433 Gila Kurtz: Dog Is Good
What can you learn in business and life … from a dog? Certainly love, loyalty…and the power of being in the now, the present moment. Dogs can also tell us much about how to be a great leader.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who takes her inspiration from dogs … and has built a fast-growing brand around it.
Gila Kurtz is the Co-Founder of Dog is Good, a lifestyle brand for dog lovers. It creates original messaging and designs for products sold at retailers nationwide and online to celebrate the dog-human connection – and one of Gila’s new clients is the athletic shoe company Sketchers. She’s also the bestselling author of Fur Covered Wisdom…A Dog Can Change the Way You See the World.
Gila will be here in just a minute to share how becoming a dog trainer led her to business success … plus all we can learn from dogs to be better CEOs and team leaders.
And first …
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Now back to the inspiring Gila Kurtz.
If you’ve been listening to this podcast you’ll know that to say I love dogs is a rather wild understatement. The beautiful labs and golden retrievers I’ve been blessed to have by my side throughout my life – including the my latest puppy Auggie – have given me wisdom, inspiration, resilience and love… more than I can quantify, really.
So I’m excited to talk Gila Kurtz today … a serial entrepreneur who found her deepest passion in working with dogs and their people. Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Dog is Good along with her husband, Jon Kurtz, Gila has turned her love for dogs into a thriving and fast growing business in an $80 billion industry – with a highly recognizable brand and broad array of products to celebrate and “share the unique joy one feels living life with Dog”.
Bestselling author of Fur Covered Wisdom…A Dog Can Change the Way You See the World, Gila has been honored as one of the top 25 women of influence in the pet industry (2015) by Pet Age Magazine and, most recently, Women of the Year award for Women In the Pet Industry Network.
Also a Puppy Training Expert, Gila also speaks professionally on life lessons, entrepreneurship, building relationships, and parenting strategies… inspired by Dog.
So are you ready for Gila Kurtz? I am. Let’s fly!
Melinda Wittstock: Gila, welcome to WINGS.
Gila Kurtz: Thank you, Melinda. Happy to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I'm excited to talk to you because any dog lover is a great friend in my book and I love that you have taken so much inspiration from dogs and I want to start there, just geek out with you a little bit about dogs and then we'll get into the business stuff. What was the “Aha” moment that led you to create Dog is Good?
Gila Kurtz: Well, I love geeking out with dogs too, so this is good. Good conversation. My background is as a professional dog trainer. I've been training dogs for over 20 years now and I was attending a continuing education conference during which there was an exhibit hall and a vendor there who was selling t-shirts. As I approached the booth that I noticed, they were all the same t-shirt, white basic t-shirts with a particular breed on them, any breed, and they all said the same thing, “I love mine.” I remember standing there for a couple minutes thinking, I do love my dogs.
There's no question, however, it's deeper than that. I really wish that there was something out there that expressed my love of dogs in a way that was more in tune with my heart and was going on in my life, but also that was really cute, something that I could wear. I came home and said to my husband, “Hey, I saw this t-shirts there but I would never wear them and what could we do?” He came up with the idea of the name Dog is Good and together we decided, “Hey, let's embark on this” because there's really nothing out there as we researched, nothing for the dog lover. That's how it began.
Melinda Wittstock: I'm on my fourth dog and I take a lot of my inspiration from dogs. In business, what can you learn… What can an entrepreneur learn from being perhaps a little bit more like a dog?
Gila Kurtz: Well, I think whether you are a solopreneur or you have a team, you are a leader. You're either leading yourself or you're leading yourself and others, and if you look at dogs and how they operate within a pack, when it is just themselves, they are the leader and they choose to follow you and your guidance. I also believe that becoming a benevolent leader is really key. That's the role of an alpha dog. They are benevolent leaders. They set the course, they set the expectation, they provide and control the resources so that the pack knows everything squared away. They don't have to worry. I think as a leader, that is something that you can learn from dogs. It's how can you show up in a way that highlights the vision and inspires the pack to follow along
Showing up as the benevolent leader that can have a tremendous amount of clarity around the vision for the company and the ability to communicate that in a way that inspires others to follow and to control the resources in such a way that your team is confident, that you have a clear direction and that they understand what the mission is and they understand their role within the pack, if you will, within the team, within the company and are empowered to excel within their position, and each position propels the company forward. Each position, each individual has a particular role that makes a difference within the company and its growth. I suppose as a leader properly, it really makes a difference.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's fascinating that dogs are always trying to figure out their position in the hierarchy, right? The role of the alpha, the alpha's the alpha when it's just, I guess unquestioned. What is that alpha dog doing that conveys that benevolence and that vision and that inspiration? What is it about the dog, the alpha dog?
