Take it from Terri Entler: If you can’t find a product that fits your needs, it just might be a sign that opportunity awaits.
A few years ago, the Vancouver resident noticed her German shepherd’s paw pads were severely injured from a summer hike. Seeking to help the healing process, Entler tried applying socks and gauze and fastening them with duct tape, but they came off, got wet and dirty, and stuck to the wounds. She could find nothing on store shelves or in veterinary offices that did the trick.
Finally, Entler, an engineer, went into her basement and came up with her own solution, sewing an outer layer of heavy-duty netting to a terrycloth lining and securing it with Velcro and a hook. Looking back, Entler describes her creations as “crude,” but they stayed on and breathed. Even the veterinary office where she took her dog was impressed, she said.
Entler turned a need into an entrepreneurial venture, founding Healers PetCare Inc. Its first product, Healers paw booties, evolved from her prototype. They feature a breathable, stretchable fabric; non-skid sole; and Velcro. The booties were tested for a year with veterinarians and released with a patented, replaceable gauze insert in September 2011.
Healers PetCare also sells a first-aid kit for dogs, which features 65 items including the paw bootie, the company’s elastic leg bandage with gauze, antibiotic ointment and an antiseptic towelette.
Christine Johnson, Entler’s veterinarian, who has lent Healers booties to owners of dogs with injuries or allergies, said Entler came up with a winner.
“It’s so easy to put on, and it stays on and is water-resistant,” Johnson said.
Entler said she expects the company to turn a profit by next year.
“I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I’ll get a call from a customer saying, ‘This has helped my dog so much.’ Those kinds of things keep me motivated.”
Born in Portland and raised in Tigard, Entler always liked figuring out how things worked. She worked in banking for a time. When the youngest of her four kids was in first grade — they’re now 25, 27, 28 and 30 — she enrolled at the University of Portland, where she earned an electrical engineering degree. Entler also has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
Entler said her education and experience as an electrical engineer in the high-tech field helped her learn how to bring products to market. She credits the Portland-Vancouver area’s “awesome entrepreneur community” for support and networking opportunities.
Healers PetCare Inc.’s latest product is Urban Walkers, booties that protect dogs’ paws when they’re on rough surfaces.Healers PetCare Inc.
Most sales have come via the Internet, though Entler’s products are available at independent pet stores, small pet-store chains and veterinary offices. Entler said she’s made sales inroads nationally and internationally through trade show appearances and resulting word-of-mouth.
Orders are heavier in winter and summer. Eventually, Entler would like to make products for other animals, such as horses, which she said will soften the seasonal nature of the business.
The company’s most significant challenge is funding to execute its marketing plan and expand its product line. Entler, who relies on contractors as needed but does not yet have employees, said she secured a line of credit this year from Columbia Bank to grow the business and is seeking investors.
The biggest lesson she’s learned is the power of networking, given all that’s involved in moving a product from concept to market.
“People have bent over backwards to help us. It’s just been amazing the people I’ve met and the support I’ve had. The wealth of knowledge in this community is awesome if you can tap into it.”
Entler said she’s also realized the value of product testing, noting that she sells products in pairs rather than in fours because she learned that dogs’ front and back paws often are different sizes.
Lori Brown, training supervisor with Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc., said the nonprofit, which has an Oregon campus in Boring, provides dog boots to graduates and had been looking for a better-fitting product than what it has found on the market.
She said it’s been a “win-win” as her organization has tested Urban Walkers. And although the nonprofit has not seen a final iteration of the product, “we’re very interested,” Brown said.
“The nice thing about a small business is she has been great to work with,” Brown said. “Hopefully the final product will be one we can utilize on more of our dogs, if not all.”
Entler still works part time for a company that designs and assembles printed circuit boards. Eventually, she hopes to transition away from that work and devote her time solely to Healers PetCare.
“Obviously I have a passion for this,” she said. “You are putting in 16-hour days to get this thing going, so you’ve got to love what you are doing.”