Building a Business from Trouble

Trouble the Dog with a little boy in Haiti

Trouble the Dog with a little boy in Haiti

Sheila and I met when she shared her story with me about how she found an asthma cure through an alternative healing technique. As we were chatting she told me the story of her 12 year old niece, Kendra, who had lost her dad, her grandmother and her family dog, Irish.

Her niece Kendra and I had an unfortunate commonality – we had both lost the same things. My grandmother who lived three blocks away from me my entire growing up life passed away in 2005, my dad I lost in a sailing accident almost four years to the date and I knew the lost of a dog, not Irish but Lou.

Sheila told me that upon seeing the St. Jude Telethon Kendra decided she wanted to do something to help children. She sat down and drew a dog she named Trouble. Sheila would later take this picture and bring it to life to help others cope with grief, loss and life’s most trying moments.


Here is a bit of their story.

Tell me about the process of taking Trouble from a drawing to reality.

I started with the drawing of Trouble and had him made into medallions which are still available today.  Then Kendra and I worked on the story of how Trouble came to be and I turned it into a children’s book with the help of a wonderful local illustrator, Annette Nicolas.

It was fortunate that the image of Trouble was perfect from the start. Everyone who saw him remarked about his “look”. Once the plush dogs were made there was a constant flow of stories from parents that kept encouraging me along such as, “my child won’t go to bed without Trouble … I need another one,” or “we had to move and my kids rubbed their medallions whenever they felt anxious,” or “my autistic son LOVES Trouble, he smiles,” and so on.

Where have you seen Trouble to be most helpful?

Trouble allows kids to feel safe.  I believe it is the children who are pushing for Trouble.  Also, it is not unusual for a child to ask me to send a Trouble to another child who is having some kind of difficulty.  The most recent was a child who had a friend who was afflicted with Cerebral Palsy and he thought Trouble was just what his buddy needed to feel better.

What advice do you have for others who are in the design process of something similar?

Come up with a design that truly appeals to you and then run it by people you trust for honest feedback before you go a step further.

Talk to me about the process of manufacturing Trouble.

I am in the middle of a huge transition.  Initially, Trouble was produced overseas.  Since that time, I have been looking to have Trouble made in the USA and I believe it’s actually going to happen within the next month or so which is so exciting. It was something I was told was impossible.

How did you determine pricing?

Today Trouble sells for $24.75.  The price is more than competitive in the marketplace, but of course our margin is much smaller than most because we are not yet a huge operation.  We decided on the price to be fair to the consumer and to get Trouble’s message of hope out there.

What are some of the challenges you have found in marketing Trouble?

It is a challenge to be up against the big guys.  For example, Trouble was selling in stores, but getting pushed to the back of the shelves behind bigger brand name plush toys.  Now Trouble the Dog is only sold online.

 How do you use social media in marketing Trouble?

I do have a Trouble The Dog Facebook page.  People like to hear what’s been happening.  They are exciting to know if he will soon be made in the USA.

What have you found is most helpful in marketing Trouble?

Word of mouth advertising and I am very grateful for that. I also use a local woman, Carrie Schluter. She has been invaluable to me in refining the message of Trouble and getting it out there.  But, ultimately it is up to me. Some days are much tougher than others, but I have never considered giving up because I know how important this message of hope and resilience is for kids, all of us really, especially today.

What were the surprises along the way?

I have to say that Trouble was really divinely inspired and I am constantly amazed by the twists and turns so far in this journey. I have had truly extraordinary people step up to the plate and help along the way and I could never have come this far without them.

Where do you want Trouble to go?

My plan is to turn Trouble the Dog into a global symbol of hope. I am also presently introducing Trouble to some TV networks.

What advice do you have for others who are considering going out on their own or having their own business?

To first know in your heart and gut that what you’re about to do feels right.  If there’s a niggle in the back of your mind, you might want to go back to the drawing board.  You’ve got to believe in yourself and your project and if you do the sky’s the limit.

What sort of questions should people ask who are looking for manufacturers?

Ask for a list of customers. Be sure to take the time to be in touch with a few of them and see if their comments are consistent. Ask questions such as how efficient are they to work with?  Do they deliver goods on time?  How is the craftsmanship of their work?  How long have you been involved with this manufacturer?  Would you recommend them?  Will you continue to use them?  Do their employees have longevity?

Why did you decide to have Trouble manufactured in the US?

I had always been interested in having Trouble manufactured in the USA; but honestly couldn’t afford it.  Recently, when we tried to place an order with our original manufacturer overseas, we were basically told our order wasn’t big enough.  They referred us to another manufacturer but the quality wasn’t good.  We then were referred to a really good manufacturer, but after months of work they simply couldn’t understand the importance of the fabric quality for Trouble.  They couldn’t see the nuance in his fabric which sets him apart from most other plush animals.

So, I went back to the drawing board to try again to have Trouble made here in the USA.  After much sweat and tears, I was referred to an American living in Turkey, Tara Agacayak, and she introduced me to a designer in California, www.MariRobesonHome.com who then introduced me to a fabulous group of women.

How would someone go about finding a US based manufacturer?

I had the pleasure of being introduced to Julie Reiser, President and Co-Founder of Made in USA Certified. You can reach her at [email protected] or www.USA-C.com.

What offline means, channels and organizations do you use to market yourself?

I often visit schools to talk about Trouble.  The reaction of the children always encourages, inspires and energizes me.  At times, I will also visit hospitals. I have spoken in front of Rotary Clubs and at libraries. It’s tough to keep moving forward. But if you’ve got a passion for what you’re doing the idea of giving up rarely enters your mind.  And if by chance it does, it is fleeting and that’s when you know in your heart that you are doing the right thing.



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