FROM UNDERDOG TO TOP DOG
From the 11/2/14 issue of Parade Magazine
In 1997, at age 52, Carol Gardner was in trouble. The high-end real estate venture she invested in with her husband had failed. Soon after, so did their marriage. Depressed, divorced, and over $1 million in debt, she was living on four credit cards. "My attorney said 'Sweetheart, you either need a therapist or a dog,' " she recalls. So she adopted a 4-month-old English bulldog named Zelda.
A few weeks later, Gardner, now 68, who could barely afford to feed Zelda, dressed her up in a Santa hat and a bubble beard, snapped her photo, and entered it in a local pet store's Christmas card contest. (Prize: one year's worth of free dog food.) When she won, the proverbial light bulb came on.
Gardner got busy sewing costumes for Zelda, shooting photos and writing captions, ultimately creating a starter line of 24 funny, inspirational greeting cards and posters. A local printer ran 25,000 cards on credit, and Gardner began pitching stores in Oregon and Washington.
Then, in May, her big break came at the National Stationery Trade Show in New York City, where she took orders from buyers nationwide and signed with a licensing company that booked Zelda on Good Morning America. Just six months after winning the dog food contest, card sales topped 1 million.
Today, Zelda Wisdom is a global multimillion-dollar brand that also includes calendars, books, clothing, jewelry, and household accessories. "If I can accomplish all this just by dressing up my dog, she quips, imagine what you can do."