Julie Swain co-founded Dog Not Gone in Kingfield with her husband, Bill, 10 years ago, specializing in high-visibility dog vests and leashes.

1. Last year you bought the manufacturer that had been making your vests. What went into that decision?

The Skowhegan factory that had made our dog products for the past 10 years was closing and we were faced with the decision to either contract the manufacturing overseas or purchase the factory. It didn’t take us long to make the decision to purchase the factory, as daunting as it sounded. A big part of our mission statement is to keep our product line made in the USA and made in Maine. Every dollar received from selling a dog vest or accessory goes back into the Maine economy and that makes what we do worthwhile.

Our vests are made from fabric that is milled in North Carolina. In order to utilize the fabric most efficiently, we lay up several hundred yards of fabric on a 75-foot cutting table 50-100 layers thick. Each component is traced onto the fabric and it’s cut with an electric knife. From there, assembly begins where two layers are stitched together by skilled stitchers. Velcro and reflective tape are added, and the finished vest is inspected and packaged. There are a lot of hands on our product at every step and that is a big reason why our quality is so good.

The tick and insect repelling products are made from a fabric that is treated with permethrin at the mill. Our supplier uses a proprietary process to permanently bind the treatment to the fibers of the fabric. This way the treatment cannot rinse, leach, or fade out for the life of the product. The vest manufacturing process is identical, regardless of the fabric type.

2. What are the challenges of operating out of Kingfield, and how do you overcome them?

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Distance from buyers of pet stores is a big hurdle we have had to overcome. But the Internet and social media have helped us get our brand out to mainstream. We also attend two national pet trade shows a year where we display our new products to buyers from all over the country.

Each time we go to a show we learn more about what makes a product stand out, whether it’s seeing how someone else displays their product or how they pitch it. Over the past couple of years we have really taken what we’ve learned and developed a cohesive booth design that really showcases our products. We make high-visibility products so when they’re displayed properly, you can’t help but notice them. Our booth is so bright a buyer can’t help but look. This is also where my husband, Bill, and I excel. We like to say that I hook them and he reels them in.

3. Perks to being headquartered in the rural countryside?

I can take a break and go for a cross-country ski in the winter and a dip in the river in the summer.

4. Policy or issue you’re following this summer at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on your business?

The state is considering legislation that would tax a wide range of products classified as containing a “pesticide.” From what we understand, the definition is so broad it includes things such as hand sanitizer and because our Tick Repelling Safety Dog Vest contains permethrin, it too would be included. The bill has been tabled for now but it is likely to resurface during the next session. Even though the tax is relatively small, we don’t need anything that makes it more difficult for retailers to carry our products.

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5. Three activities that are part of your daily work routine:

Answer email first thing — we receive orders overnight from our buyers and I like to address them right away. Read my Google Alerts about Lyme disease and ticks on dogs. This information helps keep me up to date on our market. And check in with the factory to get status on orders in progress and orders shipped.

6. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

If we had a million dollars with no strings attached, we would launch a national media and branding campaign because we know that once dog owners know about our products, they usually buy them. It would help level the field of competition against more established companies. For now, though, we’ll keep doing what we know works — building customers large and small, one at a time.

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