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Florida entrepreneur handcrafts creature comforts for pets and their owners
Just Fur Fun products part of Westminster Kennel Club's New York Pet Fashion Show
Pet ownership: According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 62 percent of US households own a pet, which equates to 72.9 million homes.
Pet industry spending: $52.87 billion estimated for 2012 in the United States; $50.96 billion in 2011.
In just a few weeks, at an event that celebrates the iconic Westminster Kennel Club's annual All Breed Dog Show, a shelter dog will model doggie bling designed and hand-crafted by Mona Straub of Boca Raton, Fla.
Straub is one of 30 exclusive participating vendors in the upcoming New York Pet Fashion Show on Feb. 8 that launches a weekend of events leading to the famous annual dog show that following Monday.
It's a coup for Just Fur Fun, the online startup Straub launched two years ago to sell her hand-crafted beaded leashes and collars for pets.
"I've gotten as far as I have because I make connections and utilize resources," Straub said. "As a small business, if you become an island and don't reach out, you'll get lost."
The pet fashion show receives hundreds of booth requests every year from pet-related start-ups to established companies, says Richard Cordero, marketing director for the show and vice president at Oehler Media Inc. and ad director for Cesar's Way Magazine, a major sponsor of the show.
The event is a massive showcase for those in the pet industry, from food and fashions to wellness products, toys and every other creature comfort one could invent for beloved pets.
"We look for that fit — products that are practical, durable and fashionable," Cordero said. "And vendors have to be confident about their products."
The show, however, has a two-fold purpose: Featuring shelter dogs on its runways is one example of its charity outreach and a huge draw, attracting more than 1,000 attendees, Cordero says.
For an investment of more than $1,300, including table, shipping and product samples for VIP bags, Straub will showcase her collars and leashes, including on a shelter dog during its appearance in one of three runway shows featured that evening.
Last year, the event produced more than $10,000 in money and product donations to Animal Care & Control of NYC. This year's beneficiary is The Animal Haven shelter, also in Manhattan.
Straub launched her second career several years ago after leaving her corporate marketing job because she wanted to be creative in a meaningful way and give back to the community, she says.
Straub herself has three rescue Dachshunds, five cats, a 22-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare and a mustang, which is also a rescue.
She buys made-in-America materials, such as the leather that forms the base for her products, from United States-based vendors. She manufactures locally, employing about six bead artisans who fulfill her pattern designs for the pet bling, including special made-to-order collars with a wider profile for bigger dogs. Pet owners can partake with matching belts.
Straub has the right entrepreneurial focus and dogged determination, says Sharon Geltner, a counselor at the Small Business Development Center at Palm Beach State College who has assisted Straub with her strategies.
"Mona has grown to look at everything as an opportunity, from attending trade shows to expos," Geltner said. "Her thirst for knowledge has been her biggest asset."