It’s been in advertising and marketing for as long as most of us can remember: celebrities endorsing, or producing their own, products.
In recent years, Tiger Woods has been synonymous with Nike, William Shatner with Priceline and Michael Jordan with Gatorade.
For more than 50 years, celebrities and personalities have endorsed different products. Why has it lasted for so long? Because it works, and it’s something that as celebrities begin entering the pet industry with their own products, pet retailers should take advantage of.
In June 2012, the Journal of Advertising Research produced an article by Anita Elberse, an associate professor of Harvard Business School, and Jeroen Verleun, a Barclays Capital analyst, titled, “The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements.” The study was done to see how celebrity endorsements impact sales. One of the conclusions they found: “In general, enlisting the help of celebrity endorsers pays off.”
Now, celebrities don’t always just endorse products, especially not as much in the pet industry. Instead, many of them have started their own pet companies, or worked with established manufacturers in the business to create signature lines, because of their love for pets.
A perfect example of this would be Kristy Hinze-Clark, the creator/creative director for Legitimutt, who is also an Australian model, actress and television host. She has also appeared in Sports Illustrated as well as the Victoria’s Secret catalogue.
“I started Legitimutt because of my love for my dogs,” Hinze-Clark said. “I had always wanted to have a company based around pets and their care. I noticed that there was a gap in the market for high-quality, USA-made pet goods, and when I was brainstorming names one afternoon and came up with Legitimutt, my husband said that I had to go with it. Hence, Legitimutt was born.”
Celebrities and Their Products
Hinze-Clark said one of the biggest questions she gets asked is, “Why do a pet line?”
“Most models that come from my field go into lingerie or swimwear or clothing,” Hinze-Clark said. “Well, it was something different and fun. After being in the fashion industry for over 20 years, I wanted to do something that had a sense of humor while still utilizing my many years of experience.”
Halo, Purely for Pets is co-owned by Ellen DeGeneres, who believes that, “If you’re going to have pets you should treat them like you’d treat yourself. I don’t mean you should treat them to new shoes or a fancy car—I am talking about the basics; a nice bed, fun toys and good food.”
DeGeneres founded the company while finding the perfect food for her dog.
“A few years ago I was looking for some pet food for one of my dogs who was allergic to everything, honestly, even his own fur,” DeGeneres said. “I tried everything, our vet tried everything and finally I found a little company that had the perfect food for him. It’s called Halo, Purely for Pets.
“So, because I think Halo is incredible, I decided to become part owner in hopes that all animals have the chance to be the healthiest they can be. And I’m anxious to spread the word so that everybody knows about Halo.”
Rocky Keever is the president and founder of DOG for DOG, a store with a simple mission statement: “For every item sold we will donate one to a dog in need.”
“It started because my team and I were hosting rescue groups at my stores, The Dog Bakery, and we couldn’t seem to help enough dogs,” Keever said. “So one day, I decided that the only way to truly make an impact was to involve everyone. I truly believe people are giving by nature and just need a convenient way to do so. Thus, DOG for DOG was born.
“My business partner, Scott Ragan, and myself have partnered with some pretty amazing people. Michael Buble and his wife, Luisana Lopilato, Chelsea Handler and Snoop Dogg are all investors for the DOG for DOG movement. It is pretty exciting helping dogs in need with the team that we have.”
In the Beginning
Before the article, “The Economic Value of Celebrity Endorsements,” was printed, most advertisers and marketers said celebrity endorsements pay off.
Where did these ideas come from?Originally, a mathematical manuscript was written by mathematician Manfred Kochen and political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool called, “Contacts and Influences.” It was published in 1978 and formally articulated the mechanics of social networks. The manuscript didn’t answer all questions, as there were some about the degree of connectedness, and there were still questions about networks, which included the number of degrees of separation in actual social networks.
Stanley Milgram, a Ph.D. graduate from Harvard, who later taught at Harvard and Yale, would go on to produce the famous Milgram experiments. In 1967, Milgram lead experiments called the “The Small World Problem” in the magazine, Psychology Today. It is more popularly known today as the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory or the “Kevin Bacon game.”
In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell came out with a book called, “The Tipping Point,” which seeks to explain how ideas, products, messages and behaviors spread in culture. In the book, he covers “The Law of the Few,” which cites Milgram’s experiments in the small world problem, but it discusses that there is a small but compelling group of individuals who are influential. This group consists of several groups of people, including celebrities.
Since celebrities are influential people, Keever said one of the important aspects to their celebrity partners is that none of them are tasked with selling products.
“They are all tasked with helping spread the word on how we can all help dogs in need,” Keever said. “Some people may say in the end that is the same thing. To us, it is a major difference because focusing on our movement helps let passion and heart lead the way.”
Working With Retailers
David Yaskulka, vice president, marketing communications for Halo, Purely for Pets, said that while brands such as American Express, Lifewater, Cover Girl and others might pay Ellen millions to be associated with their products, Halo is actually co-owned by Ellen.
“She’s a believer, not a paid spokesperson,” Yaskulka said. “And it shows in the power of her messaging. Ellen says, ‘I love my pets so much that I’ll only give them Halo.’ Ellen never says such deeply personal endorsements of other brands, because the nature of this relationship is from the heart.”
Yaskulka continued to say that there is no more passionate, credible and visible animal-rescue advocate than Ellen.
“She would never recommend anything less than exemplary for pets,” Yaskulka said. “That’s why she’s such a powerful part of the Halo, Purely for Pets, brand. She believes in the highest quality natural nutrition and she believes in helping animals. That’s the Halo brand in a nutshell.”
In February, Hinze-Clark hosted a trunk show and pet adoption event in “The Dog Bar,” which is Miami’s leading pet store and also one of their prime locations for Legitimutt.
“We are looking forward to introducing new and exciting additions to the Legitimutt line this year,” Hinze-Clark said. “The pet industry is stronger than ever and we are happy to be a part of such an exciting and growing industry.”
Keever said that one of the reasons we love celebrities is because we relate, are inspired, or see a bit of ourselves in what they do.
“Sharing that story and connection with customers when talking about a brand helps the customer to make the purchase because now they are a part of the brand,” Keever said. “In my opinion, our celebrities are able to help validate our movement to help dogs in need by simply being involved.”
The advice Keever gives to retailers is to talk about the movement first, helping dogs in need and how we couldn’t do it without them.
“They [the retailer] are the difference because with every item they sell, one is donated to help a dog in need,” Keever said. “It is the reason for being and what we stand for. The great part about that is then you can talk about the exciting people involved in the movement. And last, but not least, how all of our products are made in the USA, all-natural and high quality.”
Celebrities are not the only option for selling products. Licensing products are always another option and something that customers look for.
“As a brand, Eddie Bauer has a long history with dogs, as his legacy includes breeding the first black Labrador in America,” Jack Savdie, the vice president of sales for Age Group Ltd., said. “In addition, all Eddie Bauer products are made to withstand the rigors of outdoor use, including various temperatures and terrain. Hence, these products are well-suited for the active pet and owner. What we love most about the brand is we can design an active outdoor collection, as well as a heritage, home-friendly collection.”
Age Group Ltd. also sells Hello Kitty merchandise, which is one of the most popular characters in the world.
“She is recognized by both sexes of all age ranges, kids to adults,” Savdie said. “Hello Kitty has a tremendous and loyal following. Females make up about 75 percent of all shoppers, making this one of the best female brands across all retail channels in almost every category and department.”
Savdie suggests to retailers that if they wanted to promote brands like Eddie Bauer and Hello Kitty, they should use signage, social media, flyers, brochures and their website.
“It takes about 30 seconds to get a customer’s email address,” Savdie said. “Establish a mailing address and send out an email once a week promoting a certain item, sale dates, whatever it is. What’s great about purchasing the Hello Kitty brand is Age Group will give back a certain percentage to the retailer in order to cover advertising fees.”
Just like celebrities, these brands have a history of performing well, which will help them fly off the shelves.
“Hello Kitty merchandise can be found in almost every independent or mom and pop retailer across the U.S.,” Savdie said. “After doing many studies, we found that any brand that performs well in a certain retail channel would most likely perform the same way in another.
“Almost everyone that owns something that bares the Eddie Bauer logo can attest that its functionality, long-lasting quality is the best out there. Eddie Bauer also has a loyal following and as sport, outdoor and functional brands are on the rise, so too we believe that the Eddie Bauer brand is going to perform in all retail channels; we know it already is and we are very excited for 2014.”
Wayde King and Brett Raymer have been in the aquarium business for 18 years. Recently, their TV show “Tanked” has had their product, Blue Shark Products, sales go through the roof.
“Wayde and I used to have an office and people used to come in our office all the time and say, ‘You guys are great, you guys should be on television,’ and we made a great product so we decided to film our own version of a pilot,” Raymer, COO of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, said. “Then we shopped it around for a while. [It] took about 3 years to get it off the ground. Finally we got it off the ground and here we are 5 years later.”
Before it was Blue Shark Products, the product was originally called, Naturbac.
“These guys had products that were mom and pop products that we used that we thought were great products,” Raymer said. “It had a hard time getting national exposure. So I spoke to Bobby and Christian and told them about the show and, once the show takes off, we would love to endorse these products and get our name onto something because they are great products, we could get some national exposure and hopefully come up with a great chemical line.”
Blue Shark Products is now a well-known brand, especially internationally, and as the show continues to gain popularity, more people will want to purchase the products.
“There is no better advertising than television,” Raymer said. “This year, we are going to feature the product on the show a great deal. Our business from being on the show has jumped tremendously. So I can imagine all these retail stores that bring in our products, how much business they are going to gain from the popularity of the show as well.”
Kathy Ireland and Worldwise
Worldwise has been making pet products for 20 years. Recently, they have partnered with Kathy Ireland because they share similar values in terms of viewing pets as part of the family, and wanting to provide both the pet and the pet owner with products that meet their needs.
Under the partnership, Kathy Ireland, CEO and chief designer for kiWW, will develop a line of solution-based home-decor friendly pet products with the Worldwise team and market the collection under the brand kathy ireland Loved Ones.
“Kathy brings the understanding of what it means to be a busy parent to both the two-footed and four-footed child,” Kurt Avar, senior director, creative services and marketing for Worldwise, said. “We knew we would have a winning combination if we could join Kathy’s knowledge and savvy design sensibility with Worldwise innovation capabilities and industry expertise to create a solution-based, home-décor friendly product line.”
To help boost sales of Worldwise and Kathy Ireland products, Avar said they needed to understand the specific needs that a pet has in order to be happy and healthy.
“Worldwise is built on a foundation of the ‘needs system,’ with product designed to meet specific pet needs from emotional to physical,” Avar said. “By helping to educate your staff and customers about the importance of meeting these needs everyone will be prosperous.”
Growing the Ferret Category
Marshall Pet Products is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a company.
Over the years, Marshall has pioneered and created some of the highest-quality ferret and small pet diets, treats and accessories. Recently, they have expanded into specialized products for dogs and cats.
“We started breeding pet ferrets in 1939, back then it was a real small regional operation,” Peter Reid, the president and COO of Marshall Pet Products, said. “Fast-forward that over the years, we became very proficient with producing them on a year round basis, so they are not seasonal. We developed a line of products in the 1990s and then from then we have expanded and acquired a company called Earth Balance, so we are not just ferrets anymore.”
