top of page

Small but Mighty: Leveraging the Power of Small Retailers in Driving Revenue Growth


Today, we feature an entrepreneur who turned a personal-use invention into a booming business through inventive marketing and product development strategies. She is Marilyn Pianelli, the Owner and President of Headlight Harness, maker of various successful dog safety products. Initially driven by a desire to create a one-of-a-kind harness for her dogs’ safety during walks, Marilyn recognized its commercial potential after receiving enthusiastic feedback from fellow dog parents.


To ensure a successful launch, Marilyn strategically targeted smaller retail stores, a tactic that proved immensely fruitful, leading her to leave her full-time job to focus solely on her business venture. Today, Headlight Harness boasts a range of successful dog safety products, all inspired by Marilyn's ongoing connection with fellow dog owners, cementing the brand as a go-to destination for canine safety solutions. Don't miss out on the valuable lessons from Marilyn’s incredible journey from full-time employee/hobby inventor to entrepreneur. Join us now!




 

In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:


  • Tips for growing profits through small retail outlets

  • The importance of direct customer interaction for entrepreneurs

  • Leveraging customer feedback to enhance product quality

  • Utilizing test marketing campaigns to gauge product viability and market fit

  • And much more!

 

You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.



Or, click to watch the full video interview here!


 

Are you a doting pet parent who's worried about keeping your furry loved one safe during trips, walks or other outdoor adventures? Visit www.headlightharness.com to discover how Headlight Harness's innovative, high-quality pet safety products can keep your pets safe without any inconvenience to you.


To be a guest on our next podcast, contact us today!


Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!


 

Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!



Jon LaClare [00:00:00]:

Today's guest shares her journey from product conception to eventually leaving her day job and running her business fulltime. And one of her drivers of success is selling her product to small retailers. We go into detail on how to sell this type of retailer and how it can set you up for success with the national chains as well.


Announcer [00:00:18]:

Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast, Jon LaClare.


Jon LaClare [00:00:38]:

Welcome back to the show. Today I'm really excited to be speaking with Marilyn Pionelli. She's the owner and president of the Headlight Harness. If you've got pets or know anybody that does, you'll quickly know the need for this product. And it's also an interesting journey that she's had to both create this product from scratch and then build a business behind it and ultimately leave her day job to run this as her full time endeavor. And it's been a great success over the last few years. We'll talk about that journey as well. But first of all, I want to welcome you to the show.


Jon LaClare [00:01:09]:

Marilyn.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:01:10]:

Oh, thank you so much for having me.


Jon LaClare [00:01:13]:

So let's talk about the product first. What is the headlight harness, and how'd you come up with the idea?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:01:18]:

Well, basically, it is what it sounds like. It's a headlight in a harness. So for those that never heard of us before, you go to our website, headlightharness.com, and check us out. But we created a harness that, number one, that a dog can't get out of, and that is super important. And number two, that has a headlight directly in front so cars, when you're walking, can see you. But also it's super reflective. So no matter which way you're standing, even if you're walking one way and the car is behind you, a car could see you. But basically the name came from the design from a headlight harness, basically, instead of the headlight in a car.


Jon LaClare [00:02:01]:

And I love. Let's talk about brand names for a second. I personally am a big believer, and any attorneys listening to the show, I'm sure will disagree with me because we always hear when you do a trademark, don't be descriptive from attorneys. Right. But from marketers like you and me, the benefit of doing a descriptive trademark is it is memorable. Right. So if you've got all the money in the world to build a brand and have plenty of time to wait until everyone has heard about your brand and can remember it, then, yeah, great. Let's come up with a fanciful name they call it, right.


Jon LaClare [00:02:30]:

But when you're building something new and it needs to grab attention and be memorable to people, being descriptive is so, I would say, important. So I always bring this up when we talk about trademarks. It goes back to my time with Oxiclean, our in house attorneys when I used to work there many years ago. Always hated the fact that that was the brand name because it's hard to protect. Right. Clorox came out with oxymagic, and others came out with Oxy this, oxy that, whatever it might be. But it was memorable. Right? You got what it did.


Jon LaClare [00:02:58]:

And that's what I love about the headlight harness, is it's a simple name. You get it, right? So once you know it's for pets. Right. That's the part you might not know from the description. But you mentioned, hey, we got a dog product called the headlight harness. They know exactly what that is in general. Right. And then it's easier for them to understand.


