Mel Bozkurt-Conant Co-Owner of New York Dog Written by Molly Beatson
Mel Bozkurt-Conant is the Co-Owner of New York Dog. She started the company in 1998 with her partner Pam when she was 26 years old. Before that Conant attended Parsons School of Design and got her bachelors in Business and Design, as she knew she always wanted to be in fashion but not necessarily a designer. While in school she worked full time at SAKS Fifth Avenue. From there she worked for a company called Honey Fashion where she did production and design. Then she worked for Celine, which is owned by Louis Vitton a French luggage company. There she was assistant to the vice president and was involved in price, selling, etc, essentially everything the V.P. did she did as well. Next she worked for Omega, where she was the director of marketing. After working for all of these companies she decided that whatever she did for her bosses made them lots of money so why not do that for herself. Conant always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. She is first generation American. Her parents always told her “we came here for you”. Therefore her options were endless and coupled with the fact that she was such a hard worker, she was destined to become and entrepreneur. In 1998 she quit her job at Omega to pursue her dream of owning her own company. She felt that if she didn’t do it then she never would. Her goal then and now, which hasn’t changed a bit, was to be the best. Better then everyone else. “And looking back, we know that we are, no one else does what we do as well as we do it”. –Mel. Her vision was to be the best and provide fashion at a reasonable price. She says a mission statement holds true forever. However in order to achieve it you must change and adapt with the times. They started with $265,000, which was all self funded between she and her business partner. Three years later they were paid back in full. They worked with a friend at a P.R. firm who gave them a friend rate as well as getting invited by a friend to the Jacob Javid show at SAKS a month after starting the company. This friend gave her a table for free and they basically said well what happens happens. It was a hugely successful show and before they knew it their products were in SAKS and D.K.N.Y. After that they continued to show at many trade shows. New York Dog is an 11 million dollar a year company. They design and manufacture accessories and apparel for dogs. That includes collars, leashes, harnesses, sweaters, coats, booties, Halloween costumes, beds, carriers, toys and more. They started very high end, selling to SAKS, D.K.N.Y. and better boutiques. This included $300 carriers and $150 beds. They were wildly successful however because they were in such a high end/luxury field they got to a point where they could no longer grow and make money.
So the next step New York Dog took was to generate a lower line – Manhattan Muts, which was created overseas. They sold to Petsmart for a million dollar order. This too was successful and they knew they were headed in the right direction. Then two years later they were selling to Target and two years after that to Wal-Mart. Of course with being so young they did make mistakes. One of her biggest mistakes resulted in a $250,000 loss for them. They had sold a plaid carrier to Petsmart. It was a great product, great pattern. They loved it, the buyers loved it and it was doing very well in the stores. A week later they get a letter from Burberry saying get those carriers of the shelves and destroy them, you are going against our Patent by using that plaid. Turns out Burberry had just patented the plaid about a month earlier. While this was a crushing loss for NYD they now ask their patent attorney before using any pattern and if there is any patent out there they don’t use the pattern. Its not worth the risk and nightmare it could become. Conant credits her companies’ success to her hard work and amazing design team. She has no limits and is always seeking to become bigger and better while following her gut. They have grown from two people to thirteen in eleven years. When I spoke with Mel her next appointed was a lunch meeting with a financial planning company. She is looking to for investors to invest in the company in order to help them grow. They have been an 11 million, 11 million dollar company year after year and Mel wants to be 20, 30, 50 million dollar company. However they have always been self funded but at this point in order to make it grow to the scale that she would like it at they need to have investors and share holders. They have turned down offers to be in grocery stores and stores such as CVS etc because they didn’t have the proper knowledge about selling to grocery stores and others so they didn’t want to risk it and just go about it how they would for Petsmart and Target. This means more capitol is needed to do things properly. Another key to their success has been to not just say yes to everything, really think things through and if its going to be done its going to be done right. Some advise that she gave to me and anyone starting a new venture is to invite the right people. Conant says it is crucial to have a good partner and to know them and how they work very well before you even think about a partnership agreement. Because she was so young she is running into the “partner issue” now. Mel is a total workhorse and will pick up the slack where people are slacking. While this is good for the company she is doing extra work but she and her partner are gaining the same amount from it. So to solve that, she says to fight to get 51% of the company. “As hard