Dogged pursuit, a dog and a vision equals big business

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
This Fashion Trend for Dogs Is Big Business

The key to creating a successful business is finding an unmet need and filling it. But sometimes, to quote Steve Jobs, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them."

For example, you probably never realized your dog needed protective eyewear. Then Roni Di Lullo came along and created Doggles — goggles for dogs.

First year sales were $100,000.

Last year's sales were $3 million.

This is the story of how a software programmer from Hewlett-Packard used her computing skills and love for man's best friend to create a pet product empire. When Di Lullo started, though, people at her first trade show mocked her. "We were sitting down in the booth, and people are just walking by, and they're pointing and laughing, and we're just like, 'Oh, no.'"

Act I - The Frisbee mystery

The story of Doggles began with a walk in the park. "I originally came up with the idea from my border collie, Midknight," said Di Lullo. After a long day at work, she and Midknight would go play Frisbee in the park in the late afternoon. Di Lullo would wear sunglasses to protect her eyes from the brightness of the setting sun. "There was one day in particular where (Midknight) missed the Frisbee, and he never, never missed the Frisbee," she said, "so I just thought, 'Well, why can't he just wear sunglasses, too?'"

That was 1997. Di Lullo spent months trying to adapt sunglasses, ski goggles, and swim googles for her dog, until she realized she was going to have to create a pair from scratch. "I made the designs in a CAD program," she said. Di Lullo invested $25,000 on the concept, and she started producing and selling Doggles more as a hobby than anything else. She had just become a new mother and was taking a leave of absence from work. "I hadn't really thought of it as, 'This is just a product I'm going to sell a ton of. '... It really was for fun, but once I did it, I realized there really was a market for this."

As for whether dogs find them uncomfortable, Di Lullo said: "It really depends on your dog. Some of them will just very happily walk away wearing them, but the good majority of them need to be trained to wear them.

"Some dogs just won't wear them period, it just depend on your dog's personality."

RELATED: View photos of other strange inventions

15 PHOTOS
Weird Inventions
See Gallery
Dogged pursuit, a dog and a vision equals big business
Spain's Manuel Foix Robert (L) and Victoria Gomez Gamez pose with their invention, a protective case made with tissue that can be used for food and plants, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Germany's Ulli Boehme poses with his invention, the 'Ball Rider' a new sport and leisure vehicle equipped with large balls as wheels, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Lee Beom Seok poses with his invention, a multifonction portable tool for clothing against bacteria, odor, hydratation and can also work as air purifier during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, April 18, 2012. The More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
People play in a 'Football Box', an invention for children which allows them to play in a miniature-sized football arena and was invented by Venezuelan Jose Pires Tavares, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions, in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. The More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Taiwan's Yong-Fu Chang presents his invention, two teddy bears connected by Wi-Fi via the Internet equipped with microphones and speakers, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions, in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Italy's Marco Pagnini presents his invention, a suspender for carrying an umbrella without using hands during opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, on April 18, 2011. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Andre Piatetsky form the US presents his invention, a treatment hairbrush fitted with a liquid-reservoir that disperse treatment solution over the user's scalp during hair brushing at the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, on April 18, 2011. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
France's Laurent Helewa poses with his invention, a toilet kit, during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. Helewa's invention is a foldable and reusable system of a dry, portable disposable toilet designed for nomadic, family or even military use in case there is not a functional toilet nearby. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6th to 10th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Taiwan's Juang Ying-Shen poses with her invention, high heels with interchangeable components, during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6th to 10th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
France's Jean-Marc Batard pose with his children next to his invention, a pyramidal water-saving garden which allows elderly people to garden, during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6 to April 10, in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 6: EXCLUSIVE A urinal that has a video game console above it in the SEGA World complex in Akihabara Electric Town, Tokyo, Japan. For men a stroll to the gents has become a leap into the twenty first century, thanks to the SEGA video games corporation. The company has developed a new entertainment system which is incorporated into a public lavatory. Now rows of peeing men can spend a penny and get a great video game experience while they are at it. The 'Toylet' male urinal video game provides a choice of sumo wrestling, erasing graffiti and dousing an exploding volcano. The 'Toylet' works by a pressure sensor in the base of the urinal measuring the strength and location of the urine stream as it hits the basin. An LCD screen displays the game graphics and rewards the strength, length and accuracy of the pee through a typical video game points system. There are currently no plans for a multiplayer version of the 'Toylet'. (Photo by Matthew Tabaccos / Barcroft Medi / Getty Images)
Southern Taiwan University's Tang Jing-Jou poses with his invention, a billards table with trajectory recording capabilities during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. The billard table is designed to have sensors and LED indicators under its surface used to record the trajectory of the ball and show the strength in every shot. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6 to 10 in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Frenchman Dimitri Gauer poses with his invention, the 'crustacean peeler', during the opening day of the 36th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 1, 2009 in Geneva. The device peels sea food, facilitating their ingestion for diners. More than 710 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at the exhibition, one of the World's largest devoted to innovation. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON - AUGUST 14: In this photo illustration a moustach guard is displayed at the British Library on August 14, 2008 in London, England. Over 50 ingenious inventions and gadgets have gone on display at the British Library. (Photo illustration by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Act II - The cold call

Then, in 2002, "A few very big things happened then." CNN did a story on the company. Even bigger, Di Lullo decided to cold call the toll-free number at PetSmart. "I just said, 'How do I submit a product?'" She was given an address, and Di Lullo mailed the company a pair of Doggles. "A couple of weeks later I got mail — an actual letter — back saying that they took the product in all of their stores."

Suddenly Di Lullo needed to find a manufacturer. Until then, she had been putting the finished product together herself by hand. "I just started making phone calls," finally settling on a manufacturer in Taiwan.

Doggles provide dogs with UV protection. They are also flexible and shatterproof. Di Lullo said they're popular with motorcyclists whose dogs ride in sidecars, or drivers whose dogs like to stick their faces out windows. Veterinarian ophthalmologists find them useful after canine eye surgery, and they're popular with military and police K-9 units. The only place where Doggles don't work is in the water, because the goggles have holes in the side to keep from fogging up.

Act III- The patent

Di Lullo, who is longer with HP, has patented the Doggles design, and she said she's been forced to hire an attorney at times when copycats emerge. "We've had to take a couple competitors to court because they violated the patent, and they actually took the product to market, large pet product manufacturers," she said. "We won, of course, because our patent is solid.

The Doggles product line, and its trademark, have moved far beyond goggles to apparel, doggie backpacks, life vests and toys. Most sales are now on Amazon. "My favorite is the new biker line," Di Lullo said, holding up a small dog dress bearing a skull and crossbones. She designs every product herself, and some customers have bought for pot belly pigs, horses and even cats. "I had a little orange cat, and I put the extra small pair of Doggles on the cat," Di Lullo laughed, "and he just walked backwards trying to walk out of them."

Final act - Zinc

She is not done creating. Di Lullo's "holy grail" is to create neon-colored zinc sunblock for dog's snouts which can't be licked off. "I've always loved dogs, and I've always loved to dress up dogs, so I don't think anyone was a bit surprised this is what I did."

Fourteen years after being laughed at during Doggles' first appearance at a pet products trade show, Di Lullo is the one laughing at her strange journey to success. "We're one of the least funny things that you see at a trade show now."

More from CNBC:
How liquid nitrogen ignited an ice cream start-up
Trapping people in rooms is now big business
Actor ditches acting to build luxury movietrailers



Read Full Story

People are Reading