Until 1993, the Marshall family took a relatively unknown category and grew it into a thriving business. In 1993, Reid started Marshall Pet Products. The company continued to support the unique needs of ferret owners by developing specialized ferret accessories like harnesses and leads, bell collars, toys and homes. It wasn’t long before he identified the need for a ferret diet as ferrets are obligate carnivores.
Since then, Marshall Pet has continued to develop new diets, toys, travel, accessories, fashions and cleaning products marketed specifically to ferret and small pets.
Having ferrets available in a pet store increases the need for present and future purchases for products in that store. Although many retailers only carry ferret products, and not the actual pet, having ferrets present in the store provides an opportunity to educate future pet owners about the proper care and handling of ferrets.
It also opens the door for in-store events.
“It’s been a long run. We want to thank all of the distributors, retailers and partners that are in the industry that have helped us,” Reid said. “It is not just us, it’s everyone that has been involved with us and been there along the way. You don’t just will it to happen, you continue to be committed to quality products and quality service and consistency and reliability.
These are things we don’t take lightly. I would say a big thank you to everyone that has supported us, from the consumer to the retailer to the distributor and our vendors, because without all of them we are not having this conversation.”
Pet Advocate Takes Top Honors at Conference
Michelle: Congratulations on being named Woman of the Year by Women in the Pet Industry Network. What was your reaction when you won?
Darleen: As for words, shocked, amazed, blessed. These three words come to mind. I almost backed out of going because it is so hard to leave what I do behind. I worry about the babies trusted to my care and posting a photo that I am in Portland seemed like I was just having fun not working. I have read stories about different dog events, expos, etc. in the pet magazines and I have wanted to be in the same room with people who work with and love animals like I do.
I cannot believe it took me 30 years to finally get to a conference. It was so amazing meeting everyone there who loved what they do as much as I do. From the second I walked in the room, until the minute I left, I was just amazed. The funny thing is that each woman I met who was sharing their passion for what they do, I felt like I had known them for years. I kept getting goose bumps with every new story.
Yes, I admit I was way out of my comfort zone with trying to get the perfect outfit to wear, but after meeting these ladies, I knew I could just be me, and that my smile and love for animals would be just the right “bling” I needed to wear.
Michelle: You were nominated in, and won, the advocate category for your work in this area, specifically for helping start the animal shelter/welfare group, OASIS, 23 years ago, as well as being actively involved in forming the South Arkansas Kennel Club. How did animal causes become your passion?
Darleen: This area of south Arkansas was typical, in that, animal control entities existed and were controlled by municipalities. In spite of those entities, my phone was consistently ringing with someone on the other end asking me to do something about a stray dog or cat. For a small group of friends and me that was enough evidence to start working to form the Ouachita Animal Shelter Information Society (OASIS).
We have helped curb the stray pet population in this area by a variety of means, the most effective has been our Spay/Neuter Fund. Citizen purchases a low-cost certificate from OASIS for spaying or neutering their pet. After the procedure, OASIS, is billed the remainder of the costs. I am pleased with our progress although it is never enough. We are proud that over 3600 dogs and cats have been sterilized with this program since it began in 2002.
The South Arkansas Kennel Club grew out of a fundamental feeling I have. That is, if it can happen in New York City, it can happen here. Of course, I am referring to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. I got the idea after showing my dogs for many years that it would be so cool to have a dog show in my home town. I was told that it was impossible to have successful dog shows in Camden because we are 100 miles from the nearest airport.
Again, a small group of friends and I started the process of creating SAKC. It took ten years of fun matches and all the back-breaking work that goes along with that but we completed all AKC requirements and were granted a charter to hold our first licensed dog shows and obedience trials in Camden in 2000. Our show weekend is each year the weekend after Westminster shows in February.
Our 2013 shows attracted over 800 dogs and a gate of 10,000 in attendance. The opportunity to share the sport of dogs and help educate responsible ownership is wonderful and something I am very proud of. We are steadily growing in entries and reputation with each passing year’s shows.
Animal causes became my passion because somebody needed those causes to be important. Dogs, their great lives, and people loving and caring for dogs as much as I do, was and still, is very important to me. Those organizations are just a part of me like my business, Waggin’ Tails, is a part of me.
Somebody needed to care and I am somebody. I can work the rest of my life and not do half what dogs have done in my life.
Michelle: Tell us a little about your business, Waggin’ Tails.
Darleen: Currently, Waggin’ Tails is a grooming, boarding and training facility for dogs and cats. WT was a creation of mine 27 years ago. I was working at a local defense contractor. I had a good-paying steady job with benefits, but that was not enough. I also worked part time for my local veterinarian. Working with the animals I soon learned was my passion. A brief health scare and the encouragement of my friend and veterinarian, I decided I wanted to go after doing what I loved and that was, dogs.
I was 22 years old when I quit my job at the defense company and begin chasing the dream of working with dogs.
Camden was a town at that time of about 14,000 population, and we had two groomers in town and two veterinary clinics. I wanted to offer a boarding facility that offered different services than our local vets could offer. I obtained a loan through my local banker, who I had to convince I could make a business out of caring for dogs. I will always remember trying to convince this man who was not a dog owner, that Waggin’ Tails was a good idea.
Waggin’ Tails started with a small grooming room (12-by-14) and a 20-by-20 room for kennels. Over the years I have been blessed to grow my facility into over with my home being attached to my kennel giving my clients that extra comfort their fur baby has someone with them 24/7. I added an indoor training room to hold my obedience classes inside, added doggy daycare, dog park and this past summer we added dock jumping with our new pool and dock.
I believe that even though our town is small and our population has dropped to under 10,000 with the closing of the plant I worked for before starting Waggin’ Tails plus our Paper Mill that had been the life blood of Camden for over seventy years shutting down and several other businesses followed, the pet owner’s deserve a place they can feel good about with their pet’s needs and care. My customers are the 4-legged ones and I feel I am not doing my job unless their Tail is Wagging.
Michelle: When Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S., you traveled to Louisiana to help with the pet rescue efforts. What motivated you to become involved?
Darleen: Dog People Network. Through that network I knew one of the people who was fervently working to help those pets that were abandoned. I got some kind people in this area to donate money and materials, dog food, crates, water, blankets, etc., to take to the animal shelter in Lake Charles, La. I borrowed a horse trailer, loaded it with goods then my brother and I drove done there.
When the second hurricane, Rita, hit, animals were evacuated to Shreveport, La. Kind citizens of this area donated more money and materials to donate to those animals. Borrowed the same horse trailer, loaded it with goods and set out for Shreveport. This time, we came back with 25 “Katrina dogs” as they were affectionately known. We, members of OASIS, began working to find the original owners of these dogs. We were able to reunite nine Katrina dogs with their original owners. Others we got adopted by kind owners in this area. One Katrina dog is still at my house!
Michelle: In addition to all of this, you are also a certified animal abuse officer. Tell is about that.
Darleen: This aspect of my career came about as a result of the close connection I had, and still have, with local law enforcement. Regretfully, dog fighting is popular in this area and coupled with far too many irresponsible owners law enforcement officers were quite busy with dog issues. Law enforcement officials in rural areas do not get much training on dog issues and dog laws.
I wanted to become a certified animal abuse officer to be able to help train officers in proper handling of animal-related calls to the Sheriff’s office. We have come a long way, but there is still very much to be done. The law enforcement changes, so then there might be a new person who cares about animal issues, or they might not care at all. I know there has been great change since I started handling cruelty cases in 1995, but there is still so much that needs help.
I call it my baby steps that get me through. If I worry about what is happening to some of the animals, I can’t breath. So. I learned to help the ones I can and pray I can help another tomorrow. I have long had a vision of my community becoming one that has zero strays, none euthanized, and people understanding what a privilege it is to own a dog and learning how they should be taken care of.
Beating the Competition
There are several challenges of owning a business that independent pet retailers face.
It could be dealing with the expanding of their business and building a customer base, finding, training and retaining good employees, increasing sales volume or maintain profitability.
In recent years with the 2008 economic crises, the economy has always been one of the biggest concerns to retailers according to the previous years of the Pet Age Retailer Report. As the economy continues to improve, the biggest challenge retailers now face is competing with independent, big box, mass market and/or online stores. According to the 2013-14 survey, 61 percent of retailers say competing with independent, big box, mass market and/or online stores is their biggest challenge in the coming years.
Pet Age spoke to several retailers all over the country to ask them to talk about how they compete with the competition.
Q: Tell us about you and your store.
My name is David Hale and I Own SomethingFishy inc. in Cleveland, Ohio for more than 22 years now. I have been in the pet industry since I was 15 years old. I have been raising fish for over 36 years. I have been to the Great Barrier Reef and collected in the Amazon. I started doing the maintenance service prior to opening my first full line pet store but focused on aquatics. It was trial and error but learned a lot on the first go around on my own. Fast forward a few years and I went back full time in the business and purchased my own building. This is a specialty store and is all Aquatics and is Fresh water only but have did salt water I the past. We are known for quality cichlids which many are bred within our own hatchery in over 300 tanks. The show room has many display tanks of many types of fish and a planted tank. We also have a fish tank in the wall and in the floor when you walk in.
Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces.
Everything and everyone is competition these days. The big box stores I do not look at as competition that much and if anything they help my business by referrals because aquatics is not their strong area as it is for us. The obvious is the internet which is our best friend and our worse enemy. The well known, starting with the letter “A”, is a problem not just for us but any business these days. Then we have many vendors, wholesalers, etc., selling online or direct to the consumer which puts more of a squeeze on making a profit. Then there are basement sellers selling everything under the sun while they have full-time job so they do not need to mark up what they sell so they sell cheap to make a buck here and there while they hurt the bricks and motor stores. You can blame the wholesalers selling to these people. You also have local clubs/auctions that can hurt the business. Then you have eBay, Craigslist and now Facebook which is like Craigslist on steroids. There’s a Facebook page for everything for everyone selling everything or giving items away for free! It’s scary.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
To sell or not to sell a product? Buy more for less to make less? Being used for my knowledge and lose sales to customers because of the prices that I cannot match on the internet or the guy selling out of his basement of his home.
Q: How have you overcome those challenges?
Always promote knowledge and customer service. We know what we are doing.
It’s a constant battle and I am always paying attention what’s going on. I am constantly thinking ahead and planning my next move what to do and not to do. Keep on the distributors on what they are not paying attention to like the basement sellers that are not legitimate businesses. They do not always know unless someone tells them.
I freshen up display tanks with new decor or livestock to give our customers ideas what they can do with their tanks. Buy more that sells more and get rid of product that does not sell or sold too cheap on the internet. Email blast customers on what’s new or what’s on sale or info about a certain fish or product.
Have healthy stock and clean tanks, Always!
Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
Sometimes you have to reinvent the wheel but at the same time leave some things alone because the customers like the way things are. You have to pay attention what’s going on in the industry and watch the internet for what is happening now, tomorrow and so forth. Need to know what’s hot and what’s not for your location and customer base. It’s good to be known for a niche as in knowledge about a specific type of livestock so you become the go to shop for having them in stock and know what you are talking about. Stream line product selection on what sells and what does not. Price point certain products for repeat visits by your customers. I feel the lost leader sales are not worth it because many customers will hold out to buy something you will not make money on and then they do not buy anything else.
Host a meet and greet from your Facebook page with free donuts and coffee before opening or pizza party after hours. Buy from a local non-chain business or maybe have them sponsor the event. Promote local so it stays local as much as possible. Think outside the box at times to get ahead.
Q: Tell us about you and your store.