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. It's a quiet confidence quite honestly. It's not about yelling or screaming or showing strength at the helm if you will. It is about laying out the vision, but for what you're doing, if we're talking people in a company and providing the resources to enable people to do what they need to do and to have a clear communication with each person so that they understand what their role is and the alpha dog is no different. They are just in control of the resources. They're making sure that the pack is safe. They're making sure that the pack has its resources and they are helping to keep things in alignment. When dogs gets out of control or stepping out of line, they just help to keep them back in line so that they maintain harmony within the pack.
Melinda Wittstock: You know what's fascinating to me is how dogs are so present. They don't seem to, I don't know, like if something goes wrong, they just shake it off. There's a resilience there as well as this power of the now. It's like they've all read Eckhart Tolle or something.
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. Very true. These are creatures that truly, truly are very present each and every day in each and every moment. They don't worry about what's happened in the past and they don't get anxious over what may happen in the future and there is a lot to be learned for that as well in business. You mentioned resilience. Dogs are persistent when they're going after what they want, they don't mind when there's challenges or a roadblock that comes in front of them. If it's something that they really want, they continue to work around it, problem solve and stay tenacious and persistent and get going after what it is that they want. If they run into challenges, as you mentioned, they are resilient and that is something that we as business owners have to get very good at, and to take the emotion out of it too, just deal with things head on, problem solve, ask what new steps can be taken and work around the problems and move forward. Don't stay stuck in the challenges.
Melinda Wittstock: I think they're like the higher life form in in a lot of ways. Certainly, in the sense that they have an emotional intelligence that I think we possess as humans too. We tend, often, many of us not to use that muscle and in business when we can really connect with people, whether it's our team members, our customers, investors, whoever with that level of emotional intelligence or spiritual connection perhaps. I believe we do much better. I mean we start to manifest things. We start to have synchronicities. We start to have all kinds of really interesting things go on in our businesses. I mean, do you see that? Is that something where we could also learn from dogs?
Gila Kurtz: I completely agree. I think my hypothesis truly is around what is going on with technology and the relationship that has unfolded with our dogs. Let me give you… I'll explain deeper what I mean by that. In the past 10 years for sure, we are more connected than ever before as individuals through our cell phones, through email, through technologies made it possible. However, at the same time, this technology has also made us more disconnected from humans than ever before. It is that reason I believe that we as dog lovers are so deeply connected to our dogs.
They provide for us a connection and a heart connection that we just are not experiencing in our day to day interactions with other human beings. I believe there is a tremendous lesson there. When we walk into our home as you know, whether you've been gone 10 minutes or 10 hours or 10 days, your dog goes crazy the moment you come back in. It's probably the only family member in the house that is so exuberant about you entering back into the house, right? We love that moment. I call it the joy of those first two minutes helmets. As a result of that, we experienced a tremendous physiological change in our makeup because of that kind of interaction.
Imagine if you were to great family members or friends in that same level of excitement every time they came into the door, but how that would impact the relationships that you have within the household. Additionally, at work, when you're talking to somebody, are you multitasking or are you truly engaged in the conversation? Because our dogs are not multitasking when they're engaging with us. They are truly, truly connected and they are listening. When you… when they are looking at you, they are listening and we owe it to ourselves and to the people in our world.
That same level of courtesy, that opportunity to really look at that individual as they're speaking and to really listen to what they are saying and to be thoughtful in our response to them. I think what you just mentioned as far as them being a higher being … being a more grounded, if you will, gives us opportunity to learn from them in that regard as well. It boils down to the strength of the connection that we have to not only our dogs but how can we get… how can we do that with the people in our lives as well?
