Doggles – glasses or goggles for dogs – sound completely unreal and even silly. But it’s real and actually quite innovative. In fact, these doggles turned out to be a successful business idea. The inventor, Roni Di Lullo, made a million-dollar business around it.
It began with a walk in the park…
Like many inventions, they were made either by accident or from an ordinary activity. In Di Lullo’s case, she was walking with her dog in the park when Doggles’ concept was born one beautiful day in 1997. After a long day at work, she and her dog Midknight would play Frisbee together in the late afternoon. Di Lullo would wear her sunglasses to protect her eyes from the glare of the setting sun.
Then, one day, Di Lullo noticed something a bit peculiar from Midknight – he was squinting in the sunlight. She later said, “There was one day in particular where (Midknight) missed the Frisbee, and he never, never missed the Frisbee. So I just thought, ‘Well, why can’t he just wear sunglasses, too?”
Di Lullo tried to experiment with various types of eyewear on her dog – sunglasses, ski goggles, and swim goggles. But they are made for humans, and Di Lullo realized she had to create “dog goggles” from scratch. This was a totally novel idea, as nobody had made anything like that before. Thus, it was an uncharted territory, and Di Lullo decided to give it a shot.
Di Lullo made the designs entirely in a CAD program. She invested $25,000 on her idea and began making and selling Doggles more as a hobby than anything else. Di Lullo was then employed as a software programmer for Hewlett Packard, but she had just become a mother and had to take a leave of absence of work. So it makes sense that she decided to devote her time at home to making dog goggles. But it dawned on her that it could also be a good business idea. She later recalled, “I hadn’t really thought of it as, ‘This is just a product I’m going to sell a ton of…’ It really was for fun, but once I did it, I realized there really was a market for this.”
Finally, she developed a pair of goggles that would fit a dog’s head. As for whether dogs are okay with wearing them or find them uncomfortable, Di Lullo said: “It really depends on your dog. Some of them will just very happily walk away wearing them, but the good majority of them need to be trained to wear them. Some dogs just don’t want to wear them, period, it just depends on your dog’s personality.”
She had tried various designs before selecting the most successful ones and began to mass-produce them. She had also founded her own company, Doggles, named after the product, of course.
A big break
2002 turned out to be an big year for Di Lullo. CNN ran a story on her company. Even more significant, she decided to cold-call the pet goods retail chain PetSmart via their toll-free number. Two weeks later, she received the good news – it was an actual letter from PetSmart, saying that they were taking her Doggles in all of their stores.
Until that eventful encounter with PetSmart, Di Lullo had been making Doggles by hand. But all of a sudden, she was in need of a manufacturer. She started making phone calls to various manufacturers until she settled on one from Taiwan.
She has patented the Doggles design. At times, she’s been forced to take matters to court when other people try to copy her products.
What was once thought of as a strange and laughable concept became a million-dollar success for Di Lullo. It may not be so surprising, as Americans treat pets like a member of their family and are eager to buy anything for their furry companions.
Not just a fashion item
A lot of articles have been written about Doggles. British newspaper Daily Mail ranked the product as the sixth most useless invention. MSN Money wrote an article about “10 ideas that shouldn’t have worked – but made millions,” ranking Doggles also in sixth.
But while Doggles are usually seen as a fashion gear, they are found to have several practical and medical benefits. Doggles provide dogs with protection against UV rays. They are also flexible and shatter-proof. Veterinarian ophthalmologists even find Doggles useful after eye surgery. Doggles are also popular among military and police K-9 units. There are now prescription Doggles replacement lenses available for dogs suffering from impaired eyesight and other eye conditions.