Natural Pawz was opened in 2005 by Biff Picone & Nadine Joli-Coeur a husband and wife team. We opened it because of our passion in providing healthy and safe products for dogs and cats. We both left successful careers in high tech to make a difference in our local community. We believe in being involved and contributing to the local rescue, shelter community. We have grown to 12 locations and plan additional growth because we make a difference in pet’s lives and our customers are our best supporters.
Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces.
It seems everyone is jumping on the band wagon trying to get more of the pet space. It is no secret the big box stores are getting into the business as well as grocery. This has put pressure on the bigger pet chains of the world to look to find ways to differentiate themselves but they are still caught up in the big box store mentality. We differentiate ourselves by insuring we carry products our customers can relate to. Our competitors are not loyal to manufacturers and will sell what they can make the most money on regardless if it’s in the best interest of the pet.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
More from other smaller independents who try to undercut the pricing, which I believe undercuts the value of the products. Some retailers rely solely on price and that is not a long term or winning strategy. We do not use our size to undercut or overprice. We follow our manufacturer guidelines, smaller retailers appreciate larger independents who do not practice predatory policies and do nothing to increase sales but steal from one another. Independents need to work together. The more healthy independents in a market the better for all and more importantly the pets who benefits from the products we offer pet parents.
Q: How have you overcome those challenges?
Making sure we get our message on, who we are and what we stand for. We are very selective on hiring retail salespeople. Many times the perception of your store is set by the way a customer is serviced by the store employees. Making sure you are slow to hire and quick to fire are the rules we live by to ensure we always have the best qualified people in our stores at all times. We also work with manufacturers to offer our customers the best products and ensure we always have them in stock. Nothing hurts a small business more as when a customer comes in and you are out of stock.
Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
Develop your vision and purpose. Stay true to those principals and do not be swayed. If you deviate you just become a smaller version of your competitors and they will “eat you alive”.
Nancy Okun of Cats n Dogs
Q: Tell us about you and your store:
Cats n Dogs, Playful Stuff For Humans & The Animals Who Train Them, started in 2006 as a home toy party business selling unique toys for cats and dogs. Within one year, we opened a 300 square foot shop adding quality treats. Three years later the business moved into a 900 square foot location and included premium food. 2011 brought a move into a 1,835 square foot location greatly expanding food brands, treats, natural remedies, pet lover’s gifts, bedding, strollers, carriers and a large selection of collars, leashes and harnesses.
South West Florida is extremely seasonal with a large influx of “snowbirds” from November through April. More than 65 percent of the permanent 160,000 residents in our immediate area are over the age of 62, many on fixed incomes and in recent years hard hit by the recession.
Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces:
As we expanded; other local independent pet supply stores closed their doors due to the economy. The big box stores added premium lines of food and treats. Every time one of the brands Cats n Dogs offered sold out to a big box; we filled that void with a new brand.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
One of the biggest challenges was, and has been, introducing new brands to customers. We decided early on not to carry brands big boxes sold. However, we special order food for customers those brands we discontinue and match pricing. Samples of newer brands are placed on countertops so customers who bring their dog into the store can taste test on the spot. Others go home with sample bags even if we have to make samples ourselves by opening bags. Cans of food are often given for free. We remain cost conscious at all times. Items priced too high will sit on shelves. For example, 90 percent of treats sold are priced at $10, and under.
When a pet has an issue with itchy ears, hot spots or thunderstorms we offer samples of at least two different natural products to test before buying. Our strength is knowledge of the products, how and why those specific ingredients will work.
Q: How have you overcome those challenges:
Our store guarantees every bag of food and treats. If the kitty or pup decides they don’t want to eat that kibble, pet parents are encouraged to bring the bag back and exchange for another. We won’t sell any consumable after the expiration date, checking dates on packaging monthly. This helps to set us apart from the big box stores. The store doesn’t sell pee pads, litter boxes or dog houses. Much to their surprise, we advise customers where they can find those items at the best price and we even write down directions how to get to other stores.
Because we don’t have the advertising budgets big box stores do, Cats n Dogs works hard to keep our name in front of the public. We’re active in fund raising for numerous local rescue organizations, have established relationships with local publications, other pet related businesses and vets. Open seven days a week with two full-time owners and one part-time employee, keeps us personally involved with customers and their pets.
Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
I believe you need to have a love of animals and people to enjoy this business. Become an information source and customers will tell others. That’s how to complete with the big boxes.
Mike Grayson of Art in Motion Pets
Q: Tell us about you and your store.
Our store is 6,000 square feet. We started our business 23 years ago solely as a leasing business.
Our home was zoned commercial and we began carrying pet supplies, actually setting up a *store* in our home.
We had 700 sqaure feet of *store* in our home when we moved into our first store front approximately one year after we began our leasing business. The first store was 1,200 square feet in a building that was a former car wash across the road from Wal-Mart.
After one year, we outgrew that space and moved eight blocks up the road to a 2,800 square foot building. After one year we began looking at options to expand and had our existing 6,000 square foot building built.
We were rolling the dice on the size of the building. In hindsight, we wish we would have built larger.
Q: Explain the type of competition your store faces.
The farm stores, Big R and Tractor Supply are within one mile (on the same road as us).
The internet is quite frustrating. We are happy that sales tax is now being applied to online purchases as of Jan 1st.
Wal-Mart is a thorn in the side of every small business, isn’t it?
Of course, PetSmart, is always lurking in the shadows.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have had to face with the competition?
Competing with pricing, advertising and size.
Q: How have you overcome those challenges?
Educating our customer base on the importance of shopping at locally-owned small businesses. When people understand it, they feel guilty shopping elsewhere for their pet supplies.
I try to buy smart. I scour sale flyers and watch for email deals from our distributors.
We have a loyalty program in place to entice our customers to shop with us.
We have fun at our store. Givers get. Offer something as simple as a raffle for a gift card. Customers remember that kindness.
Q: What advice would you give another retailer who may be facing challenges like yours?
Play hard. Be competitive – watch your prices. Match prices if asked, match store hours. Shout the shop small message from the rooftop.
Make your store fun with activities and events (in store and on social media).
Be kind to customers. Go out of your way to speak to them, talk to their children, and learn their pets’ names.
Most importantly, clean your store. paint. simply changing the light bulbs really brightens up your inventory.
When we travel, we stop in pet stores all over the country and 9 times out of 10 they are smelly, unorganized and a dusty mess.
We are all working our fingers to the bone, dealing with taxes, insurance, shoplifters, and employee issues (should I keep going). There is no excuse to have a dirty store.
Go through this Pet Age magazine and grab the name of every store mentioned. Follow them on Facebook. We can get ideas and inspiration from each other. We are all in this together!
Click on the video below to learn more about Legitimutt
Winter Weather Nightmare for Pet Retailers
There are a lot of difficult decisions a small business owner has to make when running their business.
This winter, one of those decisions has been a lot tougher for pet retailers in especially colder climates – to close, or not to close.
“It is one of the hardest decision I have to make in the winter,” Heidi Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit Co. in Maine, said. “We don’t want people out driving in it and we tend to look at what the other retail stores near us are doing. Employee safety is number one, but you also want to be there for your customers if they are out of dog food, but you are also hoping they are not out and about, because it is dangerous out there.”
Neal’s comments about deciding whether or not to close her three locations, came Wednesday after Mother Nature dumped inches of snow and ice across the Northeast. While driving to one of her locations she decided it was too treacherous and made the call to shut the stores. She announced it on her company’s Facebook page.
“Good Morning LBC Fans! We have made the decision to close for the day due to the snow. I started towards Belfast for the day and it is piling up fast and expected to last all day, I don’t want my staff, or my customers, out in this. Please stay warm and safe and we will see you all tomorrow!”
Afterward, she explained to Pet Age, “I always try to look at the current status, and the radar. All of New England is covered. Even if they could have gotten there, they wouldn’t have been able to get home. There was just no way.”
In the four years of owning the store, this has been the worst winter, she said.
“We live on the coast and are secluded in our harbor,” she explained. “We tend to run warmer than other places in the state when they get snow we rain or slush. And it is very functionable. This year is different. There is a lot more snow than we had in the last four years and they have been big storms. It hasn’t been a couple inches here or there. It’s been 10 inches per storm. For us, that is a lot.”
During the previous three years, she has only had to close her stores once per season, and closed early a few times because of snow. This year, however, is a different story.
“We closed completely two times already, opened late once, which we have never done and closed early three or four times at this point and it’s only the beginning of February, and we have two months to go,” she said.
How does this impact her stores’ bottom line?
“So far it hasn’t been as bad as anticipated,” Neal said. “Everyone knows the storm is possibly coming, and they come in the day before and stock up. The day after we are closed tend to be a better day than average. It impacts sales for sure. But, overall we see a bumb the day before and the day after.”
And, if they had opened, it may not have been worth risking everyone’s safety.
“If we had been open it would have been so slow,” she said. “We wouldn’t have done enough sales to make it worth it in terms of money. But, it’s still hard, because we want to be open and there for our customers.”
Profits Are Up
For another year, the pet industry has continued to grow, meaning profits have grown as well.
The 2013-2014 Pet Age Retailer Report is sent out to independent pet retailers all over the country to find out what trends they are seeing in the industry, and specifically, their store.
Some of the top trends noted were an increase in grain-free dog food, as well as all-natural treats. In addition, stores’ overall net profits and gross profits went up. Retailers are also marketing more online and there is a surprise in the fish segment – it’s a growing category.
American Pet Products Association President Bob Vetere, he said it’s safe to say the pet industry, overall, had another strong year.
“While there were some shifts within any category the total dollars spent grew,” Vetere said. “For example, there continues to be stronger growth in the organic and natural area within the food sector but some of it has come at the expense of other subcategories. There seems to be a slowing down of the polarization the industry has seen over the past few years, people tending to migrate either toward more value priced food and products or toward higher-end products. I am seeing continued growth in the services area as people continue to want flexibility in their lives but still want to ensure good care for their pets.”
George Puro, president of Puro Research Group, said that one of the biggest trends they have seen in the last year, based on Packaged Facts survey data, is that consumers are becoming less price sensitive compared to years past.
“Consumers have migrated increasingly towards pet specialty channels, which focus more on high-end products,” Puro said. “Even sales at natural food and specialty gourmet stores have seen healthy increases.
“Companies have been emphasizing specialized formulations, with the overarching theme being pet wellness. These include products based on age, size of your pet, natural/organic, whether it’s grain-free, etc.”
Puro also said that despite pet owners’ desire for high-end products, their survey data shows that consumers are still looking for deals, and are willing to shop around to find them.
“Of course, what’s really driving the market is the belief by around three quarters of pet owners that their pets have a positive impact on their physical and their mental health, according to the latest Packaged Facts survey data,” Puro said. “This connection is what’s driving consumers to increase spending on pets and buy premium products and bodes well for the future of the industry.”
Bryan Jaffe is the managing director of Cascadia Capital, a boutique investment bank located in Seattle. The company provides capital markets and M&A advisory to emerging growth and middle market companies nationally. One of their areas of expertise is the pet space.
“While premiumzation remains a key industry driver, we are seeing consumers reorient their spending around affordable value – exhibiting less brand and channel loyalty,” Jaffe said. “Discretionary dollars are being allocated to solutions that deliver observable benefit, as consumers prioritize outcomes over marketing claims. This has resulted in revenue expansion among products and services that have a health and wellness orientation. Solutions that cannot link inputs to health outcomes are seeing growth in-line with the broader industry.”
Jaffe said he has seen strong growth among solutions that are natural and/or offer a limited ingredient panel.