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh. Yeah. I mean this is one of the reasons why in all my companies, except for the virtual ones, I've always had dogs allowed in the office. I've always encouraged people to bring their dogs and as I'm building this business number five of mine, this podcasting network, it's really critical to me that everybody can bring their dog to work. There are all other benefits as well because they remind us, but they also lower our blood pressure.
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. They do. I mean we have dogs here at Dog is Good every single day and it really does make a difference. The energy is different. In fact, on days when we don't have the dogs here, it's a completely different environment. They do reduce the stress level and they do put a smile on your face. As we like to say here at Dog is Good, we want anybody that encounters our company to feel as though they've just interacted with a bunch of dogs, puppies or whatever the case may be, that kind of customer service we strive to bring to the table to the people we interact with.
Melinda Wittstock: Let's turn the corner into business here and, and the genesis of Dog is Good because you took it from just an idea and a love of dogs and all your background as a dog trainer and all of this to a good seven figure business. Tell me… Just let's go through the process of how you built it.
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. Interesting. In the early stages and when we first launched the company, I knew nothing. I did not know what I was doing at all. I often refer to myself as the unconscious incompetent. I didn't know what I didn't know to even ask questions so I could learn. One of the things that I've always done with every business that I've built is just move forward. I'll just figure it out as I'm going along because I get very excited and I'm very disciplined in that regard of just going after what it is that I want. The way that we really were able to get some footing and get it going was obviously had to come up with some products that expressed exactly what we wanted. I had to learn how to create that product and then we had to sell the product.
We did it in two ways. We would create product and we would do events and local community events where we could share the brand with dog lovers, direct to the dog lover, and that really gave us the feedback that we needed to learn what was resonating and what wasn't. The second thing that needed to happen was for me to actually get on the phone and call potential stores who might be interested in carrying the product and so, I spent a lot of time every day cold calling businesses to introduce the brand. Over time, people began to look at the brand and they'd say, “Yeah, I would like to carry this in our store.” That led to doing trade shows and from there, we were able to grow even faster, that was really the genesis. Then the next pillar that came into play was the licensing component where we began to license out our art to other manufacturers or their products and enhanced distribution through yet another channel. Those are really the three legs in which we built the company and began to grow it very quickly.
Melinda Wittstock: It's a massive, massive market like I just think of how much people, including me, spend on our pets. We are so generous with our pets. It's a massive, massive industry, so what's next when you think of taking it, say from a good seven figure business, are you going bigger or are you heading for the eight figures, nine figures more? What's the ultimate vision?
Gila Kurtz: Yes. Well, I have always said Dog is Good as a $50 million brand plus and I think some of the new initiatives or the strategies by which we will get there. We launched a couple of years ago a program called the Dog is Good Pop-up Shops, and this began organically. It was not something that we had in our business plan or had ever intended to do, but what started to happen was individuals would see us around the country, see the brand and reach out to ask if they could also carry the product, not in a brick-and-mortar store, but actually purchase it to sell at events. Without realizing that we were suddenly in a position where we could be helping other dog lovers create a business for themselves using our brand, we embarked on that venture and started helping individuals do that.
Then, that began to transform, so where people were doing events, they now were doing not just events, but going into companies and setting up in businesses and selling their wares that their dog has good products, basically everywhere. At the same time, we were building this community with these individuals where it was… There is so much personal growth and personal transformation and people's lives were changing because of this new business opportunity that they had embarked upon. We're expanding that and we are continuing to bring on some very big licensees. One that I'm most excited about, or 2020 is Sketchers brands, so I think…
Melinda Wittstock: Wow. That's big, amazing.
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. That was a big one. We're going to see this… The shoes come out in April of 2020, so excited about that. Yeah. With new product categories, our sweet spot is that we are for the dog lover. We don't really create any pet products except for a couple. We focus on the human at the other end of the leash, but where we stand out is in the messaging. Our messaging hits home immediately, so the dog lovers sees themselves in the brand bait. They identify the products as who they are as people, and it really quite honestly, the message, it doesn't matter what the product is, it's… They'll buy it simply because of what it says. That's how we'll continue to grow.
