The inspiration struck in early 2011, as surf and skate enthusiast David Hendrickson was paddling around on his longboard with his dog, William, adopted three years earlier from an animal shelter in Orange County, Calif. During the adoption process, Hendrickson was told the pup--whose mother was poisoned by cleaning supplies while pregnant--had only a month to live.
William survived, but at a cost: Hendrickson ended up dropping out of college to work three jobs in order to pay $20,000 in veterinary bills. It was during this rough patch that he had his on-board epiphany. "I was just holding [William] out in the water, and I realized I wanted to take my passion for art and design, longboarding and helping animals and combine them," he says.
Hendrickson went home, sold his iPhone on Craigslist for $250, bought a used silk-screening machine and started printing the T-shirts that would later become a key component of his company, Hendrick Boards.
With William--who's doing fine now--as the brand's floppy-eared mascot, Hendrickson started his eco-friendly skateboard and apparel business in June 2011 with a mission to help rescue animals. Hendrick Boards donates as much as 40 percent of its revenue to some 200 animal shelters, rescues and sanctuaries--a generous amount considering that 2012 revenue hit $350,000 and sales are growing between 40 and 50 percent every month.
Hendrickson notes that proceeds from the sale of a single T-shirt will house and feed a shelter animal for a month. Each donation is sent to the organization located nearest the purchaser, in order to make a palpable difference in his or her own community.
Hendrick Boards crafts skateboards from sustainable bamboo and maple, stained with coffee grounds and handmade dyes (shortboards sell for $49.99; longboards for $99.99). Apparel is priced at $24.99 and up (the top seller is the "Keep calm and rescue on" shirt). From time to time, limited-edition products are designed to help specific animals deemed "high-needs medical cases."
The company and its mission have attracted plenty of interest--and quickly. In the first month, Hendrick Boards went from working with two nonprofits to 15; in just six months, the operation turned a profit. Hendrickson says the key to growth, besides "learning from every mistake," has been using social media to up engagement levels. The Hendrick Boards Facebook page boasts more than 70,000 Likes; in a nationwide small-business contest last year, Facebook and American Express Open selected the company as a top 10 finalist.
In February Hendrick Boards and its five employees moved to new 2,000-square-foot digs in Fullerton, Calif. The plan: to ramp up production to back even more animal-rescue initiatives. "When we started, I knew we weren't ever going to be a multimillion-dollar business," Hendrickson says. "I just knew we had to be profitable, because that was the way to save more animals."
William wouldn't have it any other way.