“Ingredient transparency is a high priority for consumers given continued recalls involving some of the industry’s leading brands,” Jaffe said. “Foods in an alternative form factors, dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw, are also experiencing strong growth. These solutions provide higher nutrional value as a result of their production processes, which is resonating with retailers, who are expanding carriage and square footage allocated to the category, and experiencing increased consumer adoption as a result of perceived benefits and greater access.”
What Retailers Are Saying
Craig Maggio, owner of Friend-Lee Pets, is in his first year of business and it has been going well for him.
“The holistic is probably about 90 percent of the dog and cat food I sell,” Maggio said. “Everyone is price sensitive. So the value proposition is something important. Having a holistic food that you can put at a good price point is a really important part of the selling process. We sell a fair amount of small animal and bird stuff but I would say the driver for my business is pet food, dog and cat food and then aquatics.”
His observations seem to be in line with what the Pet Age 2013-14 Retailer Survey found.
The top areas of growth for retailers who took the survey were grain-free food, all-natural treats and aquatics.
In 2011, all-natural treats for dogs wasn’t in the top of retailer’s fastest-growing product category. Only 3.48 percent of retailers said it was their fastest. Now in 2012, 12.4 percent of retailers said all-natural treats for dogs is their fastest-growing product category, making it only second to grain-free food. Grain-free food itself also saw an increase from 9.13 percent to 13.5 percent.
Comparing overall gross dollar volume for dry goods and animals in 2012 to 2011, 74.6 percent of retailers saw an increase in sales. In 2011 only 61 percent saw an increase in sales. The same can be said for net profits in 2012 compared to those in 2011. In 2012, 70.7 percent of retailers saw an increase in net profits compared to the 56.4 the previous year.
The Hungry Puppy has been around for 27 years selling pet food and supplies, and has seen the category expand.
“Grain-free has continued to grow,” Frank Frattini, CEO of The Hungry Puppy, said. “It’s incremental now; it’s not expediential as it was several years ago. Still it is double digit growth though. There has been double digit growth in our raw diets, the frozen diets.
“What has really driven the business over the last 27 years is that different mindset of folks of how they treat their pets, as opposed to as it what it was to what it is today. So we are just fortunate to ride that wave.”
Retailers are also now focusing more on advertising on the internet and through social media. In 2011, 28 percent of retailers said it produced the best results for their business while now 39.6 percent say it does.
In previous surveys, a major concern for retailers was the economy, in 2011 54.3 percent said it was their biggest concern. In 2012 though only 46.3 percent said the economy was their biggest challenge. So what is the biggest challenge according to pre retailers? According to 61 percent of you, competing with independent, big box, mass market and online stores is the biggest challenge for the next two years.
The biggest surprise coming from the entire survey though was the increased popularity of fish.
Fish Is back
In the past, when looking at what pet stores carried freshwater and saltwater fish, they were slowly in decline. From 2008 to 2009, saltwater fish fell 4 percent while freshwater fish just stayed even. From 2010 to 2011, freshwater fish fell 3 percent and saltwater fish fell 9 percent.
But, now it seems fish is making a giant comeback. In 2012, retailers carrying freshwater fish shot up to 79.5 percent, a 13.5 percent increase from 2011. Those carrying saltwater fish made a larger, 14.8 percent increase, from 2012 to 2011, as 57.8 percent of stores now carry them.
“We do get a lot of aquatics business,” Maggio said. “People are really kind of getting back into the hobby and I think that’s due to a couple of things. Could be the economy is getting better or shows like “Tanked” on the Animal Planet may be inspiring people to try to create their own little underwater world.”
Maggio said it could be a combination factors such as the shows but it’s also something that’s scalable.
“Your common person who can’t afford a $10,000 huge salt water reef tank can still get a 10 gallon tank and learn about the hobby,” Maggio said. “It’s approachable on an everyday man’s level. As you have seen the evolution of the psyche of the average American the past 25 years and how pets have taken over a different role in the household. Dogs have gone from sleeping in barns to sleeping inside. And people get really attached to their fish. I had a woman that came into the store and had a 200 gallon freshwater tank and her tank was cracking so she was frantic. She came in and bought the largest tanks I had to be able to keep her fish on life support while I ordered her another 200 gallon tank and she was telling me stories about each one of her fish and how attached she was to each one of them. It’s interesting because you don’t cuddle with fish, they are not one of the most interactive in the pet world but people still get really attached to them.
“With the fish segment and the aquatic segment, it’s something you can keep in your home. People love it, people see it, it’s a focal point, and it’s a talking piece. But you can also still go on vacation. If you leave for three days your fish aren’t going to die most likely.”
In late November, the World Pet Association put on the first ever Aquatic Experience, in Chicago, Ill.
“Many in the aquatic industry have been asking for an aquatic only show for many years,” Doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet Association, said. “I think they feel somewhat lost in the larger pet trade shows with all the dog and cat exhibitors. One of our past chairman, Andy Schmidt, reminded our board of this desire about three years ago and the board began discussing the possibilities. At the end of 2012 or early in 2013, the board gave its approval to produce the show. We also wanted the show to be all things aquatic so to the best of our knowledge, this is the first show to have marine, fresh and pond segments under one roof.”
Since it was the first show, the WPA wasn’t sure what to expect. They anticipated that they may have 2,000 people attend and were pleasantly surprised when their totals were over 3,500.
“While I believe in recent months the first industry is showing signs of improving, there is still lots of room for growth,” Poindexter said. “Back in the 60s or 70s, fish keeping was the number two or three hobby behind photography. One of the main purposes of our show was to expose families and children especially to the joys of fish keeping and the benefits that can come from that. It teaches life lessons, responsibility, empathy and much more.”
Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for Hagen, said they have seen some growth in it recently.
“Over the past five years technology and innovation within aquatics has grown leaps and bounds,” Hall said. “So for instance, five years ago, if you wanted to purchase a LED light for your aquarium you could be looking at anywhere between $900 and $5,000 depending how crazy you wanted to get with it. Well, today, you see LED lights anywhere from $129.99 to $399.99 and that shows you the growth in that just one specific category in aquatics. Now you take that and you also look at the other things that have gotten better, filtration has gotten better, more energy efficient. It’s getting easier to succeed.”
Continued Success for the Future
According to Vetere, over the next year he thinks the industry will continue to see the challenge of online availability of products particularly as Amazon and others increase the availability and timeliness of delivery of products coupled with lower costs.
“Service on a personal level will become even more important as a way to encourage store purchases version online,” Vetere said. “It will be interesting to watch closely the behavior patterns of baby boomers as they begin to approach retirement and are only a few years away from hitting 70 years old.”
According to Jaffe, specialty retail has been a hot bed of innovation post-recession.
“Successful concepts have changed the nature of the consumer experience to get out in front of consumer’s needs – active as opposed to reactive and connect with them on a social and community level,” Jaffe said. “The pet retailers that we see growing at above market rates are able to guide their clients to solutions sets that solve real problems for their companion animals. They are also able to build recurring relationships through social media and community outreach. Ultimately, the large pet specialty retailers are vulnerable on customer experience. Retailers who invest in understanding their customers should continue to experience success.”
Frattini said The Hungry Puppy has a lot of competition close to them, but it doesn’t bother him.
“We have now 14 Petcos and PetSmarts within a 20 mile radius of us,” Frattini said. “We have three Super Walmarts within eight miles, then we have PSPs, six Pet Values, so with all of that advent of competition, it does make for a challenging environment but by the same token it keeps us sharp and we are doing something right because we are still able to grow.
“We don’t mind the Petcos and the PetSmarts of the world. If nothing else, they create the awareness of the different products out there so we don’t have to spend all of our money trying to create that awareness. So a lot of times it’s just a matter of them creating the awareness and us taking their customers. And that’s probably what we do best, we take their customers.”
When you’re the CEO of company that does about $350 million in sales a year, you would expect to have a swanky corner office with a view of your company’s dog-friendly Tennessee-based campus.
Instead, the chairman, CEO and majority shareholder of Radio Systems Corporation, the parent company of PetSafe, sits among the company’s employees, and changes which department his desk is going to be in every year.
“It gives me a chance to know everyone,” the casually-dressed Boyd recently told a handful of bloggers and writers during the company’s Paw Print Blogger Summit.
The event, in its second year, is a way for the brand to build a stronger relationship with social influencers, create a personal relationship with pet owners and to generate interest in the PetSafe brand.
“We host the summit to get to know the great pet bloggers out there, and to generate interest in the PetSafe brand,” Sarah Folmar, brand specialist, said. “Our goal at the end is to let others hear about our products from individuals. Individuals who were affected by creating an even greater bond with their pets.”
The four-day summit, which includes an all-expense paid trip to the company’s Knoxville headquarters, usually includes about 15-20 influencers, and is part of the company’s overall marketing strategy.
“This gives us a personal relationship with pet owners,” Folmar explained. “We aren’t just a company that makes a product and hopes someone out there will buy it. We want to make products that genuinely improve lives. We want to create a great brand experience, and the blogger summit allows us to do this, one person at a time.”
Jason Hart, PetSafe’s director of marketing, talked directly to the attendees about how valuable they are to the company.
“This is an opportunity to build relationships with you and your followers,” he said. “It helps the relationship with consumers.”
He explained that people no longer just watch a TV commercial, listen to a radio ad or just read an ad in a magazine.
“They go to the web, and ask friends if it’s true,” Hart said, pointing out that’s where bloggers play a critical role.
While brand sponsored trips and blogger outreach is not new to the marketing community as a whole, it is somewhat new to the pet industry. It’s something PetSafe encourages other brands, and retailers, to take advantage of.
“Other brands would benefit because they are reaching people they may not have reached otherwise,” Folmar said. “You could see a commercial for a cola company and not think twice about it. If your favorite health blogger tells you about added enhancements to your well-being with this cola, well, you are probably going to go right out and get it.”
An event like this also gives companies a chance to hear directly from the customer about their products.
“One of the reasons you are here is because we want to hear from you,” Boyd told the group. “You guys are listening and talking to customers all the time. The greatest value of you being here is you being able to share your insight with us.”
But, one question that seems to always come up when talking about trips like these is how much do you share, or not share, with bloggers and writers who come to your facility.
“Some people worry about transparency,” Boyd said. “But, we want people to know everything about us. We like customers to come in and see us, our dogs. We hope you like what you see, but what you see is what we are.”
And, when Boyd talked about being transparent, he wasn’t kidding.
The attendees were taken for a behind-the-scenes tour of the PetSafe offices, including their boarding facility, customer service center and were given the opportunity to talk with, and ask questions of, brand managers, Boyd himself and were even given a sneak peek at some of the new products the company is working on.
If they like what they see, taking that time to build a relationship with these people, can really pay off, because they become an advocate for the brand.
“I have always liked the PetSafe brand and what they stand for, but seeing their operation and meeting the people has kicked my affection up to a whole new level,” Lisa Taron, who writes the blog, The Pet Blog Lady, said. “Building relationships with bloggers in this fashion is well worth the investment of time and money.
“I can’t speak for the others, but I know for myself, meeting them and hearing/seeing what they do has created a strong sense of loyalty. I feel very motivated to help them grow as a company, by connecting as many of my readers to them as I can. To share my excitement for what they offer to pet parents everywhere.”
Editor’s Note: Pet Age was invited on an expenses paid trip by PetSafe to be a part of, and cover, the Paw Print Blogger Summit.
Going Beyond The Traditional Holidays
Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When retailers think about selling holiday products, or promoting products for different holidays, these are the three most think of. The problem is, retailers are only hurting themselves with this thought.