Melinda Wittstock: That's very innovative because I mean, almost everybody else focuses on the dog, right, like so humans are lavishing all this attention and love and gourmet food and treats and all sorts of things on their dogs, the pet travel industry has expanded. I mean there's so many things, so many products you can buy, but by focusing on the human, I'm using the dog to do that. The dog is like in a way, it's our spirit guide of sorts. That's very innovative. Is there anybody else that has that focus because it seems unique to me?
Gila Kurtz: Well, thank you. We were actually one of the first to foray into that channel, really focusing only on the dog lover. I'd like to say that we were the pioneers for gifts for the pet lover in the pet industry, but since then, there are more companies, certainly the pie keeps getting bigger and so there are more companies that are addressing the gift for the pet lover. That will always stay our sweet spot and I think we have a strong foothold in that category, and we know that there… The pet industry is a $1 billion, excuse me, $80 billion industry and it's not getting any smaller and you'll see more and more major corporations finding ways in which they can be creating pet products too.
It's very interesting to see, but at the same time we are also seeing where the smaller companies that are getting started trying to create more of same products or what we refer to as need to products. They're getting bought up by bigger brands. Where you see a lot of companies currently, I think in the next five years, you're going to see that flush out and the smaller ones will either go away or get bought up and it'll regulate itself again.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. I can see that. I think how smart though of Sketchers, because you can see a lot of people who just are going to love the shoes so much more for the message. It just makes so much sense. I could see it being so good for business for them as well for you.
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. Well, thank you. Really, there's a lot of companies that license us and part of their interest has to do with the fact that they want to participate in the pet industry. I'll give you another example, Kurt Adler, which is maybe not a household name, but people know their products. They're the largest manufacturer of Christmas ornaments in the world and they licensed dog as good as well for 2020 program. Part of the reason to do that was wanting to really expand their offering for in the pet category. Then, there's other companies that have products that they would like to get into, maybe they do audit, like we sell into automotive stores, believe it or not.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. I can imagine. I can imagine Subaru being a big client.
Gila Kurtz: That's my dream client. Subaru, if you are listening, we want to work with you, we truly do. Yeah. The companies who may not have product specifically with pet themed, et cetera, often will seek us out to utilize our designs, many of which we have not even created. We have a huge design book. It doesn't mean that we put every single thing that we create on a product currently and so, they'll have opportunity to look through that and see what they want to use, either existing designs or new designs in our book or their products. They also understand that we have the capability to get them into distribution into retail stores and they would never be able to get into.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, wow. That's interesting. I think of all the Amazon sellers out there, do you work with a lot of them?
Gila Kurtz: No. Actually, we do not allow retailers to sell on Amazon, our brand anyway.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, I see. Why is that?
Gila Kurtz: Well, I think that there's a perception around that. This way, we can control pricing, so what started to happen was retailers would carry our brand and then you'd have individuals knocking off the brand, reselling at a much lower price or completely different quality. The only way to regulate what was going on there was to completely shut everybody down and just prohibit the opportunity to do that. It also gives our stores our accounts strength and knowing that we don't allow the retailers to sell on Amazon.
Melinda Wittstock: Got it. Yeah. Okay, I get it. That makes a lot of sense. What has been your experience, I mean, this podcast of course being geared to female founders and women at all stages of business as they grow and they scale their businesses, what have been or have there been any challenges that you've found uniquely as a woman in business or not so much?
Gila Kurtz: I have been very fortunate. I personally have not found specific challenges simply because I was a woman. I have not been in a situation where my opinion didn't matter or where things that I wanted to do were a challenge simply because I was a woman. I've been fortunate that way. I know others have run into challenges, maybe it's their industry, I don't know, but that has not been something that I've had to face.
Melinda Wittstock: My pattern recognition brain goes into overdrive here and I see that so many women are more likely to believe it when people say you can't. It takes a… a certain entrepreneurial DNA so it overrides all that stuff.
Gila Kurtz: I think so. I think if I had been told at any point that I couldn't do something or an idea was off, I… That fuels my personality.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Gila Kurtz: I take that comments a serious challenge and I would definitely be like, “Okay. Bring it on please.” Actually, that might be a good idea. I probably could use a little discouragement or people patronizing it a little bit to help me move faster.
