#MontanaBoss Friday: Tessa Burnett of Hattie Rex

Boss Lady Tessa Burnett from Hattie Rex in Bozeman

Happy Friday, boss! A day of lazily closing out the week, chatting with your co-workers (aka your pets) about your weekend plans, and hopefully closing up shop juuuust a little early. Each Friday, we'll be doing a feature on an amazing creative business owner in the Big Sky State, so that we can all learn a little bit more about the struggle and the awesomeness of being a business owner. Click here to read other interviews with amazing women from around the state!

Hey girl hey! Introduce yourself and tell us about your biz!

I'm Tessa Burnett, owner of Hattie Rex. Hattie Rex creates personalized accessories for people and pets. We make custom metal jewelry and pet ID tags. I'm the owner/designer/artist.

How did you start your boss lady journey?

In 2007, I was a new mom to a rambunctious yellow lab named Pablo. Pablo had stolen my heart, and like all new moms, I wanted to give him the best life possible.

Which included getting him a proper ID tag.

But the problem was… all of the ID tags on the market were mass-produced, engraved by machine, and lacking the sentiment I felt my pup deserved. After all, he was only going to wear one piece of jewelry, so it had to be something worthy of his poster-dog status.

So I set out to make my own ID tag. I purchased a set of letter and number stamps online, some tin snips and a sheet of copper from the hardware store, and found an old ball-pein hammer at an antique store. I sat on my porch and hammered out my first dog tag on a cinderblock. It was terrible. But, never one to settle, I kept trying until Pablo had a legible, handmade dog tag.

I put the tags on an Etsy store and found I was the only person on the site selling handmade dog tags. I made tags for every dog I knew and started visiting more and more craft shows.

One day, a crazy person at a show asked me if I could put her daughter’s name and birthday on the tag instead of the suggested dog name and phone number. She wanted to put it on a chain and wear it as a necklace. I thought she had lost her mind, but I obliged… and quickly realized that there were other people who wanted the same thing.

Turns out, personalized jewelry is not just for the dogs.

Production of Hattie Rex jewelry for humans had begun, and my business soared. Before long, I was a full-time CEO, working in sweatpants out of the basement in my Rolla, Missouri home.

Today, I am located in the utopia of Bozeman, Montana. In my retail store, I’m able to meet face-to-face with my customers on a daily basis, helping them turn their ideas for custom jewelry and pet tags into a reality.

Today, I am still using that antique hammer to create personalized accessories for people and pets. Although the business has changed over the years, one thing remains the same: whether human or canine, Hattie Rex brings you home.

It reminds you of the promises you make to yourself, of who you are and who you aspire to be. It takes you to the places you love, the days that changed your life, and the people — and pets — who make it all worth it.

Montana pendant, one of the most popular items at Hattie Rex

What did you do before you were a CEO?

I was a high-school Spanish teacher when I started making dog tags. By 2009, I had quit teaching to pursue a Master's Degree, but I still had a GTA position and I always intended to go back to teaching when I finished.

However, by the time I graduated, my little dog tag business had replaced a teacher's salary (it's not hard to do, unfortunately) and I decided to give it a go. I've been full-time for 6 years now.

Okay, let's talk about the DNA behind Hattie Rex. Were you one of those women with entrepreneurship basically in your blood that we always hear about?

I started making dog tags because I wanted a dog tag. I started a business because I wanted to make more money than I was making in my teaching job and the dog tags were an avenue for that.

I wouldn't say I was born to be an entrepreneur, but I will say that my DNA contains a decent amount of creativity and massive amount of persistence. One helped me start the business and the other never let me quit. (Editor's note: Me too! I wasn't a "born entrepreneur" but now I love it.)

Boss lady jewelry by Hattie Rex in Montana

How do you build an income and a life through Hattie Rex?

In 2012 we opened our first retail location and in 2015 we moved to a larger spot. Currently, about 40% of our revenue comes from retail sales. 25% is from wholesale (we have over 75 retailers carrying our products across the US and Canada), 20% is online retail, and about 15% is a mixture of consignment and other ventures.

What is your favorite thing about being your own boss?

I love the flexibility and challenge of being my own boss. I love knowing that I'm responsible for my future, and I love seeing the results of my hard work. I love the work that I do. I don't know if I'd go through the struggles (and joys) of entrepreneurship if I wasn't in this field. It's worth it! 

What was your most expensive mistake?

I like to call them expensive lessons and I have many. Most recently, I've been analyzing the money that goes to people who help me -- mostly employees, but also photographers, web designers, etc. --- and realizing that in the past I haven't been as discerning as I now aim to be.

If I'm beating around the bush, or unwilling to have tough conversations just to save someone's feelings, I'm doing everyone a disservice. I'm learning, through practice and research, that you can have those conversations in a diplomatic way and have everyones' needs met.

A dog tag made by Bozeman's own Tessa Burnett of Hattie Rex

What's the biggest misconception that women have around business ownership?

You'll have so much freedom and flexibility! You'll set your own hours! You'll enjoy unlimited vacation time! You'll be filthy rich in no time!

Where would you like to be in the next year? The next five years?

In the next year I'd love to have expanded my wholesale presence, developed a profitable retail avenue for Hattie Rex and other artists in the retail shop, and begin looking at expanding to another retail location.

In five years, I'd love to have multiple retail locations, each selling Hattie Rex plus other local artists' work. I'd love to have a production studio separate from the retail space and I'd love to break into the Japanese pet ID tag market.

How would you define a Boss Lady?

Boss Ladies are tenacious, supportive, and resourceful.

What one piece of advice would you give yourself in your first year as a biz owner?

Year 1: This can be more than a fun little hobby. It's worth your time.
Year 3: Think bigger, but make sure you're taking time for you.

Want to get in touch with Tessa? Check her out on her website. Send her an email and tell her how you found out about her (*cough* The #MontanaBoss feature *cough*)

(P.S. Want to share your story with other Montana business owners? Click here.)