The truth is, that for the most part, there is at least one holiday, or event, happening every month that retailers can use as a way to raise sales.
Even if retailers don’t want to promote a product or set of products, holidays also lend themselves to event opportunities, and gives them a great reason to educate your customers and provide excellent customer service.
A perfect example is Halloween. According to Market Watch by the Wall Street Journal, in 2010 people spent $220 million on pet costumes, two years later in 2012, sales increased 68 percent to $370 million on pet costumes.
Rubie’s is the world’s largest designer, manufacturer and distributor of Halloween costumes and accessories. Erin Breig, top dog at Rubie’s, said they sell products year-round, for every holiday.
“We have found people saying we need this for Mardi Gras, we need this for St. Patrick’s day, and what we realized was they were looking for was more,” Breig said. “What we looked at doing and what we are working on for next year for our new catalog, is for the other holiday’s that are lesser, but there is a lot of dressing up going on for them, such as St. Patrick’s day and Mardi Gras, they really lend themselves to accessories for people and dogs, so that’s why we are coming out with wigs and hats and bandanas; that is either in St. Patrick’s Day colors, Mardi Gras colors and birthday themes. We even started looking at Easter because we thought bunny ears would be really cute. It just doesn’t stop; I think people like to dress up for holidays.”
Breig said their customers are primarily focused on Halloween, followed by Christmas, but retailers should take advantage of the fact that people love to dress up when they celebrate.
New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Cinco De Mayo, Easter, birthdays and patriotic holidays, like 4th of July, all lend to more sales in the dress up category. Also, costumes and accessories add to the fun factor and make way for great photo opportunities.
Events, Information and Safety
Penny DiLoreto, ABCDT, CPDT-KA, CTDI K9 Dog Park Owner and Head Trainer, started K9 Dog Park, of Escondido, Calif., in 2005, after being a dog breeder for over 20 years. According to DiLorento and her husband Dave, today’s retailers in the pet industry seem to do a good job of marketing seasonal or holiday products such as Halloween costumes, Christmas apparel, toys and such.
However many retailers tend to fall short in the area of informing their buyers of common holiday mistakes and dangers.
Together the DiLoretos came up with not only different products to sell during holiday’s throughout the year, but also different events or education services retailers can help provide.
“Around New Years, there is kind of a health kick going on, we try to emphasize healthy pet time as well,” David DiLoreto said. “What’s in the dog food you are feeding your pet? We focus on healthy pet foods, treats and even in some cases diets for pets.
“Valentine’s Day is always a big event for us. We have an event and dress everything up at the facility with reds and whites, just the kind of Valentine’s type of colors.”
Because a lot of pet owners are currently dressing up their pets, pet photography at their store has become a popular thing.
“We bring in photographers because people will want to dress their dogs up,” David DiLoreto said. “So we bring in pet photography. We do some specials on grooming during that time. The ladies like to get dolled up and they also like to get their animals dolled up.
“We also do some training at that point in time. What are dangerous types of things? People get chocolates; they can be very dangerous for animals. Also, if people make their own treats and if they are not careful.”
Some other suggestions by the DiLoretos were to do pet photography for St. Patrick’s Day and Easter.
For Earth Day in April, they teach customers about responsible dog ownership and owner responsibilities, such as picking up after your dog, training against barking.
As the weather gets warmer and Independence Day approaches, retailers should focus on noise concerns, and promote products like Rescue Remedy and Thunder Jacket. Also, apparel such as flag kerchiefs, collars and leashes.
In August, retailers should highlight the end of summer sales to clear out any summer related merchandise like lifejackets.
In November for Veterans Day the couple suggest hosting specialty training, such as service dog or therapy dog training, and to sponsor military events with discounts to the military personnel and donate a percentage of sales to veterans.
But, not everyone thinks holiday selling is as easy as some make it out to be.
Alex Zhardanovsky and Joe Speiser, co-founders of PetFlow said selling for the holidays is actually quite difficult in the pet industry because pets don’t care what holiday it is.
One key factor to success in taking advantage of them, is to be very specific in the way retailers send out their marketing materials and make sure it’s appealing to the pet owner.
“One of the most important factors in marketing any type of promotion is to lead the customer to the actual products being promoted, or the actual promotion,” Zhardanovsky said. “Many times, you see an email from a retailer, and when you click it, you are simply led to their homepage. The link should point to a page specifically designed for the promotion being marketed.”
Current and Future Products
Merrick Pet Care has a long heritage in bringing pets and their owner’s limited-time seasonal offerings across a range of holidays and seasons.
“We have offered seasonal can food items for dogs around Valentine’s Day, Love Potion #9, football season, Gameday Tailgate and everything in between,” Mark Sapir, vice president of marketing for Merrick, said. “Our Merrick Holiday Sausage treat box has been a huge hit as it mirrors the beef and cheese boxes that have been popular for people for the winter holidays for years.
“The seasonal items have been so popular we are engaging with consumers and retailers as part of our process with helping to develop recipes and names through contests.”
Merrick continuously sells out of their seasonal items and is even rotating back through some of the most popular and pet-preferred top sellers.
“The idea behind Merrick’s seasonal offerings was taken from what was happening in other human food categories like microbrews, coffee, etc.,” Sapir said. “We know our pets want what we want and providing them great tasting, highly nutritious, options at the right time, makes a ton of sense. Having a bit of fun celebrating during the holidays and seasons clearly resonates with pet parents. We think it allows us to surprise and delight our ultimate consumers.”
Cynthia Jenkins, founder of Temple of Dog, started the company while preparing for the first day of catholic school for her sons. The “blessing of the animals” was the first event.
“Unsure how to prepare, I jokingly designed a t-shirt that said, ‘I (paw) Jesus’ for our dog to wear,” Jenkins said. “But that day an idea was born, people’s love for their dogs and personal dogmas are not only recession-proof, but lend themselves to the perfect canvas for something light-hearted and positive to celebrate every day.”
The company launched with dog shirts that had sayings representing Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Mormonism.
“Demand has been overwhelming,” Jenkins said. “We are now expanding into bowls, leashes and cards.”
Cloud Star started in 1999, and every year it releases a holiday product for dogs.
“They have been such a hit and become such a popular product that we added two new items to our Holiday lineup for 2013,” Jen Melton, president and co-founder of Cloud Star, said. “This year, with new festive packaging designs, we now have Holiday Buddy Biscuits Gingerbread Flavor. Holiday Buddy Biscuits are not only a delicious dog treat, but all their natural ingredients make them a healthy choice for the conscious consumer who wants the best gift for their pet.”
Another suggestion Melton said was to do themed photo booths in the store.
“With a little bit of organization, a couple easy props and a fun homemade backdrop, any holiday can have its own themed pet picture station in your store in a compact footprint,” Melton said. “Pet parents can use their own camera or camera phone for some quick fun, or the retailer might offer to snap a digital picture and email it to the pet parent, along with a coupon to come back. Investing just a bit of time here will yield a lot of excitement.”
Look Around You
Another good way to cash in on non-traditional holiday is to look at what your community is interested in and take advantage of it.
This can be especially profitable when it comes to sports, and not just during the big games like Super Bowl, the World Series and March Madness. If your store is in, or near a college town, carry a few items like leashes and collars that have the local team’s logo on them.
Then, run sales and promotions, to coincide with the start of the big sports seasons like football and basketball.
In a culture of immediate gratification, food is often equated to love, so it’s easy to see why the animals we’ve spent thousands of years domesticating are dealing with the same obesity problems as their humans.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats in the United States are overweight or obese. Risks of excess weight in animals are much the same as that of humans and include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart and respiratory ailments, many forms of cancer and a nearly 2.5 years decrease in life expectancy.
The pet industry as a whole has responded with a vast selection of products and marketing campaigns focused on educating pet owners about the epidemic.
Nutrition, Portion Control
Proper feeding and nutrition is one of the most important aspects of lowering a pet’s weight.
“The most important part of feeding is to know how many calories your dog or cat requires each day to maintain his ideal weight and then this amount can be fed once or split into multiple feedings accordingly,” Bettie Hamilton, vice president marketing/product development for Halo, Purely for Pets, said. “Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your pet needs each day to avoid obesity.”
To combat pet obesity, pet food companies have developed specific formulations to address the issue. For example, Halo offers their Spot’s Stew for Dogs Healthy Weight FF Turkey and Duck, and Spot’s Stew Cats GF Healthy Weight Whitefish and Salmon formulas.
Companies, like Nutro, are also developing formulas geared toward specific types of dogs. For example, they offer weight management formulas for both large and small breed dogs.
To assist in caloric control, it’s important to use precise measurements.
“Portion control is a key factor in slowing the rate of obesity,” Jeff Logan, director of marketing for Dexas International, said. “Too many people estimate serving size or worse, pour directly from a bag. The collapsible KlipScoop attaches directly to the bag to keep food fresh and serve as a reminder that each serving should be measured.”
The award-winning KlipScoop and Popware line of pet bowls fold flat for easy storage and are dishwasher-safe.
“The Aikiou encourages pets to eat more slowly, which can stimulate intellect and reduce digestive problems,” Alexandre Tremblay, president of Distributions Aikiou, Inc., said. “Both cats and dogs like to hunt for food and they also have the need to be mentally stimulated and entertained. Aikiou’s products satisfy both these needs.”
The Company of Animals offers several different types of products to help a pet eat slower, including their Green Slow Feeder for dogs, which also comes in a mini size, and their Catch Cat Slow Feeder. Pet owners scatter the desired amount of food across the Green and a dog ‘works’ to push the food out between the many blades of grass.
“The average dog can eat their meal in 2-5 minutes, whereas using one of the Green Feeders or Buster Dog Maze can get that time to 17-21 minutes,” Jeanette Holliday, marketing executive for The Company of Animals, said. “This helps prevent bloat and other digestive issues that have now become so common in pets today.”
But what if a pet refuses to eat a low-calorie food?
Additives like Doggie Shotz, a new product from Pet Alternatives are designed for pets that prefer flavors like BBQ Ribs and Bacon Cheeseburgers.
“Doggie Shotz offers great taste, enhanced nutrition and a gourmet experience for any dog,” Bill Kavanov, CEO of Pet Alternatives, explained. “The product line is 90 percent fat free, gluten-free and contains a unique blend of essential vitamins and minerals.”
Tempting Treats Without the Pounds
“Pet owners feel good when they give treats, but often do not realize how many unnecessary calories treats provide,” Hamilton said. “Only 10 percent of a pet’s daily calories should come from treats.”
When training a dog or cat, there are often many treats involved. These can pack on calories very quickly.
Consider sticking to a low calorie treat. LicketyStik from PetSafe offers a great way to treat pets with their innovative treat delivery system, and at only one calorie per ten licks, pets can be rewarded as often as needed. Quickies, made from 100 percent wild, line-caught Icelandic Haddock from The Honest Kitchen are high-protein, low-carb fish treats for dogs, with just 1.1 calories per treat.
“They are perfect for training,” Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, said. “Quickies are packaged in a 2 oz. eco-friendly tube that fit in your pocket while you’re on the go and allow owners to reward often without packing on the pounds.”
This also goes for pets other than dogs and cats.
Exercise Eliminates Pounds
While nutrition is an important part of the puzzle, exercise is an integral part of the solution.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, but neither can you out-feed a poor exercise program. It’s recommended that pets exercise at least 30-60 minutes per day.