Jon LaClare [00:03:15]:

So just wanted to mention that quickly. I love the fact that you talked about, obviously, when you've got this headlight coming at you, walking in the road or on a path or whatever, you've got bikers or drivers that are coming at you, they see you. I hadn't thought about from behind, though. That is very true. Where if you think about just the light that protrudes for Earth, it's going to bring a lot more attention than one red blinking light that might be on your head or maybe a reflector or something. So that benefit of the reflectors plus the headlight of the light that comes out of it is definitely a great thing. Was that planned? Did you realize that? Or is that something that came out in testing?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:03:51]:

Really the reason why we came up with this and then talk about that, is one night I was walking my dog, and my dog got out of a harness and almost got hit by a car. So after that, I came home and I was like, I'm never walking my dogs again until I get a harness that my dog can't slip out of. And that cars could see my dog. And that's how we created it. And we created it, really for my pets. And then we just kept getting stopped every night. And we kept getting stopped because people could see us. No matter which way.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:04:21]:

When we built it, we built it that no matter which way you're walking, a car could see you, but the light itself, we didn't want it to be distracting to the person walking because if we have the light in the back, it'll shine right in your eyes. So that's why we want to see what's in front. And no matter where you're like, especially in Florida with the little snakes and the toads, you could see all that in front of you. It's not just for cars. It's to see what your dog is eating and where your dog is about to step. If there's a big hole and you don't know because it's pitch black, that light, you could see straight ahead and you could watch what you're about to step in. So, yes, when we were creating this, we worked with trainers, we worked with vets, and we wanted to make it like an all in one harness, not just because of the light. We wanted to make it that the dog can't get out of.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:05:15]:

It's reflective. It also has a huge handle on the back for those that could see me. Great. I'm going to show you right now. There's a handle in the back. So you could either grab your dog when you're walking, God forbid if you're walking a little dog and another dog comes and tries to attack, you could grab your dog real fast. Also, you could use this in the car. You take the seatbelt, you take the seatbelt, you put it right through the handle, you click it in and your dog will sit or lay.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:05:42]:

So we try to make it an all in one harness. So when you go on your adventures, not just walking, it's the easiest thing. You don't need 17 things to bring with you anymore on a trip. So that's how we created it.


Jon LaClare [00:05:55]:

So it's meant to be an all day and all night harness, right. Whether it's daytime or nighttime, there's lots of other benefits to the harness. The headlight is in the name and is a primary, but not the sole benefit of the product.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:06:05]:

Yes, but people do wear harnesses all day, but it's more for when they are out or walking, are on an adventure. Or if you just let them out in the backyard because you want the dog to be excited to see the harness. I mean, my dogs freak out. They love when they see it because they know that either they're going on a walk, an adventure, they're hoping it's not the vet, but sometimes it is the vet, but you want them to get really excited. It's not something I don't agree with something to wear all day long.


Jon LaClare [00:06:38]:

Yeah, no, better said. I shouldn't have said all day, but yeah, whether it's day or night, it's good benefit. So good for clarifying that on the headlight benefit, I imagine as the dog wears this and is walking, there's some movement, right? So you see the light kind of moving, which I would imagine captures the attention of drivers in front of behind you. It's not just a solid light like a car coming at you really doesn't move right as it approaches you very much. But the dog, a little bit of movement. Does that also help?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:07:09]:

So you could see, like some people have these little tiny lights and they go back and forth and that doesn't really help. That gets annoying. People don't know what that is. This is, I'll show you here, a super bright light. It stays in one spot. It could turn on and off. So during the day you don't need it. But that cars know that there's something there.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:07:30]:

I hate, hate when I see a biker and that flashing light, I know that it's a bike, but it annoys me so much. I hate anything that flashes. If a bike just had solid, I know that that's a bike. And the light really protects the dog because people could wear something on their head, but people don't. When they're driving, they see that person, they don't see that dog. And if that dog is moving around and it's dark out, no one even knows if that dog is 6ft to the left or right of that person. And you can still hit the dog even though you see that person.


Jon LaClare [00:08:05]:

Yeah. Great explanation on that. You also mentioned how you can use a seatbelt in the car and attach the harness to me. That perked my interest a lot when I first heard that, because we actually did a national tv infomercial probably ten years ago, a long time ago, with a product that was just that benefit, and it did well. And it's a great benefit to keep your dog safe while in the car. I love that yours is. That's one of many features, right? There's so many little things that people probably discover even after they bring the product home, try it out and gradually learn more and more about the product. And there's something to be said about that when you've got so many benefits and some that are maybe not primary or not talked in all the ads or marketing materials or whatever it might be, or might be missed by some people as they learn that after owning it, they learn to grow the product, or, sorry, grow to love the product even more through time.


