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Ana Poe, the owner of Paco Collars, is a multitasker. On a recent Friday afternoon in her rustic shop in Berkeley, California, she seemed to be doing several things at once: fielding questions from customers and employees, talking to a mechanic on the phone about a problem with her truck, and being interviewed by a reporter, all the while deftly swinging a leather mallet at a workbench cluttered with tools, strips of cowhide, brass buckles, and a variety of decorative leather accessories.
“I’ve always been a crafts person [WHAM!],” Poe said with a swing of the mallet. “To craft something with your hands [WHAM!] is rewarding because your workday can be measured by a pile of tangible goods [WHAM!].”
Despite doing several things at once, Poe is friendly, and it seems the constant activity adds to her good nature. And she’s a busy woman. Besides managing a thriving business with eight employees, Poe, an art major and former dog trainer, lives on an old dairy farm with her husband, 3-year-old son, five goats, and a donkey in a rural area along the Carquinez Strait, a wide tributary of the San Francisco Bay.
Poe’s hard work has paid off in that her distinctive dog collars are widely known across the country, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it’s difficult to visit a dog park or a dog-friendly trail or even walk in your own neighborhood without seeing a dog wearing a Paco collar. “The collars stand out,” Poe said, “because they are kind of unusual in a world where most dog collars are mass produced and for the most part indistinctive.” It helps that her collars are made from rich leather, brass buckles, and accessories like silver studs and rhinestones.
Poe got the idea for her company after adopting a 1-year-old Pit Bull named Paco. She discovered that there simply were no custom leather collars on the market, so Poe, who has a degree in art practice from UC Berkeley, decided to make her own. That first effort, a simple black leather collar with the name PACO awkwardly spelled out in silver studs, now sits in a prominent place in Poe’s shop as a memorial for her beloved dog who passed in 2009.
Poe made more collars and found there was a keen market for them. The business grew quickly, and Poe now has eight employees and an excellent reputation for distinctive work and top-notch customer service. “Our motto is ‘make friends first,’” Poe said. “And it’s important because we work so closely with our customers to come up with the design for their dogs’ collars.”
And Paco Collars’ customers have a lot of decisions to make. Prices run from $5 to $450, and customers have a selection of 250 basic designs as well as 5,000 variations. One of the hallmarks of Paco collars is their durability. The collars are made from latigo leather, often used in saddle making. The latigo is specially tanned to make the leather both strong and pliable and weather resistant. Coupled with quality brass buckles and carefully crafted designs, Paco Collars is glad to offer lifetime guarantees on all of its work.
Toni Barry, owner of Highland Pet Supply in Atlanta, which sells Paco collars, said Poe works with her customers to create collars that are an expression of their love for their dogs. “It’s really true that if you can imagine it, they will make it happen, and it’s a quality product that looks good and will last,” Barry said. “People are always trying to copy them, knock off their collars, but they can’t do it. Paco is the real deal, and you can tell by the artistry.”
In this day and age of social media, the integrity of any business is something that’s vigorously and publicly discussed, and Paco Collars has impressive Yelp ratings. Out of 72 reviews, 71 are five star and accompanied by the kind of accolades that would make a humble business owner like Poe blush.
After 15 years, Poe is looking for ways to conscientiously grow her business. “So the question is how do we grow with integrity, how do we scale up without losing who we are?” Poe said. “I’d rather stay small and authentic than make big bucks and compromise on our craftsmanship and customer service.”
Poe is a hardworking and dedicated business owner, but she said craftsmanship, her customers, and animals come before making a big profit. “I want to be able to do what I love for a living, to work with animals for the rest of my life,” she said. “It’s possible. If you stay focused on your dream, you can do it.”
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About the author: John Geluardi has worked as a journalist for 15 years, mostly as a political reporter. He has also written feature-length stories on culture, crime, and presidential campaigns and has won numerous first-place awards. His book, Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of the Medical Marijuana Industry, was published in 2010. A longtime dog owner, John looks forward each day to long walks with his dog, Corso.