“In a perfect world owners would take their pets on daily jogs, but bad weather, leash laws, limited open space and the hectic schedule of daily life don’t always allow this,” Krista Wickens, PetZen co-owner, said. “Dog exercise equipment like the DogTread is not intended as a replacement for healthy outdoor exercise for pets and owners, but as an option to ensure dogs get the exercise they need when circumstances like weather or time don’t allow otherwise.”
DogTread offers a variety of treadmill products for dogs of all sizes, plus other canine gym gear like the K9FITvest, which makes it easy to incorporate gradual therapeutic resistance training, cooling, sensory integration and safety into all of a dog’s activities.
“Pet obesity goes beyond nutrition and into mental and physical health,” Wickens said. “A holistic, three-pronged approach is imperative to guarantee results.”
While GoPet features a traditional treadmill for dogs, they also offer the TreadWheel, which is dog powered, requires no electricity and can be used anytime, anywhere.
Tracking Progress with Technology
There are tons of apps and other items, such as the Fitbit, that helps humans track their exercise progress. Well, not there are similar accessories for pets.
“It’s important for pet owners to understand their pet’s behavior,” Jeff Zotara, vice president of marketing for Snaptracs Tagg Tracker, said. “There is an initial adrenaline rush as pets rush to greet their humans. But, that’s not indicative of how active a pet is during the day. Tagg Activity Tracking allows an owner to judge the cumulative effect of a pet’s activity level and judge how active their pets are on an ongoing basis. If pets are less active than they were a week ago, it could be indicative of a physical or mental issue that needs to be checked out.”
Phone apps, such as SlimDoggy, are other valuable tools designed to empower pet owners.
“SlimDoggy is pre-loaded with nutritional information for nearly every brand of pet food and a canine calorie calculator,” Steve Pelletier, founder and CEO, said. “By simply listing the amount of food given to a pet and the type of exercise, owners are able to easily adjust their pets daily feedings and treats each day.
“The basic act of living burns nearly 90 percentof all calories they will burn for the day. This is why the amount you feed your dog is so mission-critical. Weight gain is insidious.”
Coming Full Circle
It’s the elephant in the room. The situation no one wants to address. It’s something that pet retail customers will have to deal with, but no one wants to talk about.
With pets becoming more like children to pet owners, and not animals, the passing of a pet has become harder to deal with. Nowadays pets receive the same bereavement processes as any other family member would, and it’s something that pet retailers will have to deal with, even if they don’t want to.
And, while it makes everyone uncomfortable to talk about, it’s a traumatic part of life that can be made slightly more comforting, if the correct, compassionate steps are taken.
Over the past few years this segment of the industry has grown to respond to the ongoing needs of customers who want to lay their beloved pet to rest, like they would any other family member. They rely on pet store owners during this time, just as much as they do when they get a new puppy, or fish, or bird.
So, just as a retail owner, and their employees, need to be educated about the latest new products during the beginning stages of a pet’s life, experts say they need to be just as versed in offerings at the end of a pet’s life.
Coleen Ellis, the founder of Two Hearts, a pet loss center, has been in the funeral business for 25 years and left the human side to specialize in animals about 10-12 years ago. She has worked with retailers, groomers and other pet professionals on how retailers can help their customers through those trying times.
“I had a family who I assisted with their husky,” Ellis said. “They were going to scatter the ashes, which is fine, but then I got to listening to her stories about the husky. They would talk about how the husky would get out and run down the road and always run to every neighbor and say hello. Then end up down the road and back home, so I asked them why they don’t scatter the ashes down the road and had a celebration of that life.
“As a retailer, you should be sympathizing with the family. Listen to your customer’s stories about their pet and see how you can help that family. Pet retailers could really help with a personalized item to help remember the dog. People sometimes say, ‘I miss his little nose that touched mine,’ so help them get it [something that represents the pet] on a necklace that the person can touch anytime. Paw prints that can be embroidered on a napkin or a blanket. There are so many creative and wonderful things that can be done. Do something as a retailer to acknowledge that family. If that family does get another pet, you want them to think of you in a very peaceful and caring way so they come back again to you. Don’t ever bring up getting a new pet.”
Ellis also said retailers have to teach their younger staff workers about how to handle loss.
“Most Millennials have not seen or experienced someone close to them dying,” Ellis said. “Them talking about death might not be as broad and knowing as much as someone who is older. When we have a younger staff, we have to teach them to be sensitive. Say things like, ‘I’m sorry,’ and, ‘how are you doing?’ They can’t say things like get another one, that replacement theory idea, people don’t want to hear it. If the customer is someone who came to the store a lot, send them a card, donate something for them. When we acknowledge death we acknowledge life. Let them know that you empathize with them and care for them.”
Peg Beehan, a pet bereavement specialist, said that anyone who hears of a pet’s death and acknowledges the loss and expresses empathy is offering solace. Letting people grieve goes a long way in supporting the healing process.
“In an increasingly mobile society where our pets are the ones who are there, their importance has grown to us,” Beehan said. “Coupled with a lack of formal ways to honor these champions, there was a void for remembering them that is now being filled.”
Ellis is also a part of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, whose goal is to be committed to being an educational resource to its members. Their membership, including pet loss suppliers and pet death care facility operators, are dedicated to the respectful and dignified treatment of those pets entrusted to them. They do this through the creation of programs to profitably meet the changing needs of the pet death care industry and their process partners in the areas of cemeteries, crematories and pet loss facilities, as well as the creation of standards to willfully meet their customers’ expectations.
“It’s in its infant stages still,” Ellis said. “It was a ship people wanted turned around. People asking questions that’s the thing we want to continue to promote. Our consumer base needs the right tools to ask the right educated questions and we are getting there. We also have a lot of good FAQs on the site to help people with pet loss.”
The site has a strong education side that is well rounded to help retailers with information and resources for people who are grieving, not just the parents but children also.
“The main thing as far as the retailer needs to remember is looking up the rules in the communities,” Ellis said. “If a family wants to bury a pet in the backyard, you need to know if they are able to do that.”
There is also the APLB, The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, which offers different information about pet bereavement. It also has different in-person events and online chat rooms to answer questions and help people.
Ben Riggan, the founder of Paw Pods, came up with the idea of an eco-friendly pet burial casket after two of his dogs passed away.
“I had to euthanize two Springers 5 years ago and I wanted to bury them on my property and when they gave them back to me in cadaver bags, I thought there had to be a better way than this,” Riggan said. “So I went and polled nationwide on how clinics were giving back the animals. They would give them back in a Fed Ex box, cadaver bag or garbage bag, so that’s why we came up with this product.”
All of the Paw Pods products are green and eco-friendly, they are made out of rice husk and bamboo fiber.
“They are accompanied by a sympathy card that reads our pets never really leave us and it has a seeded leaf, so if you choose, you can plant the seeded leaf with the pod and have a living memorial of where your loved one was buried,” Justin Dunaskiss, a partner at Paw Pods, said. “So we try to sell the whole experience and replace the traditional shoe box with the new dignified way for people to honor their pet’s memory.”
Dunaskiss said when working with retailers, that it sometimes is tough to get them to understand what the company is trying to do, and the experience they are trying to provide.
“If they give us the time to explain to them what we strive to do of how we are creating a lasting customer for them,” Dunaskiss said. “If you help that customer out during the most difficult time, you have that emotional connection, now for all their other pets or their next pet, they are going to come back to you because you helped them out during their most difficult time.”
John Girton, managing member of Eternal Rest Pet Casket, started the idea for his product after he and his children had to bury several small animals in the back yard over the years.
“The kids would want to bury them out in the back yard and it was in a shoebox or a baggie or something and then my idea was to make these inexpensive, nice looking caskets, for small pets, not big dogs,” Girton said. “We started researching on how many pets die every year and our research showed that there are 225 million pets, small pets, which die every year.
“We probably went through 20 different box designs and box shapes and we finally realized we need to have a box, or casket, that would hold down and sit into the foot print into the bottom of the casket, to get this product into the stores where every cubic inch so important and so expensive. We made it out of a biodegradable heavy pressed paper, it looks like cardboard but it’s not and the outside looks like a casket.”
While at SuperZoo, Girton had a successful show while his possible customer base fell into one of two groups.
“We had two very distinct reactions at SuperZoo,” Girton said. “We had people that didn’t even want to look at them. They were people who couldn’t handle the thought of something dying. The majority of the people were quite excited having something that they could sell to their customers that would be a good way for them to handle the death of a pet. We had both reactions, but by far most of the reactions were really positive.
In addition to these practical solutions, there are also products that help a person, or a friend of someone who just lost a pet, feel comfort.
For example, the Furry Angel Pet Memorial Candle is made from an all natural vegetable wax and a cotton wick. It is an all-natural, environmentally friendly candle with a dramatic crystal appearance that contains no animal or petroleum products and burns very cleanly.
Pipsqueak Productions offers pet loss sympathy cars for animal lovers who have lost a pet, something you typically don’t find in your local supermarket greeting card isle.
Time to Expand
The first store a small business pet retailer has opened is running well. It’s successful and they are finally living out their dream. The thought of opening a second location becomes a possibility, but should it be done?
The first option is to expand or make renovations to the current store. If the store is the appropriate size and all the merchandise can fit in, then the store may just need a new look. Other times, the current store space has been outgrown and it’s time to move to a larger location.
The second option is to open a second store, and effectively doubling the amount of work the retailer has to do.
“The right time is going to be really specific to each person, each individual and the circumstances,” Michael Levy, founder and president of Pet Food Express, said. “There are so many factors that go into expansion. First, you need to really want to expand. It’s not a given that everyone wants to expand.
“For people that are considering expansion, it doesn’t have to be to open more stores, just improve what you have. Sometimes it’s just a relocation that you need, but it all will take planning. First you need the vision for it, then to start planning it.”
Levy started as a dog trainer in college and opened a physical location in 1976. In 1980 he opened his second physical location. Since then, he will have 50 stores by the end of the year.
“Adding the first couple of stores is critical,” Levy said. “When you think in terms of adding the second store, you are doubling your business. Further along you get, the less the impact is. We opened store 48 and want everything to run smoothly but if it fails, I have 47 other stores to absorb that. The same can be said if you’re doing a major remodeling job.
“The greatest asset that any independent retailer has is their ability for customer service. They can outperform any national chain, and most regional chains. They can’t lose focus on that, they should not lose focus on that.”
Madalyn Moorman, the founder and owner of Mad 4 My Dog, is a dog trainer who started her business in 2004.
“I was originally doing everything myself in a building on my property,” Moorman said. “Now, within the past year, I have an office manager, three other trainers and an intern. I decided to move to help gain visibility in the community.”
Moorman has spent a great deal of time in the community talking to different people, going to different groups to learn more about the big move she’s about to take.
“I have gone to a CEO roundtable at the local community college, gone to the Indiana small business development center for information, the city and county planning department and my friend who is a realtor,” Moorman said. “Any question I may have, I go out there and find the answer for it.
The biggest struggle that Moorman has faced so far is taking the leap of faith that the business will run and be successful.
“I can look at all the numbers all day long, the projections all day long, look at all of it all day long,” Moorman said. “But at the end of the day there is no way of knowing what will happen. Knowing that I have to take a leap of faith is difficult for me, probably the most difficult thing for me. But I am just trying to get prepared as much as I can and do everything I can to be successful and if I fail, that’s OK. As long as we did everything we could to make it successful. It would be worse if we didn’t do it and sat around wondering what could have been.”
Giovanni Senafe, co-owner of Bentley’s Corner Barkery has done it both.
