FOCUS: There’s No Business Like Dog Business
VINCENT HARRIS | CONTRIBUTOR
About three years ago, Allison Blasko & Janice Antley decided they wanted to start a business. The two longtime friends and Upstate natives had plenty of experience to draw on. Antley was a graphic designer, and Blasko had spent years in the corporate world before taking some time off to raise her children. So the two met to come up with an idea for a new business.
They tried. And tried. And tried.
“We met weekly for months to brainstorm on types of businesses we’d like to do, but we had brain fog,” Blasko says with a laugh. “We couldn’t come up with what we wanted to do.”
The pair was at a loss until one day while Blasko was sitting in her den watching her nephew play with her recently adopted rescue dog. “It was the first one I’d had in a while, and I had pets on the brain,” she says. “And it just kind of hit me: What if we made monogrammed pet products? I don’t think there’s a lot of stuff like that out there.”
From that simple idea, Ally Jay Pet Designs was born. Their first product was a leather patch that slides onto a dog collar with the dog’s first, middle (if needed) and last initials (typically, but not always, the owner’s last name) sewn into the leather. But that product didn’t come until months later, after Blasko and Antley had done some extensive research.
“The first thing I did was look it up online, and there didn’t seem to be anyone doing that,” Antley says. “There were a lot of people putting pets’ names on things, but not true monograms for pets. We also learned that it was really hard to monogram a collar. So there was no product out there to print a monogram on. So we put our heads together on ideas for the collar and designed this leather piece that slides onto a dog collar. We found a manufacturer, found someone who would sew the monogram on, found some leather we loved and designed the slide. It took months to find a company that made good quality leather.”
“Once we saw that there wasn’t a lot on the market that was fitting our style, we started working on our supply chain, finding manufacturers and vendors to help us make these products,” Blasko adds.
The current product selection that Ally Jay offers is over a hundred strong, and includes monogrammed food bowls, beds, bandanas, bowties, carriers and their current best-seller, a dress-shirt collar, which comes in an Oxford style for the especially preppy pet, all designed by Antley and Blasko. And a portion of Ally Jay’s proceeds go to animal rescue organizations.
“I’ve been inspired by Southern clothing companies like Southern Tide,” Antley says. “We’re trying to create a well-known brand for pets, one that’s high quality, that’s got all the details and thought that people put into people clothes.”
Initially, the plan was for Ally Jay to be a web-only business, but the response to their product line was so strong that the duo soon had to seriously consider expanding into retail. “We had stores that began to call us about carrying our products,” Blasko says. “At first we weren’t able to accommodate that price point; the wholesale market is a whole different realm. But over time we’ve been able to work with the manufacturers to be able to deliver those products. Now, we’ve been able to become like a design shop selling to retail, but we still sell to the end user as well. We’re moving more in the retail direction now, because the market has called us.”
And Ally Jay has a lot more products in the pipeline, so many in fact that they’ve had to temporarily stop brainstorming new ones just to catch up. “We’ll have a lot of products in the next two years,” Antley says. “We’ve had to stop developing because it takes months to fully bring a product to fruition.”
“We’re looking into collegiate licensing at some point in the future,” Blasko says. “We still have a long way to go, but it’s been a great adventure we didn’t expect. People really love our products. “
And Antley sums up just why those products have been so successful in one simple phrase: “Pets are family,” she says. “We believe they’re God’s gifts of unconditional love, and it’s through that love of pets that Allison and I decided to start Ally Jay.”
“You give your pet your home, and give a pet your name,” Blasko adds. “It’s who you are and who you belong to. When you pick out a monogram and a fabric and a color that goes with that pet’s personality, that pet is going to be the only one with that collar, with that print, with that monogram.”
The Dogs Issue
Pawsitively Pampered: Local pet boutiques cater to dog owners — and their four-legged friends
Sweet Dreams: Snoozer Pet Products puts pups in the lap of luxury
Dressing Doggies: AllyJay has the accessories your pooch didn’t know he needed
Walking the Dog: Small businesses can make big money in pet services
Hound Hotels: The Upstate steps up its pet boarding game