanta – I spotted Sharon at her Zelda’s Song booth.  It was so nice to see a familiar face!  We spoke for a bit and her booth looked great and we talked about how we would get back to NY/CT with the impending Hurricane Sandy on the way.  I also said, “That’s right I wanted to get a key chain, I really love the quality and design of it.”  And the last day at BarkWorld I won a key chain, one of the many giveaways at the expo. (How cool, thank you universe!)

Since then, Sharon and I had correspondence and she was kind enough to be one of our sponsors for our 3rd Annual Holiday Party & Pet Food Drive for Long Island Pet Professionals.

As I mentioned, it’s not every day or every time I go to a pet trade show that I get excited about a product and how it came about.  Sharon was kind enough to let me take time out her busy schedule to interview her – and maybe inspire those of you who are thinking of getting into the pet industry or have a product idea they want to launch.

Q. So tell me more how you got interested in starting Zelda’s Song?

A.  I also always wanted to run my own business – I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs, my dad built a multi-million dollar business and my mother ran her own pharmacy, so it’s been in my blood.   After loosing my beloved Bernese Mountain dog, Zelda, at the age of 6 due to cancer, the idea of starting a business in her memory would keep coming to me, and it actually helped me manage my grief of loosing Zelda.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea, it kept coming back to me and the creative process really drew me in.

Q. I love what you told me about Searching Amazon and how a book popped up, tell us about that:

A. Yes I was searching on Amazon one day and a book called ‘One Nation Under Dog’ by Michael Schaffer popped up as a suggestion, and it was odd since I had never bought a pet related book on Amazon.   But it caught my attention, and I purchased it after reading the first few pages they give you to read on Amazon.  The book was about how our mainstream culture is not that accepting of pet loss.  The idea I was thinking of doing, or creating really was nagging at me even more after reading this book.  I thought, it would be so nice to have a way that pet owners could either wear a picture of their actual pet as an emblem their pets mean to them.   I wanted a way to carry Zelda’s picture with me or wear her picture – and also have a beautiful piece of jewelry capturing her essence for others to see.

That is fascinating that the book popped up, almost leading you in the direction you were already thinking of going – love that! So I love the tag line, ‘Fetch Joy’ – how did you come up with that?

A.  Fetch Joy was to show a fun way of representing life and the joy our pets bring to us on a daily basis.  So while you can memorialize your pet with our jewelry, you can also create a piece of jewelry with your current pet, fetching joy if you will.

So great! I know my Max is always bringing me joy!  What did you do before becoming a pet entrepreneur with Zelda’s Song?

A. I had a great career in marketing with various Fortune 500 companies.  Mostly in consumer products companies, and I specialized in new product development.  And I was also a manufacturers representative right before starting Zelda’s song.  I have an MBA and also 2-year degree in architectural engineering.

Wow, that is some career history and great combo on degrees on what you do.  I love to hear backgrounds of our pet professionals, and having a career in marketing must have really helped you.  So tell us, how did you start getting the word out about your business?

A.  I started with the pet trade shows, like HH Backer’s spring trade show, and I started doing a blog on being a start up entrepreneur.  But I have to say that the trade shows really proved that was interest in the product.  I tried to combine traditional and online advertising; I placed ads with The Bark magazine, was on Twitter, (@ZeldasSong), from the beginning and of course Facebook.  I am also getting into Pinterest.  I find that our customers want to connect directly with me, since I do the framing of their photo that ends up in the bracelet or keychain.  That has worked well – the direct interaction. Customers seem to want to share the story of their life with their dogs, and I like to listen – it’s part of the personal service and helps me understand how to showcase the dog’s personality.  Often times, our product is an emotional purchase for the customer.

You’re products are beautifully, handcrafted, here in the USA do you come up with the designs on your own?

A. Yes, so far I have created all the designs. Mostly they came about as I thought about designing jewelry that would hold Zelda’s photo and tags.  Then I just took it a step further to include the charm bracelet concept – something like a ‘Pandora’ bracelet for dog moms.

How long have you been in business?

A. We have been in business, creating, designing and getting everything in order to launch for 2 to 3 years, and started officially selling in June 2012. You know it takes a long time to get product to market, prototypes, manufacturing prototypes, etc. But the magic is when you are holding the first finished product in your hand – then you really know.

What is your goal of Zelda’s song moving forward?

A. Building my social media audience, get Zelda’s Song into more retail and gift boutique stores.  Part of my demographic is the older generation who are not on the internet – so focusing on getting more people who are not on the internet to know about Zelda’s Song.

What would you tell other business owners who are thinking of getting started in the pet industry?

A. I would say I am glad we went in to business, although it can continue to be scary, but the people we have met have along the way so far have been open and down to earth, generally very welcoming and helpful.   I would say to others in the pet industry or thinking about getting into it, if you have a tangible idea to go for it.  But do it the right way, and understand that not everyone in the pet industry will make money with whatever product they bring to market.  I know this from business in general from all my years working in marketing and being a manufacturers rep.  Do your due diligence in researching your idea or product and launch when you are ready – don’t rush it.

And lastly what is the song in Zelda’s Song?

A. I use to sing “Two of Us” by The Beatles to Zelda all the time.  And it just fit when coming up with the name for the business.

Thank you Sharon for sharing your story about your company and I am sure Zelda is very proud of her mom.  I know you already give back to groups like Berner-Garde Foundation, www.bernergarde.org and The Riedel and Cody Fund, www.riedelcody.org, so thankful for your generosity towards those two groups.  I love when business owners give back even when they first start out. I am thrilled with Max’s key chain and I can’t wait to see what is new to come out in your beautiful line of products.  For more about Zelda’s Song click here.

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