Melinda Wittstock: You see, Isn't that interesting because I find I'm the same way, like if someone tries to talk me out of it or whatever, I think, Oh like I got, I'm actually more interested in me or maybe it's just a contrarian nature of the entrepreneurial DNA. Did you always know that you are entrepreneurial when you were a little kid? Did you do the lemonade stand, all of that?
Gila Kurtz: I did. I didn't necessarily think of myself as an entrepreneur when I was doing that. I sold the… I did the lemonade, I did cookies. I actually, one time, I went and got asked for donations of people's old jewelry, like if they would just didn't want their jewelry anymore and they were going to just give it away or not nice jewelry, the costume jewelry. I think I was in fourth grade when I did this and then I put together a stand and then resold that, so like a consignment shop selling that and I always had wanted to be a teacher. I'll be honest with you. That's was my dream since I was a seven year old kid and I was very fortunate that I was able to actually pursue that through my education and actually become a high school teacher. That was my dream and I absolutely loved it.
Once I married my husband and we started traveling because of the Navy, I could not continue to get teaching jobs in every location. You would think that'd be so easy, but it really wasn't. That's when my entrepreneurial spirit really just blossomed because I was… I wanted to do something for myself and I realized it would be easier for me to just do something for myself and to continue to try to find a job every time I move.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Right. At what point did you get interested in training puppies? How did that love… because you're an amazing dog trainer, so we'll have to get some dog training tips from you before the podcast is over. What was it that attracted you to dogs and attracted you to training them to begin with?
Gila Kurtz: Well, this is a great question and a good story and I'll keep it brief for you. When we were living in Japan, I wanted something to take care of anything. I wasn't getting pregnant, and so this family had a Dalmatian-Lab mix. They're next door neighbor Lab and the Dalmatian, whatever. We got our very first puppy. I didn't know anything about dogs; I didn't know anything about training them, but I love this pup. When we came back to the States, I did actually get pregnant, had my daughter and started a gourmet coffee vending business. During my vending business route around the DC area, I would take this Dalmatian with me along for the ride and at the end of our route; we would land at a local dog park in Alexandria, Virginia.
One day at the dog park, some gentleman walked in with six dogs and I had never seen somebody with that many dogs, so I asked like, “Wow, your house must be insane with this many dogs.” and he said, “Oh, no. No, No. I'm a professional dog walker.” I had never heard of that. I was like, “Really, like you just take dogs to the park for fun, that's your job?” He said, “Yeah.” As we continued the conversation, he shared he was making a six figure income doing this, and that blew my mind. Of course, it was over 20 years ago now.
I remember saying to my husband, “Oh my gosh! When we move to Florida, I'm going to be a professional dog walker. How fun would this be to just play with dogs all day and get paid for it? When we moved to Florida, we lived in Panama City Beach, which was more of a rural environment and dog walkers were not really needed. People just let their dogs run in the backyards or they were chained to a tether or something like that, but what I realized was that gave me an opportunity to turn my love for dogs and my passion for working with people and teaching into a profession and so I chose to become a dog trainer at that point.
That's was the impetus behind that journey and absolutely fell in love with it because the way dogs, my dog and then the next one, which was we had adopted while we were in Florida, the way that they were impacting my life was just so unique. It was just something I had never experienced before. The families that I got to work with and to help them with the objective of making sure that these dogs stayed with them and did not get surrendered at any point during the course of their lives to a shelter, that opportunity to teach and build these relationships with these dogs was a dream come true for me. To this very day, no matter how busy I am at Dog is Good, I still train puppies, I still help families ring these new fun, adorable little creatures into their lives and help them navigate that very difficult, potentially stressful first year so that those dogs stay with them for the rest of their lives. It's so much fun for me. I absolutely love it.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness. That's amazing. As I do this podcast, Auggie, my English Cream Golden Retriever puppy, who is eight months, is looking at me. He listens to all my podcast. He looks very wise and opinionated about in particular. He particularly likes this topic. One of the things, this is my fourth now and I've just learned that positive reinforcement works extremely well, but also if he's going to go and choose something, he's going to chew anyway, so you say, “No, not this but, how about this? “They're going to chew anyway, right? You have to understand them a little bit. What would be some of your top puppy training tips or dog training if they're a little bit older or they're rescue or something like that, what would be the main… What would be your… God, can't speak. What would be your philosophy and in like the top three dog whisper tips that you could provide us?
