As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gayle Martz.
Gayle Martz, founder of The SHERPA Pet Trading Company, where she single-handedly designed, manufactured, and marketed the iconic SHERPA Bag you see everywhere! This carrier, which millions have bought for their dogs, cats, and other animal companions, continues to be THE top-selling, prize-winning, globally popularly soft-sided pet carrier. Further, It is because of Gayle’s advocacy and entrepreneurship that pet travel on airlines is now possible and common. Gayle’s the author of “IT’S IN THE BAG,” which is part memoir and part business book.
Many thanks for doing this for us; please let our users know about yourself and The SHERPA Bag?
I invented the iconic SHERPA bag, the first soft-sided pet carrier, that led me to start the Sherpa Pet Trading Company, a successful company that I founded and served as the CEO/President for more than two decades. It is because of my work that pets are allowed to travel in the passenger cabin as I advocated to change airlines policies, recommending pets be in The Sherpa Bag, and was successful with American Airlines being the first to make the change in 1992. Looking back at my business career, I realized that from the outside, it might have looked like inventing a product and turning it into a multi-million-dollar business was easy, but it was far from that. I had a lot of bumps along the way and thought it would be inspiring for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from both my successes and failures, so I wrote the book “IT’S IN THE BAG: How to Turn a Passion Into a New Business” that was published this year and was turned into an audiobook this month!
How did you come up with this business idea?
I found that there was a void in the global marketplace as a soft-sided pet carrier did not exist. I tell every aspiring entrepreneur that the key to success is finding a void in the marketplace, whether it be a service or a product, that is underserved or neglected.
People could not take their pets with them on board airplanes, and I knew that if I could change this policy, it would improve customer service and loyalty and also increase revenue for an airline that was striving to differentiate itself in the competitive world of air travel at that time. I created a category, the soft-sided pet carrier, that changed an entire industry.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In the early days of starting my company, I still had to work to support myself. I was a photographer, and one of my jobs led me to cover an event at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel for The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) award ceremony for “Women of Enterprise” sponsored by Avon. As I focused on taking the perfect photo of each of the winners, I remember listening to them tell their stories of the many obstacles they had overcome to be successful. It was so inspiring and motivating. After that event, I told myself I was not going to let my problems stand in the way of my purpose. Years later, I was selected to receive the “Women of Enterprise” award. I was not only excited to accept the award but also to hopefully inspire other women to achieve their business dreams!
In the coming years, are you still planning to be involved in the pet industry?
Yes. I absolutely love animals and all the many people in the industry, so I am confident when I say I will always be interested in finding solutions and filling voids in the marketplace for people and their pets.
How many pets do you have?
I am blessed with two dogs. KARTU is my beloved jet-setting Shih Tzu, who will be 15 in September, and KoKo is an adorably loving three pounds of total joy. She is a Mi-Ki, a rare breed, and just turned two.
So, did you face any challenges at the start of your business, and how did you overcome them?
Yes, continuously from the very beginning, I have faced challenges, trials, and tribulations.
My first major challenge was receiving a cease and desist pertaining to my logo. I turned this setback into a blessing because it resulted in a new logo that better represented my brand! The new logo included both cats and dogs, which was a much better depiction of what the business was about.
I also faced many challenges when trying to change the policy regarding pets on board in the passenger cabin on airplanes. This required me to go to each individual airline, one by one, and effectively convince them to approve the SHERPA Bag to transport dogs and cats in airline cabins. It was all worth it because changing that policy and allowing people to travel with their pets on board an airplane is my greatest accomplishment!
What does your typical workday look like?
I spend every waking moment, morning, afternoon, and night, thinking and doing what I love in all the many categories of my business and my life. As an author, pet advocate, inventor, consultant, and businesswoman, each day is very different but always starts the same way. I start my day by connecting with people globally via email, text, and social media platforms.
For people who are trying to grow their audience, what advice do you have for them?
Being active and engaging on all social media platforms is very important. Life has changed with the pandemic, so this is even more relevant today. Target your market and find your community to help spread the word about what you are doing. Word of mouth is spread globally on all social media platforms, reaching more people than ever before. It is imperative to have a clear and to-the-point message. If you need help with messaging, hire a public relations firm!
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
I would have focused more time and energy on hiring the perfect employees to help me grow my business. This would have taken the weight off not only my shoulders but also my dear mother Connie’s shoulders, who was the accountant and bookkeeper at SHERPA. Great employees are a blessing!
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I get on my knees and pray and be mindful of what I must do to be healthy, safe, and happy.
I will never forget the day I threw myself on the bed and began to cry and said, “I don’t have time for this.” I have thrown myself into many fires and learned if at first I don’t succeed, I must try, try again! Exercise, healthy habits, and doing the very best that I can do while having others help me reach my goals are paramount.
What does success mean to you?
Being financially independent and doing what I love, in the places I love, with the people and the pets I love.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.