Fathers and daughters share a special connection, but for Jeff Rotzoll and his daughter, Madi, that connection is more like a collar — a dog collar, that is. They’re the founders of Bentley’s Bows and Wise Guy Ties, a burgeoning small business specializing in handcrafted canine cravats that are sold in 49 pet boutiques across 11 states.
For Madi, a bright and energetic 16-year-old student at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth, the business has brought wonderful rewards. “I’ve had the chance to travel with my dad and to grow closer to my dad,” she says. “I also get to see a lot of really cute dogs wearing our product, and that’s a really satisfying feeling.”
Jeff, a Fort Worth sales executive with an engineering background, enjoys helping his daughter develop as an entrepreneur. She’s had a hand in every part of the business, he says, from production to sales research and even some accounting.
It all started in the summer of 2011 during a family trip to Carmel, Calif. The Rotzolls were on a waiting list to adopt a Coton de Tulear puppy, so when they happened upon a high-end pet boutique, they popped in to look around. While browsing, Madi was drawn to a dapper little dog collar that had been made from a vintage men’s tie. She liked it, but after examining how it was put together, she decided that she easily could make one that was even better.
Madi shared her thoughts with her dad, and the two hatched a plan. As soon as they returned home to Fort Worth, they got to work figuring out the folds, loops and tucks necessary to transform an old tie into a new dog collar.
Once they had a prototype, they needed a name. It seemed only natural to look to the fluffy new family member who had inspired it all: the just-arrived Coton de Tulear they’d named Bentley. “He’s a real wise guy,” Jeff explains with a laugh.
Jeff and Madi then reached out to friends and relatives for tie donations and received enough material to make an initial production run of 100 collars. The entire batch sold in two weeks.
Jeff assumed that this was the end of it, but Madi was fired up and wanted to keep going. Which they did, thanks to a clever business model. Every time Jeff traveled for business, Madi provided him with a carefully researched dossier of sales prospects. During his downtime, Jeff visited the pet boutiques on Madi’s list, and more often than not, sealed a deal. The two took the same approach to vacations, leaving behind the beach to call on pet boutiques together. Gradually, the client list grew, reorders followed, and the business was up and running.
Now entering its fourth year, Bentley’s Bows and Wise Guy Ties has sold nearly 3,000 of its signature tie collars. Available in three adjustable sizes (13, 16 and 19 inches), prices range from $22 to $35, with designer labels (think Hermès, Ferragamo and Hilfiger) demanding top dollar. While the brand names are eye-catching, Madi says the top sellers are often the thicker, 1970s styles in retro colors, made from what she calls “Archie Bunker ties.” They also handle a small number of custom orders, where customers send in their own ties to be made into collars.
Last year, Jeff and Madi responded to customer demand and launched a second product, bow ties. They come in solid colors — black is the most popular, especially for pets in weddings, Madi explains — and retail for $12-$15.
Business has gotten so good that everyone in the Rotzoll family is now involved. Mom Judy is the social media manager, manning the brand’s Facebook page and responding to customer requests, and brother Andrew, 14, helps out with customer relations (which entails visiting pet boutiques and playing with the shop dogs, Madi explains). Bentley still serves as the brand’s muse, but because he gets car sick, it’s Tucker, a 2-year-old Lab rescue who recently joined the family, who takes on modeling jobs and special appearances.
Now that Madi is older, Jeff says she will start going on more sales calls and expanding her marketing responsibilities. Madi says she’s ready. “I can’t wait to learn new things and meet face-to-face with more store owners,” she says, smiling at her dad. “We make a great team.”