In this episode of the Part-Time Money podcast I speak with Cara Bergeson, creator of bentleyB.com. In her part-time small business, Cara makes custom t-shirts for dogs out of the material from vintage t-shirts. It’s really a one-of-a-kind business.
Cara started this business a few years ago as a way to express her creative side, as well as meet some financial goals: getting out of credit card debt, doing some more traveling, etc. Cara has taken the business to the point where it is grossing over $1,000 a month with just 30 hours of effort. She loves the work, she is able to keep her full-time job, and it allows her the freedom and flexibility to have a family life.
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Here’s more from Cara about her side business:
I started bentley B a few years ago to earn a few extra dollars… what started with a new puppy, an old t-shirt and a sewing machine has turned into a booming side business. bentley B takes fashion to the dogs in an incredible line of vintage styled tshirts for small dogs (up to 25 lbs). Each bentley B dog tee is refashioned/sewn from the fabrics of vintage, recycled and discounted clothing. Each tshirt is one-of-a-kind, no two tees are exactly alike. I sell bentley B tshirts on my website, www.bentleyB.com, as well as in high-end pet boutiques across the United States. Most popular tees include the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Superman, Wonder Woman, Popeye, Smurfs, etc.
When I started bentley B, I was excited if I grossed an extra $100 a month. Now I gross around $1,000 each month. Not bad considering I put in maybe 20-30 hrs a month, depending on the orders. I still personally sew each and every t-shirt. I wanted to start a side business that would help bring in cash but allow me to be home with my dog and determine my own schedule.
We have been featured in a number of national and regional publications including Modern Dog, Pet Style News, Doggie Aficionado, City Dog, Everyday Dog and The New Barker. We have also walked the runway at local fashion shows. Every year we give a portion of our profits to help animal shelters, abused animals and to Dove Lewis Emergency and ICU Hospital.
In the interview, I ask Cara plenty of questions, like:
Why did you decide to start making part-time money?
Why did you choose to start a custom t-shirt company?
What gave you the confidence to make custom t-shirts for dogs?
How did you structure the business?
Where do you get all of the vintage t-shirts?
What mistakes have you made along the way?
What’s next for bentley B?
The e-commerce website Cara uses to run her site is called, Mal’s e-commerce.
To see the full transcript of this podcast, click show
Welcome to the Part-Time Money Podcast, Episode 6: Making Extra Money By Creating Custom Vintage T-Shirts for Dogs. I am your host Philip Taylor, creator of PT Money Personal Finance.
Part-Time Money Podcast is designed to help you discover new and interesting ways to make extra money and to learn the ins and outs of those money-making methods, not from me but from the people who are actually doing the work. Along the way hopefully you can pick up a few entrepreneurial skills to help you in whatever money-making pursuit you take on.
Philip Taylor: Alright, today I am with Cara Bergeson. Is that how I say it, Cara?
Cara Bergeson: Bergeson, yes.
Philip Taylor: Cara is of Bentley Barks, and you can find her website at bentleyB.com. Cara’s side business makes vintage-style T-shirts for small dogs. How awesome is that!?!? She has been featured in a number of national and regional publications including Modern Dog, Pet Style News, Doggie Aficionado, City Dog, Everyday Dog, and The New Barker. You have got to love those dog publication names! Every year she gives a portion of her profits to help animal shelters, abused animals, and to Dove Lewis Emergency and ICU Hospital. She started her business to earn a few extra dollars. She used to be excited about just an extra $100 a month. Now she is able to gross sometimes over $1000 a month on just 20-30 extra hours a week. So, Cara, welcome.
Cara Bergeson: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Philip Taylor: So good to have you here. So tell me what helped you make the decision to start making some money on the side, some part-time money?
Cara Bergeson: I had a little bit of credit card debt, and I also was just looking for some extra spending money so that I could do some fun things like travel and buy some non-necessity products and what not. So, I had been toying with the idea of getting a second job, but I just was not liking the idea of being on another schedule, someone else’s schedule, and being away from home. So, Bentley B started when I got a new puppy, a little Yorkie mix who was about 2 pounds, and he needed a little T-shirt. So, I took an old T-shirt, found a sewing machine out of storage, and came up with the pattern. He wore it to doggie daycare. Everyone fell in love with it, and the light bulb went on.
