By Jamie Siebrase | Sep 17, 2016
Denver, with manufacturing in Lafayette and Mead
"Neither one of us was looking to turn out lives upside down," says GingerLead co-founder and co-owner Liz Rubinstein. But that's exactly what happened when Liz and her husband -- business partner Barry Rubinstein -- met Ginger, and began manufacturing padded rear support slings for their new pup.
"I'm an attorney, and my husband still works part-time as an IT consultant," Liz explains. She and Barry never planned on launching a business; in 2003, though, the Rubinsteins adopted two golden retriever puppies; months later, Ginger, the female littermate, needed surgery for her hip dysplasia.
The vet sent the Rubinsteins home with a generic sling to keep Ginger's hips stable during recovery. "Doggie crutches, essentially," Liz says, explaining, "That's been the go-to for vets for decades. It was uncomfortable for Ginger and awkward for the person guiding her."
A few years later, Ginger needed knee surgery, and the Rubinsteins were given another sling post-op. This go-around, they configured their own system instead -- a "Ginger lead," as they thought of it.
The Rubinstein version was "nice and padded," Liz says, and both sides of the sling were equipped with straps that "come together inside of a handle, like a duffle bag," she adds. That handle's adjustable, height-wise. "The best part is, we attached a leash," adds Liz. The result was a user-friendly contraption that was comfortable and safe for energetic Ginger.
"We made it just for her," Liz says. When the Rubinsteins brought Ginger back to the vet for her post-operative exam, the dog's surgeon was enamored by Ginger's new gear. "He helped us refine our materials and test our prototypes, and now GingerLead is sold worldwide," Liz says.
The rear support sling was designed with rehabilitation in mind, for canines recovering from knee, hip, back or orthopedic surgery; it's also handy for aged or disabled dogs needing extra assistance with balance and mobility.
"Our product is premium quality," says Liz. The portion of the sling greeting the dog's underbelly is fabricated from soft, gripping corduroy that's topped with a layer of foam padding and exterior nylon padding. The connected strap is polypropylene webbing, like traditional dog leashes, and the duffle bag handle is padded beneath a nylon exterior that matches the sling. Minus the leash, GingerLeads are machine washable.
The result is a durable product suitable for all breeds, toy to giant. "Ginger's 80 pounds, but we've had customers use a GingerLead on 225-pound dogs," says Liz.
The Rubinsteins started manufacturing in 2008, at the height of the recession. "There were manufacturers in Colorado, but a lot of them didn't want to talk to me," Liz recalls. One company even told the Rubinsteins they'd have to go overseas because the GingerLead sew was too difficult. "We almost gave up," Liz admits.
A local cut-and-sew shop was up to the challenge, though, and GingerLead enjoyed success at a veterinarian trade show after its first run was complete. "In the beginning, we were happy to have anyone know about us," says Liz. Eight years later, over 40,000 GingerLeads have sold in 30-plus countries.
"Everything is made here in Colorado, at one of three professional manufacturing companies. That's something we worked hard for," she continues, noting that GingerLead's main supplier operates in Colorado. "We buy as much locally as we can."
The Rubinsteins maintain a close relationship with their manufacturers. "I still pick up most of the orders myself," Liz says. "I know all of my manufacturers by name, and that makes a big difference in terms of quality."
GingerLead sells direct to dog owners online, and can be purchased in over a hundred pet stores nationwide. "We have distributors in a number of countries around the world," Liz says. The Rubinsteins also sell wholesale to veterinarians, and donate GingerLeads to rescue organizations and shelters, too.
Challenges: Managing growth. The Rubinsteins are currently exploring ways to "invest time and money in targeting growth opportunities," Liz says.
Opportunities: The Rubinsteins have expanded into the global market, and see ample opportunity to "work with more distributors in more countries," as Liz puts it. "This opportunity," she says, "goes hand-in-hand with the challenge of managing growth."
Needs: "We like our current supplier, but would love to have more options for sourcing," Liz says. This year the company will focus on increasing its output by adding local suppliers and manufacturers to its repertoire.