Jon LaClare [00:08:55]:

So I love that. Do you hear from your customers that there are favorite benefits of the harnesses?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:09:03]:

Honestly? Okay, so the light, we don't hear much about the light because everybody should see the light. There should never be like, oh, that car hit me. Because he didn't see the light. The light is there. So I don't really get emails upon the light because if they're driving, you should see them from at least like a quarter mile away, the handle in the back. I have gotten so many emails and messages how that handle have saved their dog's lives, either from a dog trying to attack them and they could lift them up real fast. I had a dog almost fall down a hole. The owner was able to grab the dog real fast and protect the dog.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:09:44]:

And like I said, also from animals. There's so many animals. Like a snake almost bit a dog. The owner saw because of the light, grabbed the handle in the back real fast, and picked them up. But one of the light stories I had is it was dark out and someone was walking their dog, I guess the driveway on the sidewalk, and a car was about to go. Didn't see the person because it was so dark, but then saw the light. That's all they saw, and didn't hit them because of the light when they're pulling back from their driveway. So that's one of the stories.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:10:19]:

But we hear a lot of the handle and a lot just how good that the quality is. And I'm really sorry that you hear my dogs barking, but that's part of the business. My dogs are part of my life and part of my company, so everything has to do with them. And they're, of course, in the background.


Jon LaClare [00:10:36]:

They just want to join us on the podcast today. They're jealous. You can tell.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:10:39]:

They're very jealous. They always want to be included.


Jon LaClare [00:10:42]:

That's right. So let's talk about the business side a little bit. As I mentioned in my intro, this has become your full time endeavor. But one time it was done at night as you're coming up with the idea, developing it, and getting off the ground. But now it is. This is what you do running this business. It's been a great success for you. How long did it take you from, I guess from inception of the idea until you were able to replace your day job and make this your full time endeavor?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:11:09]:

Well, we started this basically in 2016, but it took a long time creating it, making it, seeing if people liked it. We finally, I think launched it at a big event, probably in 2017, 2018, just to see if people liked it, because we didn't know we loved it, our dogs loved it. I felt safe walking my dogs, but we're like, I don't know if one person will want this harness. So we created at that time just the harnesses, a couple of sizes and one color black, and we launched it at an event, and we were sold out after that event. And from there, we realized this is actual product that other people like. But at that time, like I said, we only had the one product and a couple of sizes and in black. And I was working in finance, and I still needed that to cover our expenses. So it took a while until probably just like three or four years ago, I was able to quit my other job and do this full time.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:12:15]:

But, yeah, at night we started adding names to the harnesses. I know you can't see it, but here's a little example, Bruno, on the back of the harness, and we would be up till 01:00 in the morning sewing after a regular day job and having a baby. So, yeah, it was a lot of work. Creating your own business is not easy, but at the end, it's 100% worth it.


Jon LaClare [00:12:41]:

Well, congratulations on making it through that journey. As you mentioned, I know it's a lot of work developing, figuring it out, and it can take a while to get it right. And I'm glad that you were smart to take that time to really perfect the product to get it right, because it makes all the difference when you've got the right features to the product. But also, as you mentioned, the quality people, when they get this in their home and try it out, they've got to know that, or they've got to have comfort and trust that it's going to work and it's going to do what they bought it for and that they don't feel like a quality item. And it can take time to get to that point. So it does take time, but it's worth it upfront. It leads to better and longer term success on the back end. I know one of the things you've had success with is selling into what I'd call small retailers, right? So not the big chains that are necessarily hundreds of retailers, which is, I think, next for your business, the next way to grow.


Jon LaClare [00:13:30]:

But I want to talk about getting into these small retailers. Can you talk with our audience or help them understand how did you do it? How are you successful in getting into so many of these small retailers where everyone has their own buyer or owner oftentimes. But one person per store or maybe per three, four or five stores or whatever it might be for these smaller retailers. What was your process to find success in selling to small retailers in the beginning?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:13:56]:

Well, at first I had to do my research what exactly wholesale versus retail is, because if you don't have that pricing or know anything about know, selling to individual people versus store is a total different concept. So first I had to do the research on that. And then in the beginning, I really just went store to store around. By where I lived, I mean, every place I live in New Jersey, I have tons of pet stores. And I went, I showed them my product and I gave them my wholesale pricing and my other products, gave them my info. And either they said they loved it and started selling it in their store, or some people never called me back. So that's how I first. And also more about feedback, how does it look on their shelves? What colors they want, what sizes, depending on where you are? I mean, some people have huge dogs that go into their store, and some people only have extra small and small dogs.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:14:53]:

So it really depends on where you're at, what you're looking for. And then we launched on a couple of sites that sell wholesale. So one place that we sell is fair. That has been great. Fair wholesale is anybody that has products. It's not just pet products. It could be anything. You could list your products there and advertise and hopefully people launch it and buy it.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:15:19]:

And now we're in probably about 70 to 80 stores worldwide because we're in a couple of stores in Canada and overseas, and we're just keep trying to grow. We love to be in different stores because a lot of people love to try it on. And that's the truth. I mean, buying it on our website is great. We love that. But so many people, like, how do I know the fitting? How do you know this size? My dog is in between the small and a medium. My dog is in between a medium and large. So if they could try it on, then they know what size it is.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:15:49]:

So that's why it's so much better for us if it's in war stores.