Gila Kurtz: Yeah. I think what I'm going to share with you is not only applicable to raising a puppy, but it really is applicable to living your life each and every day and if you're a business owner in how you should be running your business. First and foremost is answering that question, what does success look like to you? When someone's bringing a new puppy into the home, when that dog is a year old, how do you envision their behavior? What are they going to be allowed to do? What are… How do you see them behaving when the doorbell rings, when you're eating dinner, when you're cooking, when family and friends are coming over to the home, how do you envision their behavior because the essence of dog training is to basically de-dog the dog, right?
We, as families, want particular behaviors that these dogs don't come naturally. They don't… These are not instinctive behaviors for the dog what we are expecting and we want to get rid of all the ones that those dogs are born into this world with. They desire to jump, to run, to play, to, to dig, to bark, to nip, to chew, all of those things. Having clarity around what does success look like to you, and then the most important thing is then managing the environment. Set that puppy up for success by making it impossible for them to practice what you don't want them to do so that why you are teaching them what you do want them to do, you now are put in a position where you can provide that reinforcement, that guidance as a benevolent leader, setting the expectation, managing the environment so they can't make the wrong decision and then rewarding them with what they find rewarding in order to secure those behaviors and then being consistent.
If you're a consistent trainer, you're going to get consistent results. If you're consistent with your habits, you're going to get consistent results with yourself, whether it's health or wellbeing or spiritual growth, whatever that may be, consistency and then reward. Everybody wants to find… People continue to do behaviors as do dogs when there is something pleasant that follows those behaviors.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Well, Auggie will do anything for a cuddle or some food. I mean, gosh, even for a Brussels sprout, like he would do anything even for a Brussels sprout.
Gila Kurtz: We laugh that Goldens and Labrador retrievers are the two top breeds that literally would swim to Alaska and back for one piece of kibble. They truly are food motivated and not that they're not motivated by other things as well. All dogs are, but here's the interesting thing, and this again is something to remember not just as dog training, but as it applies to building a team or just in terms of your own personal goals. The animal decides what their reward is, period. If food is the reward, if a cuddle just doesn't do it, then food is the reward or a treat or something like that.
If playing with a ball is the reward, the highest value reward, then that'll do it. That'll get you the behavior every single time. Knowing your team where some people may benefit so much so with personal recognition, somebody else might want a monetary recognition, a reward in that regard, sometimes giving a gift card to Starbucks makes the difference. There's so many things to me that are so parallel between training a dog, living with a dog, dog behavior and running a team as well as managing one's own life.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh. That's so astute. I mean, I think that's why a lot of people, including us with WINGS Media, always want to know people's Love Language,
Gila Kurtz: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: You want to really be able to incentivize people correctly, so I love that. It's so true, and it ties the conversation right back to where we began in terms of what we can learn from dogs. How beautiful. Gila, for anyone listening here who may want to license or do a deal with you for that or any of the other ways that they can work with you, what's the best way for them to find you?
Gila Kurtz: Yes. Thank you for that. They can reach me personally at Dog is Good. Gila, G-I-L-A@dogisgood.com. They can certainly go to the website to learn more about the brand and the product line and the various opportunities for both licensing and Pop-up Shop. If you are a dog lover listening and you're entrepreneurial and want to start a business for yourself and not be in business by yourself, this is a wonderful opportunity to do that. You can certainly reach out to gather more information on that as well. Dog is Good, can be found on all social platforms as well, and we encourage everybody to join us and be a part of that community if you're a dog lover.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. I always thank people for putting on their wings and Gila, in your case, for going all four legged with me today. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us on WINGS.
Gila Kurtz: No. I really appreciate it. I'm honored and it was a lot of fun to talk with you, Melinda.