Bridget and Trevor Tuckey almost gave up.
Their Cleveland-based business of selling handcrafted leather dog collars had plateaued and they didn’t see a way of moving forward after they had spent the last four years building Wild Hound Outfitters from bootstrap beginnings.
“I really questioned it for a long time,” Trevor Tuckey said of continuing the stagnated business. “There was no change, and it stayed there for four or five months. And we got to the point where we were kind of questioning ourselves if this was the cap of what our capabilities were for the business.”
Those few months “took the wind out of our sails,” he said.
As Christmas 2017 drew near, though, the business came roaring — or barking — back and the couple hasn’t looked back since.
“It was just one of those things that reinvigorates you and brings back the spark and life to that business,” Trevor Tuckey said. “That's really where we were like, ‘Alright, we're going to do this.’”
Bridget Tuckey started the business in 2013. She found some dog collars laying around her mother-in-law, Betsy’s, leather shop while on a visit to their horse farm in Kentucky. She took a few photos of them, posted them on Etsy and they sold right away.
She started getting questions, people asking if she could customize the collars for their dog.
“I was like, ‘Well, I guess I can,’” Bridget Tuckey remembered thinking. “‘There’s nothing stopping me.’ So we kind of started like that, and it's just gotten huge and expanded since then.”
She sold a handful of collars on Etsy at first and has sold more than 2,000 since then, not to mention other items like dog bowls and leashes that are made locally, too.
After deciding to start the business, the Tuckeys moved from Georgia to Kentucky to stay with Trevor Tuckey’s parents in order to cut costs while the business was getting off the ground. Bridget Tuckey learned the ins-and-outs of leather working from her mother-in-law by spending time with her in the leather shop above their horse barn every day. She makes riding chaps for horses and has been working with leather for quite a while, so she was able to teach Bridget Tuckey everything she needed to know.
“They have a massive table in the middle of the room, and on the sides of the room there are shelves with all different kinds of leather rolled up,” Bridget Tuckey said. “This wouldn't have even been a thought and it wouldn't have even been possible without having access to all those tools and help.”
The Tuckeys found their footing and eventually moved back to Hall County, then just a little further north to Cleveland and have continued their business in their own basement workshop.
Bridget Tuckey has spent countless hours in that workshop making collars, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The leather they use comes from a tannery in California and is delivered in rolls like fabric at a fabric store.
They use a thick leather that makes up most of the collar and then a thin leather that’s glued and sewn on top of that. The thin leather is where the personalization comes in. Customers can choose different shades of brown or other colors if they’d like.
Each piece of leather has to be cut to the dog’s measurements so it fits just right, and after it’s all cut, glued and sewn, the nameplate, which is hand stamped, is added along with any other embellishments the customer chooses, like copper spots, stones or conchos.
The last step is to add the D-ring for the leash and then the buckle and holes to adjust the collar’s size.
“Everything is made to order,” Bridget Tuckey said. “We don't have any collars laying around that we send out as soon as we get an order. My husband will take the order, look at the notes the customer may have left and he'll sit down and start working on that exact order. That way when a customer gets it, it fits their dog to a T and it's made exactly how they want it to be.”
She said it’s her husband’s job to make the collars now. Bridget Tuckey is working again as a teacher but she still helps part time.
Trevor Tuckey works full time in the business and is happy they didn’t give things up a few years back.
“I like being able to see an end result,” Trevor Tuckey said. “I've had remedial office jobs where, yeah, you see the end of the workday and you've gotten done what you wanted accomplished, but with this, I have something tangible and something I can be proud of, I guess. I really enjoy doing what I do and making the things I do.”
But he said none of it would have happened without his wife. She’s the one that took the time to learn how to work with leather. She’s the one who has marketed everything and built the business to what it is today.
He didn’t even know it was possible and never really wanted it to be.
“I'll be honest, I did not see it coming to fruition whatsoever because it was not anything that I really wanted to partake in,” Trevor Tuckey said. “I'm not saying that in a negative fashion. My mom has done this and has a thriving leather business of her own — and it's just nothing that I had been interested in. And (I) thought that it wasn't very lucrative to be honest.”
He didn’t see it as something his family could make a living from. Over the years, he’s seen that it’s possible. And he’s seen that without his wife, it wouldn’t be.
“I don't gloat on her enough,” Trevor Tuckey said. “From the ground up, every last bit was her. It is what it is today solely because of her.”
Bridget Tuckey knows quality is important because she grew up on a horse farm herself.
“Being on a horse farm, stuff gets used really heavily, so you want to buy stuff that will not break in two weeks,” Bridget Tuckey said. “So that was kind of our mentality going into this — was that we want to sell stuff that will last as long as people have their dogs.”
Some people treat their dogs like children and are willing to shell out $100 for a collar. Seeing those customers happy is why the Tuckeys keep making those collars.
“We've even had customers send collars back to us after their dog has died so we can clean it up some. And then those collars get sent back to the customers and are placed in a memorabilia area for their dogs,” Bridget Tuckey said.
The Tuckeys understand all those feelings because they don’t have children, but they do have two dogs of their own.
Zeus, an Australian shepherd and Lorena, a border collie, both wear collars made by their owners. While they’re not the best-looking collars — those are saved for customers — they were made with the same care, love and passion that got the Tuckeys through their plateau and to where they are today.
“It's definitely not a walk in the park,” Bridget Tuckey said. “Depending on who you ask, you could say luck or God, but for me it's a God thing because there are times when we have so much work that I don't have a lot of time to advertise the business or do anything, but we keep on getting orders.”