Philip Taylor: That is awesome!
Cara Bergeson: So, I realized, here is a little niche that people like. I already have a few customers who are willing to jump right in with me right then and there, and we will see where it goes, make a few extra dollars, pay off some credit card bills, save up for some travel, and go from there. That is kind of how it all started.
Philip Taylor: Yeah, yeah, so at the time what was your full-time job?
Cara Bergeson: At the time, and it is still my current full-time job, I worked for a business-to-business magazine, handling their marketing and events. We run a couple of different conferences and trade shows, and those are my babies.
Philip Taylor: Awesome! Do they have anything to do with dogs?
Cara Bergeson: No, nothing to do with dogs.
Philip Taylor: Okay.
Cara Bergeson: We do have an office dog.
Philip Taylor: Okay, so this is completely separate. You talk about having a little credit card debt and wanting to travel, so those are obviously sort of universal desires. Why this over maybe asking for a raise or searching for another career job that paid a little better?
Cara Bergeson: You know, I love my day job. I really do enjoy it. It is a perfect fit for me as far as a day job goes. Starting Bentley B was a little bit of a creative outlet for me as well. It kind of incorporates my desire to shop because I get to look for vintage and recycled human T-shirts that then I cut down and turn into dog T-shirts. It also allows me to be home and spend time at home with my dog and my family, and it gives me the flexibility of my own schedule. I have been able to grow my business as quickly or as slowly as I needed in how my time kind of incorporated it. So, I have always been an entrepreneur ever since I was little. I always had little business ideas going on when I was in grade school and junior high, so it just kind of seemed like a natural fit. I did not want to lose my day job, and they kind of just fit together.
Philip Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. You are giving some good advice here. So, take me back to that moment when you brought your dog home and you had the idea to make him a little T-shirt and then how that transitioned. You said you are a natural entrepreneur, so I kind of have an idea of how it went, but talk me through that little time period in your life where you made the decision to take this from something you just wanted to do for yourself into something you could possibly make a little extra money with.
Cara Bergeson: Yeah, you know Bentley is obviously the name of my little dog, so when I first adopted him he was about 2 pounds. I was out at the different pet boutiques looking for little outfits for him, and I just could not find anything. Everything was way too big for him, so that was my first thought, “Oh, maybe there is a niche for tinier little dog outfits.” And then you know Bentley being a boy, I did not want anything too cute or girly or you know fancy. I wanted something hip and trendy and cool, something that my boyfriend would wear. I realized there were no products out there on the market that fell into that category for little boy dogs. So, without realizing it I kind of was doing the background research and realizing there was an open niche. Then, I was not even sure if I could remember how to sew. I took home ec., and my mom sewed, but I thought I would give it a try. I found an old sewing machine in storage and kind of make shifted a pattern. It actually turned out. It fit him. So, I was pretty proud of my little creation. He wore it to his little doggie school. The other pet owners were quite impressed with it, and the owner of the doggie daycare was the one who kind of encouraged me. She was like, “This is a great product. I know I could sell it. I will be your first wholesale customer.”
Philip Taylor: Wow!
Cara Bergeson: So, it just kind of all fell together amazingly.
Philip Taylor: Yep. Yep. So, I think the important element of what you talked about here is that it came out of a true need it sounds like. You really felt like you had a good niche here like you said. You also were able to instantly partner with some people to give you confidence that this was something worth doing. That is great.
Cara Bergeson: Yes, it was a blessing. Yes.
Philip Taylor: So, take me through the first steps. Did you set up an LLC? Did you set up a business of any type? How did you structure it initially I guess?
Cara Bergeson: Sole proprietary is how it was, and it still is.
Philip Taylor: Okay.
Cara Bergeson: So, that is how I started. My dad is a business owner, so growing up I had experience with spending my summers working for him. So growing up I got to see a lot of things as to how businesses work. So, he was very helpful. I also like to research, and I like to figure things out on my own. Luckily we have the internet these days, so I did a lot of researching on the internet on how to start a small business.
Philip Taylor: Good.