Jon LaClare [00:15:54]:

It's a great way to describe the process. I think early on it's good advice for anybody who's starting out or early stage or a lot of people start direct to consumer and they may have great success there selling from their website, from Amazon, et cetera, and then move or add on traditional brick and mortar retailers as a way to grow the business. So even for later stage businesses, if retail is a little newer for you, getting in there, as you said, and talking to the owner, the buyer in person, seeing the store, seeing the layout, obviously you can't do that for every store in the country or the world, right? But it's a great way to start. As you said, you get a lot of feedback directly from people and it makes you. So when you get to a trade show, for example, that can be expensive. Trade shows are great ways to see a lot of retailers, big and small, in one place, constructed time, but they're expensive. You want to make sure you've got your messaging down, your sizing down, your pricing, all that kind of stuff you can handle at a much lower risk environment by selling to smaller stores in the beginning, get your feet wet, get learnings, and then go to the next stage. And then now, as you're moving on to sell to bigger retailers with national chains, that sort of thing, you've got these learnings that you can share both for your own benefit but also for them, right.


Jon LaClare [00:17:07]:

You've got, hey, when we sell, you know how many units you're selling per store, per week, for example, right? Velocity of sales. A lot of those things they're going to ask is your success rate early on from the product?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:17:19]:

Go ahead, that's great. Sorry. Is just learning what they're also looking for. Like, besides our harness, we sell a ton of other products and I'm always creating new products. So some people are like, you know what I need? I really need this with this and this leash to have this. And we listen to them and if we can, we try to create these products that are missing in the industry. I just created this new double leash and it took like a year to create. But it's amazing.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:17:49]:

Everybody's loving it because it's a double leash. And it could become not just a double leash that you could take it off to have one leash, but you could also use it in the car and it's reflective and you could use it for training, or you could use it for walking to your dogs. And just by talking to people and going to the trade shows, going to their stores, seeing what people really mean, that is not out there. That's one of the reasons why we create all these new products and for my dogs, because they always need new products.


Jon LaClare [00:18:18]:

Do some market research at home. You use the word listen. I would add to that and trust. Also, I think when you talk with owners of stores or buyers, they know the industry and it's hard as inventors when we know our product so well. We've done our research. We've talked to friends and family. We've used it with our own pets, let's say, or whatever it might be. But they know the buyers.


Jon LaClare [00:18:38]:

As you said, some stores only have customers with small dogs. Some have big dogs or whatever. Every store is a little bit different and they know their customers. They can be such a treasure trove of learnings, so trusting and listening to retail store buyers can. I love how you talked about how it's not just maybe modifications to an existing product, but also to look for new product opportunities that you can bring out because of stuff that's come up in conversations with these buyers or owners of these stores. Well, Marilyn, this has been a great interview. Is there anything I didn't ask that would be helpful for our audience?


Marilyn Pianelli [00:19:11]:

Well, number one, like I said earlier, you could always go to our website, ww dot headlighthornet.com. You could see all of our products. Like I said, it's not just harnesses. And we do embroidery on the harnesses, and we do collars and leashes and poop bag holders and pet hair removers and anything you could think of. And if you ever think of a new product that you're like, oh, maybe they could create this. Always reach out. I'm on Instagram, Facebook, anywhere. We're at headlight harness on all them TikTok.


Marilyn Pianelli [00:19:43]:

I read all the dms as much as I can try to answer, and we love feedback. And I hope if you do buy any of our products that not only do you love it as much as we do, but it protects your dogs in the end.


Jon LaClare [00:19:58]:

Well, thank you. I do encourage our audience. Please go to headlightharness.com to learn more. If you're driving, it's in the show notes. You can always go back to harvestgrowthpodcast.com or wherever you find your podcast, whether it's YouTube or whether it's Spotify or Apple podcasts, or anywhere you can find the show notes and find that URL as well. Also, did you know you can meet with a member of my team at Harvest Growth absolutely free for a 30 minutes strategy consultation? We've launched and grown hundreds of products since 2007 and learned some of our strategies while growing Oxiclean back in the Billy Mays days. We're here to help. So please go to harvestgrowth.com and set up a call if you'd like to discuss further.

Comments


bottom of page