AURORA | The smell of natural leather permeates the interior of Bold Lead Designs, a custom dog lead and accessory company hidden among auto repair shops in an industrial shopping center near Aurora’s Buckley Air Force Base.
“We offer the best quality leather we can find,” says owner and designer Katrina Boldry. Boldry has been designing custom leashes and accessories since 2008 out of her small warehouse space on 350 Norfolk St. in Aurora.
When Boldry started her own business in 2006, she was the sole employee for several years: Doing everything from product design and manufacturing to website design and marketing up until 2013. Today, her growing staff of five sells about 11,000 handmade leashes annually, and ships worldwide to more than 38 countries and customers in all 50 states.
Out of her 3,000-square-foot space in east Aurora, Boldry’s team designs, sells and manufactures 45 unique pet products. She says many have been crafted either from her imagination and personal experience or from customer feedback that has come from several years of designing leashes and other accessories for customers.
She points to the 8-Way Lead leash, which allows users to reconfigure it in eight different ways so that they can shorten or lengthen it and walk their dog hands-free or over-the-shoulder.
“We’re using a premium American bridle leather and a latigo leather,” she says of the product, which comes in brown or black. It sells between $55 and $60 and is the store’s most popular item, Boldry says.
Boldry, who has been designing leashes for nearly a decade, says she entered her line of work with very little experience. She has a bachelor degree in fine art and was a professional photographer before she took what she describes as a “total career change” to build her own in-house business.
“I think there can be an advantage to being self-taught. You’re not repeating what has come before,” she said. “You get really creative at finding resources and approach your designs a little differently.”
Boldry’s unique approach to dog leashes has made her particularly successful when designing for service dogs. Boldry says half of her company’s revenue comes from designing specialty service dog equipment.
“Our service dog gear is what we’re best known for in the specialty service dog industry,” she says. “Our mobility support harness is designed to allow a service dog to assist someone with a balance or mobility impairment with walking on their own.”
She says much of her design experience for the service animal industry comes from her high school days when she raised a guide puppy for the nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind.
She says each leash or harness she creates is specific to a customer’s situation. Since 2012, her business has sold 1,200 custom-made mobility and assistance service dog harnesses.
“We don’t just do the harnesses, we have a lot of specialty leashes that include special wheelchair leashes. Even for people with quadriplegia who have no use of their hands or arms, we can still make a leash they can use on their own without assistance,” she says. “It’s that problem-solving that comes with finding a way to get the gear to work for an individuals’ specific situation. That’s really what I think we excel at.”
Boldry is not the only one to think so. In 2015, the City of Aurora honored her with a Business Recognition Award and the national publication Pet Age listed Boldry among the up-and coming pet industry leaders.
Her mobility harness-making skills have been so successful that she was even tapped by Buckley Air Force Base to design a heavy-duty, all-purpose harness for the on-base canine handlers. In addition to that tracking and agitation harness being available for sale to the general public, Boldry says one has been deployed from Buckley AFB in Qatar.
“It’s good for letting a dog pull into the leash for tracking purposes, like with bomb dogs. It can be used to restrain the dog when they’re doing protection work,” she says.
Looking at the success of her business today, Boldry says it’s design that helped her stand out from the pack.
“Something funny happens when you design something well. It also happens to be aesthetically pleasing,” she said.