“We started with our first location at Arlington Heights, Ill.,” Senafe said. “We knocked down a wall and grew that location. A year and a half ago we opened a second location in Schaumburg that’s double the size.”
Senafe decided to make the original space bigger after he simply ran out of space.
“The benefit of starting small was that our overhead was low and it was a safe play,” Senafe said. “Eventually we just couldn’t meet the demands of our customers, especially with food lines growing. Once we were saying no to more customers than saying yes, we knew we had to expand.”
Senafe said the expansion was easy and they knew they were answering a need that was provided from their customers.
“The new store was scary,” Senafe said. “Everything was a huge gamble from day one. Whatever success we had in the original store we needed more of since it was a bigger location. It was scarier than the first store because we didn’t know any better. We have people who support their families that work for us and when we were opening the first store it was just me and my wife that we were gambling on.”
His advice is to be open to what the customers are telling you and what the market bears.
“You have to have your beliefs of how the store should be,” Senafe said. “You have to have boundaries but be willing to carry certain things. That’s something we learned in the beginning. We thought raw food was all we were going to sell but we kept getting asked for all these other things, it’s not just your decision, it’s your customers.”
Even though a store owner may have everything planned for their store, the unexpected may creep up.
“We run and own our own distribution facilities,” Levy said. “We have had a warehouse for many years, starting from a basement to now a 147,500-square-foot warehouse. We have moved probably seven or eight times since the beginning, but 12 to 15 years ago we moved around the holidays. We moved to a larger, really nice facility at the time. When we moved and did all these changes, our computer system crashed and we could not use a computer to locate anything in the warehouse. So during the holidays we were running up and down the warehouse and locating the product by sight, then putting it into our SUVs so we could run it into our stores. This seemed to go on for weeks.”
Besides technical malfunctions, there is also the chance for human error.
“The store problem I remember the most is, I think it was store number seven,” Levy said. “We got a really good deal from a manufacturer for dog food and needed a lot of it in the store. It literally filled up the store and we had to put it back in the parking lot. We had a fork lift at the time, we don’t allow them in the store anymore. On Friday night, we were opening the store the next day; someone drove the fork lift through the doors. We had to chain it up and had to open the store with the doors chained up. We fixed it all up and then the next week at around the same time, the same thing happened; someone ran the forklift through the door again.”
Experts and Advice
Troy Hazard, international business consultant and entrepreneur, has opened outlets and branches for his business all over the country in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
First, he says, you must look for a gap or a market opportunity.
“Let’s just say you have an outlet in Austin, Texas, you have done as much with that market as you can,” Hazard said. “You have reached market saturation for that area. The next opportunity is to take on an additional area. The key to understanding if it’s a right time to know is if there is a market gap in the other place, like San Antonio for example. Before you open that second outlet in a place that seems right for your business, spend some time on the ground. Really go walk around out there. Put your feet on the pavement and really understand what the market is doing out there on a first person perspective.”
When opening a second store, Hazard said you have to take a look at what’s close by.
“The challenge with stores that are far apart is that you can’t avoid not traveling to that location,” Hazard said. “You have to look at the geography of where you are. What makes it easy for you to expand your footprint without killing you? Until you can hire someone to help you, you will have 12 months of doing it yourself, at least. If you are in Austin still and want to open in San Diego, Calif., that’s not realistic since you will have to spend so much money and time on travel.”
When Hazard talks to businesses about expanding, he has the retailer take a hard look at their existing market to make sure they have reached every possible customer and gotten as much money from them as possible.
“A big problem is people want to expand more to have a bigger title, or sound more important or update their business card with all these locations on it,” Hazard said. “You need to park your ego at the door, make sure the expansion is strategic and not for your ego. Make sure you get every penny from all the customers you can. The next thing is to have a system, or processes or strategies that you used in the first outlet that you can duplicate to the second place.
“You don’t want the second outlet to feel like the red-headed step child. Outlet two, three, four and so on, they should all feel like they belong to the corporation, that they are a part of the family. The last step is you have to be comfortable enough to let your leaders lead. If you employed the right people to manage your places, you have to let them take control.”
Lastly, Hazard said is that each store must be treated as a separate business.
“Each store must be able to stand alone,” Hazard said. “Don’t make one child sick to save another. If opening a second location is to prop up the poor performance of the first location in the belief that ‘this one will be better’ then you are only going to drag both of them down.”
Where to Build
Levy’s advice is that site selection can make or break the success of the store.
“It is so critical and so many factors that come into that,” Levy said. “Picking the right location is so important, as is negotiating the right price. They are all pieces: finding the right place, negotiating, and the staff, and capital, money, to open your store and keep it running till it’s paying for itself. If you have one store and are opening the second, it’s easy to only focus on the second one. It’s important to let your employees know and your customers know that the first store is still important.
“Get a commercial real estate agent that you trust. You have to know where to look and you will need help with that, also with negotiating the lease. The lease I signed for the store in 1980 was the landlord handing me some papers, I looked at the pages and then signed the last page. That’s how I think people think it works and how people do it. You should go through it and make sure it’s fair for you and the landlord, we could take months to go through it.”
Senafe keeps an old business saying in mind to help him with choices.
“Paralysis by analysis,” Senafe said. “If you are looking for a perfect time to expand or open another location, you will never find it. You will always find a reason not to do something. You have to set a reasonable safety net and if you know there is a certain amount that goes wrong you can’t pass it and you will have to cut your losses.”
While going to a bank is always an option, there are companies such as Newtek that provide financial services and business services to independent business owners.
Barry Sloane, the CEO of Newtek, a small business lender, eCommerce provider, website developer, 50 state licensed insurance agencies for property, casualty and health insurance, that process electronic payments for small businesses, store data and lends money to resellers and wholesalers.
“We are a nonbank lender and the biggest government guaranteed non-bank lender in the United States,” Sloane said. “The primary difference between Newtek and a bank is we do not take deposits and have less oversight and regulation as a lender. The primary difference to our borrows and clientele is that 100 percent of the company’s focus is in dealing with small to medium size independent businesses. We are much more customer friendly to our clients than the typical bank lending relationship.”
Sloane said in order to expand, a business should have a minimum three year plan going forward which should be extremely granular and estimates all costs of the expansion and the growing revenues at a minimum month by month.
“In order to expand, a business should have a minimal three year plan going forward which should be extremely granular and estimates all costs of the expansion and the growing revenues at a minimum month by month,” Sloane said. “In working with small business owners, we would strongly recommend having all their data in a military strength-proof facility warehoused and available in the cloud. We would strongly suggest businesses make sure they have state of the art electronic payment processing and eCommerce solutions. We would also suggest business owners rebid all their health insurance costs in front of Obamacare taking effect in 2014, as well as reevaluate all their property and casualty insurance. We endeavor to help businesses manage and reduce their expenses and have state of the art effective technology and systems.”
Cashing In On Technology
Just as technology becomes more prevalent in our everyday lives, it is starting to become more important in our pets lives as well.
PetSafe, has been a leader in the area of pet technology. Started in 1991 by Randy Boyd, the company was the first to come out with wireless fencing and since then has introduced numerous products that better a pet and pet owner’s life by using technology. Some of those products help control barking and assist with training.
It all started when Boyd was selling cattle fencing and his customers were asking about fence products for pets. At the time it was professionally done and people wanted a do-it-yourself version. When the patent came off the original electric fence, he learned how to make one on his own and then sold the do-it-yourself version to people.
“We have two ways of introducing new products, either taking existing products and making them better or invent technology to help the pet ownership experience,” Jason Hart, director of marketing of PetSafe, said. “We have over 300 patents. Some are products we built ourselves or from acquiring patens.”
The company is constantly using new technologies to better their products, including their wireless fencing system.
“At Global we debuted the wireless mapping fence,” Hart said. “Before, people who did wireless fencing did it by making a giant circle on the yard, which is great, but no one’s yard is a circle. Now with our product you can map out exactly where you want your invisible fence to be.”
They are always looking to make products that take the latest trends in tech and incorporate them into an owner’s life. One way they are doing that is through their selective entry for their dog doors.
“Using your computer you can select when a dog or other pet can go in and out of your house,” Hart said. “Soon, you will be able to do it through your Smartphone with an app. We are always looking at what technology is doing and how it’s evolving in the mainstream. Now-a-days it’s Smartphones, years ago it was Bluetooth. We see what’s out there and try to bring it in the pet world.”
Hart believes the pet industry as a whole is behind other industries as far as technology, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, he said.
“At the end of the day, you are making products for the pet and how it helps them,” Hart said. “A lot of technology out there helps people but that’s not what we are doing, we are there for the pets. My dog will still be happy with a good old stick in the yard. What you will see with technology in the pet industry is technology that helps in convenience. More apps to feed your dog, interact with your dog, things to improve the pet ownership experience.”
Gordon Spater, principal of Kurgo, has seen that a lot of people were trying to take pictures from their dog’s perspective.
“We know how to make harnesses and we knew our Tru-Fit Smart Harness was sturdy enough to hold a camera so we decided to make it so you can equip a GoPro to it,” Spater said. “When you buy the GoPro they offer a grab-bag of different mounts. We have the attachment on our harness for one of the mounts that GoPro makes.”
Spater loves the product because it incorporates the idea of pets and pet owners setting off to see the world together and having fun.
“I think that what’s neat about this is, our company is all about getting people and their dogs out there and enjoying the outside and using technology to enhance the animal-human bond,” Spater said. “People are interested in it for fun trips just down to the ocean or lake. Also, a lot of people use it for hunting when a dog goes to look for the bird. It’s just exciting to see a product really help with the bond between pets and pet owners.”
Besides making products for adventures, Kurgo also uses technology to keep pets safe.
“We have a vest that’s made of nylon that features reflective piping around the outside of it and in the back is a pocket where it comes with a blinking LED light,” Spater said. “You can turn it on when you go for a run; it blinks or stays solid to help protect dogs and their owners.”
Spater had the idea when he was getting ready to go for a run with his dog.
“The jacket is a windbreaker type of jacket,” Spater said. “It’s a pretty simple idea but no one else really has it. I run in the morning with my dog and I spent a lot of time in the morning clipping different things onto my dog for safety. This was easier because it was just one thing to clip on.”
In 2009 Tom Arnold wanted to figure out a way to use technology to help improve an animal’s life. It then grew into becoming a protection service for animals and started Pet Hub.
Pet Hub is a tag that is put on a pet’s collar that has a QR code with all the information someone would need if the pet is found.
“Last summer we launched a key part of our service, the found pet hotline,” Lorien Clemens, manager of marketing and outreach at Pet Hub, said. “All of our tags have a toll-free hotline and a call center that is 24/7 and it will email the owner of the pet immediately when their pet’s tag is scanned.”
Recently, Pet Hub started incorporating NFC, near field communications, technology to their pet tags.
“Using NFC it allows people to tap the tag and it instantly goes to the pet’s profile,” Clemens said. “It just makes it so much easier to get the pet information since you won’t have to try to scan the tag. A lot of Smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4, have the NFC readers in them already.”
Pet Hub is also currently working with another pet company to do a real-time GPS system.
Tagg – the Pet Tracker describes themselves as a cell phone for your pet.
“It’s a very smart phone for your pet,” Dudley Fetzer, senior director of sales and marketing at Snaptracs, the developer of Tagg – the Pet Tracker, said. “When your pet leaves home and it’s not known by anyone, the phone calls home and it lets you know when the dog has left and asks you if you want to track your dog.”