Cara Bergeson: The Oregon Bar Association offers free to very little cost consultations for new business owners, so I spent $25, spent an hour with a lawyer on the phone giving me advice and stuff, and then I just took it from there and went with it.
Philip Taylor: Well, that is genius. There you go leveraging your contacts again. That is great!
Cara Bergeson: I am a true believer in relationships. You never know when you are going to need that person that you just met.
Philip Taylor: Okay. That is awesome! So, the skill set you had going into this like you said was a little bit of background with home ec. and your mom teaching you to sew. So, was it just trial and error that you picked up the rest of the sewing skills that you needed?
Cara Bergeson: Yeah, actually it was. I was kind of impressed with myself that I was able to come up with a pattern and then be able to manipulate that pattern, not only to fit my sized dog, but now we carry 5 different sizes, and I can even do some special orders on some dogs because dogs are not made all the same.
Philip Taylor: Right. Right.
Cara Bergeson: So, yeah, that is kind of where my creative side came in, being able to be creative and figure out how different things are going to fit on different dogs. I borrowed all my friends’ dogs as my little models and my little testers.
Philip Taylor: That is great! So, obviously you were having fun doing this, and you could see some potential doing this, but when was it that you actually started making some money from this idea?
Cara Bergeson: I would say within the first 6 months. To this day I am still overwhelmed and just in awe of the publicity that I have received and boutiques all across the United States and even over in Europe that have contacted me because they have either seen me in a magazine or seen me at some other boutique or someone else’s website. It kind of just snowballed without me putting a whole lot of effort into it, which I am still in awe about. But, again I do think it comes down to the relationships that I have. I would talk to boutiques, and they may or may not have decided to carry my line, but it still was important for me to have a relationship with them and understand their business and where their customers were coming from because that helped me figure out what I needed to do to make this product work.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. How did you decide on your pricing?
Cara Bergeson: That took some time. It has been up and down. That first year I would say was a lot of trial and error, both with figuring out the pattern, what pattern works best for the majority of dogs, as well as what pricing works best for the majority of consumers out there as well as wholesalers, my boutiques. I am unique in the fact that I can sell straight to the customer as well as sell wholesale to my boutiques. It was a lot of trial and error, what worked, what did not work, a lot of feedback from people. Then it kind of all evened out at one point and seemed to work, and that is what I have stuck with ever since.
Philip Taylor: Awesome! Wow! I am looking at your website, and these are great designs. How are you able to find all of these old t-shirts?
Cara Bergeson: Lots of eBay and lots of Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, vintage secondhand stores, just any place I can get my hands on them.
Philip Taylor: Wow!
Cara Bergeson: I am fortunate I get to travel somewhat with my day job, so if time permits I will always check out the local secondhand store in whatever city I am in. So, I just buy them up. In talking about trial and error, when I first started I would buy anything and everything. It took about a year to figure out, “Okay. Now I know which kind of categories sell best.” The music T-shirts definitely followed by anything super hero or classic cartoons. Now when I shop I focus in on those 3 categories.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. What are your biggest sellers?
Cara Bergeson: My biggest sellers I would say are The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Smurfs, Popeye, and anything superhero, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman. Those are all big sellers.
Philip Taylor: Who is your customer? Are women buying these or men?
Cara Bergeson: It is a little bit of both. I think overall it is probably more female. I think for a lot of households that do not have children, their pets have become their children.
Philip Taylor: So they want a cool T-shirt for them.
Cara Bergeson: Exactly! This is an opportunity that they can put something cool on their dog that their male significant other is cool with. During sports times I get a lot of special requests for different sports teams. My Steelers and my Green Bay Packers T-shirts went out the door instantly.
Philip Taylor: Awesome! I love it! So, back to some of the finances of the business, obviously it sounds like the expenses are fairly low. It really is just about your time. You said you were able to gross about $1000 a month. How long into the business did that take you?
Cara Bergeson: Let’s see, I started the summer of 2006, and the first couple of years I was excited if I sold 3-5 T-shirts a month. This month in January I have already sold over 115 T-shirts. So, things have definitely changed. Because I have control over it, I can grow it as quickly as I want to, or if I do not have enough time, I can kind of pull back on that. I would say the last 2-1/2 years is when it has really started to kickoff and I really started to see the cash flow come in.
