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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Cara’s Story: Making Vintage Tees for Bentley
When Cara Bergeson needed something for Bentley, her new Yorkie mix puppy, to wear she went shopping. After visiting a host of pet boutiques, she either found outfits that were too big for him or ones that were too cute or fancy. She wanted him to look trendy and cool, to wear something her boyfriend would wear. So, she found an old t-shirt, grabbed her sewing machine out of storage, and made one herself.
Bentley wore his vintage tee to doggie daycare, everyone fell in love with it, and an entrepreneurial light bulb went off in her head.
Cara had been mulling over ways to make extra money so she could pay off credit card debt and have more resources for travel. She loved her day job handling marketing and events for a business-to-business magazine, so she didn’t want to find another higher-paying career, or even ask for a raise. But she did want to find something that would easily allow her to be creative, work from home, and set her own hours. Soon after realizing there was no doggy clothing catering to the hip dog sector, bentleyB.com was born. For advice on paying off your own credit card debt, check out this post.
Granted, luck had a lot to do with her initial success. After that one visit to doggie daycare, the daycare owner was encouraging Cara to make more t-shirts. The owner even offered to be her first wholesale customer.
Researching and Preparing to Start a Business
Starting a small business can be daunting, but Cara’s father was a business owner, so she had seen it modeled in her home growing up. Once she decided to move forward, she spent a lot of time researching on the internet, as well, to learn how to start a small business.
There are always trials and errors. There are always mistakes that are going to take place, but I do not necessarily lookat them as mistakes as much as I look at them as learning opportunities and finding a new solution to a situation.
Cara also learned that the Oregon Bar Association offers low-cost consultations to new small business owners. So, for $25 she was able to pay for an hour on the phone with an attorney who advised her and answered her questions. Read this post to learn more about the importance of legal advice when you start a business.
Preparing to launch her business included a lot of different details. While Cara had taken home economics in high school, she still had to create a pattern that would be adjustable to various dog sizes. BentleyB now offers 5 sizes and can fulfill custom orders for hard-to-fit dogs.
Tips to Build Relationships and Keep Costs Low
Luck and relationships are strong threads in Cara’s entrepreneurial success story. She built relationships with boutique owners, even if they didn’t necessarily decide to carry her line of doggy tees. Word of mouth spread from there, and she was eventually featured in both American and European magazines and other websites. Her publicity snowballed with little effort on her part aside from relationship-building.
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.
Within the first six months, Cara was actually making a profit. She is determined to keep her overhead low. She scours thrift shops for 3 types of t-shirts: music, cartoons/superheroes, and sports. She knows her customers and those are the shirts that sell. She does everything herself—from the shipping to the website. She even intentionally kept the site design black and white in order to reduce printing costs.
Has BentleyB served its purpose and helped Cara pay off debt? Absolutely, she says. It now funds her Starbucks and shopping habits. If you need some ideas for starting your own small business, read this post.
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