Father-daughter partnership leads to great success for Tahoe Dog Gear
TRUCKEE, Calif. — Deciding which path to follow after high school graduation is undoubtedly difficult for most teens. Factor in cerebral palsy and bilateral hearing loss, and the path becomes that much more uncertain.
That is, unless you’re Michaela Welch, whose passion, work ethic and determination have led her down the path of becoming a successful business owner by pursuing exactly what she loves.
Alongside her father, Mike Welch, the 19-year-old Truckee High School graduate is co-owner and creative force behind Tahoe Dog Gear — a Lake Tahoe-inspired lifestyle brand that offers locally made, durable, and polyester-based leashes and collars.
“I started this business to help create a fun opportunity for Michaela and to get her ready for that next stage in life,” Mike said. “Part of the process was figuring out where her skill sets are, what she likes to do and what direction we could take that in.”
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy — a disorder caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills — at age 3, Michaela also struggles with bilateral hearing loss, making communication that much greater a challenge for the otherwise outgoing teenager.
“She wants to be able to live on her own some day, and part of reaching that point is learning responsibility and having the means to pay for those things,” Mike said.
The business combines Michaela’s longtime passion for animals with her knack for creativity, and since its launch in May 2015, Tahoe Dog Gear has proven itself a valuable learning tool.
“Having her involved in the entire business process helps her understand the amount of work it takes to build something from the beginning, versus showing up and having it done for her,” Mike said.
SERVING UP A DUO OF BUSINESS ACES
Mike’s savvy business expertise stems from his career as head volleyball coach at various universities across the country, after which the husband and father of two relocated his family to Truckee to launch a new business endeavor, Peak Volleyball Camps, in 2010.
“As a college coach, you’re basically a business manager in the sense that a lot of things you do revolve around making business decisions, managing a budget, that sort of thing,” Mike said. “That experience really came in handy when I started creating the concepts for this business.”
Through an opportunity with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s WorkAbility Program — which helps students with disabilities to develop a career portfolio — Michaela was offered a position as an assistant groomer at the Tahoe Truckee Pet Lodge.
“I like taking the dogs on walks and playing with them,” Michaela said. Beaming with excitement, the expert assistant groomer also added “snuggling” to the list of her favorite canine activities.
In addition to her work with the Pet Lodge, Michaela’s resumé also includes an internship at her uncle’s Southern California-based veterinary clinic, as well as completion of an online veterinary assistant course.
PAWING FOR SUCCESS
Michaela’s expertise in all things canine, combined with Mike’s overall business sense, has contributed to the success and functionality of Tahoe Dog Gear’s line of collars and leashes.
With their initial inventory in place, the father-daughter duo geared up for the launch of Tahoe Dog Gear at a festival held in the Village at Squaw Valley last May, but they weren’t as prepared for the overwhelmingly positive response as they had hoped.
“We had no idea what was going to happen at that first festival, so we made about 75 collars and leashes and before we knew it, we were completely sold out so I had to start sewing on demand to keep up with the orders,” Mike said. “I quickly realized that I can’t be an expert in everything and I have to let people do what they do best.”
Nowadays, their line of quick-dry, brightly-colored polyester collars and leashes are sewn by a Tahoe City-based seamstress, which has helped control the pace and precision of production, while providing the quality craftsmanship for which Mike and Michaela strive.
For the time being, the plan is to focus on building and refining their current line of products, which are available for purchase online, at events like Truckee Thursdays, and at local retailers including Truckee Tahoe Pet Lodge, Mountain Hardware & Sports, Sierra Pet Clinic and Granite Chief.
But there’s no telling where the future will take the duo.
“It’s amazing watching her at festivals and seeing her become more confident in her social interactions with people,” Mike said. “We are family, so working together can be challenging, but mostly, it’s been incredibly rewarding for, I think, both of us.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.