Philip Taylor: Has that allowed you to pay off the credit card debt and travel a little more?
Cara Bergeson: Absolutely! Absolutely! It takes care of my Starbucks habit. It takes care of my shopping habit. It has definitely paid off. It is something I enjoy doing, and it puts a few extra dollars in my pocket. Right now the few extra dollars are more fun money than anything else for me.
Philip Taylor: Gotcha. Gotcha. That is cool. That is so great! So, what about future plans? Do you ever see yourself scaling this up? I know you say you like your other job, but what do you see in the future for you?
Cara Bergeson: You know, I would love maybe 5-10 years down to the road to be able to have a Bentley B showroom so it is by appointment shopping for those locally and then be able to continue selling online as well as wholesale.
Philip Taylor: So, I know you have your shirts in some boutiques out there, but if someone orders online, do you do all the shipping yourself there?
Cara Bergeson: Yes, I do. Everything is shipped through USPS Priority Mail. I have tried really hard to keep all of my overhead as low as possible, even down to my logo and my colors for my website and my business cards and everything which are black and white because black and white printing is cheaper than color. I let the T-shirts themselves be the splash of color on my website.
Philip Taylor: I like it. It is effective.
Cara Bergeson: Yes. Thank you. Thank you. I do everything myself, all the shipping. I sew every solitary T-shirt myself. I handle it all. I am a 1-man show.
Philip Taylor: Did Bentley enjoy his little modeling session to take these stock photos for your site?
Cara Bergeson: It took some extra treats to get him to smile.
Philip Taylor: That is cool.
Cara Bergeson: Yep.
Philip Taylor: So, what kind of backend for the store do you have on your website? What is this being run on?
Cara Bergeson: It is all through Go Daddy and Mal’s e-commerce. It is just a really basic website, any commerce sites out there that you can be part of. Nothing is fancy. I run all of my payments through PayPal. Now with PayPal you do not have to have a PayPal account, you can still pay by credit card without signing up for one. It is very simple. It is very basic. There are no surprises.
Philip Taylor: That is what you wanted. You wanted a business, like you said, from the start that did not put you on another schedule, right? You did not want to choose another side job that put you on some type of schedule. You wanted the freedom. So, that is why you did this. You wanted to keep the business that way. That is great!
Cara Bergeson: Exactly! Yes. This way I can work in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep, or I can work Saturday morning. It is totally up to me.
Philip Taylor: It is great. So did you make any mistakes along the way that you could share with everyone if someone wanted to start a similar business they could learn from?
Cara Bergeson: That is a good question. There are always trials and errors. There are always mistakes that are going to take place, but I do not necessarily look at them as mistakes as much as I look at them as learning opportunities and finding a new solution to a situation. So, I think one of my biggest mistakes was allowing a boutique to carry my product without paying for it up front. It was more on consignment. Then, that boutique went under, and I never ended up seeing my T-shirts or my money for that. Now I protect my product a little more, and I am a little more selective on which boutiques carry my products. Again, that comes down to the relationship I have with people and just sticking with how my gut feels – if it is a good situation or a bad situation.
Philip Taylor: Good advice. So, anything else I missed or anything else you want to share about the website or your product in general?
Cara Bergeson: Yes, the website is bentleyB.com. All the T-shirts on there are made from human vintage recycled and secondhand clothing. All of the dog T-shirts have fabrics from at least 3 human T-shirts, so I do not waste any fabric. I may use the graphic part of 1 T-shirt, but the rest of that T-shirt is going to go for sleeves, stomachs, and necks on a different T-shirt. I love my product. I love what I do. It has been a lot of fun!
Philip Taylor: Awesome! Well, Cara, thanks for stopping in with me today to talk about it. People, I know, will get a lot of insight out of what you had to say and will enjoy the discussion you had with me, so thanks again for being on with me today.
Cara Bergeson: Thank you so much for having me.
That does it for this week’s podcast. This has been Phil Taylor with the Part-Time Money Podcast. You can contact me at PT@ptmoney.com or just visit me online at ptmoney.com. Again, thanks for listening, and see you next week.