The tracker is designed to be worn on an existing collar and the pet owner sets up a perimeter around their house where they want the pet to stay. If the pet leaves the area, the owner can be alerted by their Smartphone, or from a web app.
“I like to receive emails, but my wife likes getting SMS text messages,” Fetzer said. “We could also set it up so that our neighbors or children get the message, just in case we are not home.”
Besides using the product to help locate a lost pet, Tagg also is helping to fight the battle against obesity.
“With Tagg, it allows you to track your pet’s activity levels to help fight obesity,” Fetzer said. “It’s a nice way to monitor their activity levels over a period of time. It allows you to make changes to their diet or exercise pattern if need be.
The combination of pets and technology can be a good source of revenue for pet store owners.
“With technology I think there is a real opportunity there,” he said. “People spend a lot of time and money and have strong feelings for their pet. Retail stores need to stay on top of what customers need.”
Advancements in technology are not just reserved for those animals with four legs. For fish tanks, LED lighting is quickly becoming a popular option.
LED Moonlight’s by Lunar Lighting, debuted around 10 years ago and it’s the time Aquatic Life said that LEDs were being used in the aquarium hobby. Then after moonlights, they saw them used in Betta bowls and nano aquariums before coming more popular and in larger aquaria.
LED lighting uses power more efficiently compared to standard lighting.
“Since most traditional lights product light in a 360 degree output, you need a reflector to redirect the back 180 degree to the location needing the light,” Michael Elliot, of Aquatic Life, said. “LED typically product light in a 110-140 degree angle, thus not requiring an inefficient reflector to redirect the back portion of light as in the traditional lighting.”
Why go with LED lighting? LED’s target the light better into the area to be lit, thus a very energy efficient light.
“Single LEDs are not as broad a spectrum of light as fluorescent lamps, so combinations of different color LEDs are needed,” Elliot said. “Because of the need to use different color LEDs, there is a potential problem of color branding. Thus it is important to use the correct combination of LEDs and diffusers to better mix the LED light.”
Technology for Your Business
As technology in pet products continues to grow, the technology available to pet store owners to help run their business is becoming more ubiquitous. Technology can range from helping an owner ringing up merchandise, protecting a storefront or for helping customers, like the Thrive Water Lab.
Blue Ocean’s Managing Director Phillip Root said the company saw a need in the market for an accurate and quick water analysis machine.
“The Thrive Water Lab is a self-contained water analysis machine that has fixed what has been missing in the market,” Root said. “The Thrive Water Lab is able to analyze water from saltwater, reef, freshwater and pond environments. The machine features individualized cuvettes, to prevent cross contamination, and a touch screen interface for easy navigation.”
To test the water, a customer would place a water sample into the Thrive Water Lab door, answer a few simple questions and then receive a detailed analysis of their water parameters and advice on how to properly maintain their aquatics environment. The company calls the document a Thrive Prescription. It’s able to perform over 20 types of testing and give results for up to eight different parameters simultaneously.
“Retailers spend countless hours, resources and money on performing water tests daily,” Root said. “The Thrive Water Lab gives retailers the time and resources to focus on sales and great customer service, instead of water testing.”
When it comes to fish, consumers are being increasingly interested in knowing where their animals are coming from and how they moved through the transportation system. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is also putting a lot of pressure on its vendors to develop as much transparency as possible, officials said.
“At Quality Marine we are pretty well positioned to do this,” Lonnie Ready, sales and marketing director for Quality Marine, said. “We tried to, for the last few years; shed a lot more light on our customers, retailers and public aquariums to where their fish come from and how long they were in transit for.
“Our first step was to track the fish from the collector to our facility. We have assigned each fish that comes into our facility a barcode. They get a label with a unique barcode that follows them all the way through the facility. It contains info of where the fish came from, what collector it came from, we use that to really be able to identify which of our collectors were doing the best job of getting the healthiest fish.”
About two years ago Quality Marine took it a step further by producing labels for its customers that have QR codes on them.
“These QR codes, when scanned, can let people look into the fish’s history all the way back to its collection,” Ready said. “They can see what day the fish was collected, when it left somewhere like Fiji, then see it was held at Quality Marine for four days, or a week, then see what day if left Quality Marine and was shipped to the retail store they are now standing in.”
Protecting your business
When looking at ways to improve your business, getting a security system should be near the top of that list, especially when the security system does more than just protect a store.
ADT has made advances in its small business security systems to not only protect your business, but to be able to monitor your business whenever you want.
“Our ADT Pulse product takes our traditional security system to the next level,” Robin Stennet, director of small business marketing for ADT, said. “It lets you manage your alarm remotely from a smart phone and/or a tablet. We leveraged that new technology to add some other things such as being able to control temperature, lighting and small appliance control.”
In addition, ADT also features a variety of video options.
“It lets you look in on your store in real time,” Stennet said. “Or you can set up an event trigger, which will start showing real-time video.”
ADT Pulse was introduced 2 years ago and the company has had a phenomenal response from it since, the company said. The staff at ADT works to help pet retailers keep a watchful eye on their physical inventory
“Our security features allows retailers to keep a better eye on their assets and stay alerted,” Stennet said. “You can just log in and look from any camera in your store from your phone or tablet. You can also customize those alerts, then you can take that alert further by saying not only let me know it happens but take a 30 second clip.”
The system also allows retail owners to have their ADT Pulse system keep control of the temperature or let them know if it falls outside a certain range. It can also control lighting systems, for when you want to turn lights on and off.
“Our ADT Pulse service is a way for small business owners to combine buglar alarm needs with more interactive technology,” Stennet said. “Being able to check on your business using your tablet or smart phone; or changing the temperature and lighting to be more cost effective, it lowers the fears and concerns that small business owners may have.”
Better Products for Better Service
The Customer Appointment Manager is an electronic appointment book designed to help small businesses manage their employees’ time and their customer’s information.
“With Customer Appointment Manager you can schedule one-time or repeat appointments, search for customer appointments, find available appointment times, print reports, manage a waiting list, customize fields to meet your business needs, track customer history, and send appointment reminders via email,” Brandy Pelzel, marketing manager for Customer Appointment Manager, said. “Customer Appointment Manager helps provide a better first impression to customers and customer service that’s fast and professional. It helps small businesses keep their appointment books full by using a waiting list, sending email reminders. Customer Appointment Manager helps employees save time and be more organize and it helps managers monitor employee productivity and business metrics.”
The program has a three step process for getting started. First, setting up business operations information, such as user accounts and passwords, holidays and scheduling time intervals. Then add employees and services information, including specific work schedules, then add your customers including their contact information, which can be imported from QuickBooks or a text file.
When it comes to phone services, businesses owners just want something that works, and that’s Grasshopper’s number one priority.
Anyone who runs a business knows the importance of publicity, but what exactly does that mean?
Some people will say it means public relations, others will say it’s marketing, and yet others will say all a retailer needs is social media. Well, it’s a balance of all of those things.
When confronted with the decision of hiring a professional to perform these services, many times people lump both marketing and public relations into one category. And, while some agencies or departments can do both, there is definitely a difference between the two, experts say.
“A lot of people offer marketing, branding and public relations and I think that’s where some of the confusion is,” Nancy Hassel, the founder and president of Long Island Pet Professionals, said. “People will come to me for my public relations skills and then want marketing too, but I am not a marketing expert.”
This is why, she explains it’s important for retailers to understand the difference between the two, as well as know what the person they are hiring has the skills to do. If the expectations are set from the beginning, it makes for a more profitable relationship on both ends.
If a business owner decides to do their own, it becomes even more important, because depending on what the end goal is, it may dictate which approach they take – marketing or public relations.
“One of the easiest things I do, to explain public relations to someone who doesn’t know what is, is by having them explain how they do public relations,” Hassel said. “They will say they took an ad out in a paper for grooming and some people come in and think that’s public relations; and then I show them an article from a public relations professional. I will explain to them that public relations is not taking an ad out.”
Pet Age talked with a variety of marketing and public relations experts on both sides to help clarify the differences and help business owners make a better informed decision about what is best for them. Many, even shared their strategies for success, and in a lot of cases while the two are different, they tend to work best in tandem.
Jeffrey Sussman, a marketing professional, author and teacher, has found that using events to draw in customers tend to do extremely well for all kinds of retailers wanting to market their business.
“I would have a retailer set up an event, or contest of some kind, and to increase sales for the customers, everyone who entered the event or contest would get discounts on products,” Sussman said. “One example is, I had a pet store print coupon books for the contestants, so there were coupons for each month. We tried to make them seasonal, an example being flea and tick coupons for the end of spring beginning of summer. This way, it kept customers coming back because they felt compelled to use the coupons at their store and not to shop at the other stores.”
In terms of attracting customers, getting publicity for the store is the best way according to Sussman.
“With media, it’s important to have a press release or a media alert, but your story should have a quality about it that’s inviting, something that is different or unusual,” Sussman said.
Sussman said that social media and websites are useful, but in his opinion, are overrated.
“I have a Facebook and a LinkedIn and if I wanted to notify people who are connected to me, I certainly can do it,” Sussman said. “If there are not people connected to me, they are not going to find my notification. I am going to have to reach out to them. When you have a brand name and are well known, social media can be very effective.”
Colleen Sheehy Orme, a marketing professional, said to always think of your brand and emotion, they drive sales and help your business.
“Don’t lose sight of your brand, and emotion drives customers to purchase,” Orme said. “You’re already in an emotional business. People treat pets like their babies. So that is giant advantage pet retailers have over other retailers.”
One of the big problems Orme sees with business owners is they try to be the CEO, the chief of everything officer.
“The advice I give to business owners is easy, but difficult for the average owner because they are passionate about their business and they have built it with their own blood, sweat and tears,” Orme said. “Keeping this in mind it is critical to ‘Keep the emotion in the product and not the execution.’ What does this mean? It means be passionate about what you have built, but when dealing with customers remember that businesses should be non-emotional and professional. The emotion should be in the product, what moves the person to buy it. It should not be in the owner, say if there is a conflict or potential problematic consumer interaction. You hear it all the time, but it’s true. The customer is always right.”
While many businesses feel that a down economy may seem like the end of the world, Orme said it’s the time for businesses to stand out.
“Competition is going to the wayside, that’s an opportunity to stand out,” Orme said. “Most businesses have become strong and defy the odds because they believed and they are stubborn. Their greatest strength can be their greatest weakness. They could be stubborn by not listening to the customers. They sit there and talk about what they are used to doing, and they don’t adapt to the change that needs to be made.”
“Consulting with someone may be worth more than just remodeling your store or redoing your website,” she said. “They spend money but they don’t spend it where they need to. With your business, don’t find quick fixes. You need to go back to your brand and emotion. Go back to the beginning.”
Jason Richelson, founder of ShopKeep POS, thinks email marketing is the best way for retailers to go. It is how he marketed to customers when he was in the retail business and it’s how his point-of-sale system uses marketing.
“ShopKeep is a full POS system, it prints receipts, collects cash, lets people use credit cards, and it even collects Paypal. It’s everything you expect from a point-of-sale system plus more,” Richelson said. “We are a very merchant focused company. We think about what merchants need for small business marketing. When I was a retailer I did a lot of email marketing and it worked great, social media is great but email worked the best.
“I found that when I would ask people for their general information, including their email address, around 90 percent of the people would give it to me. That’s what ShopKeep POS let’s you do, it lets you collect email address to make groups with them and send targeted emails to people to help promote items in your store.”
Along with Richelson, Sussman also suggests using traditional marketing to get people’s contact information and to build your marketing contacts. If you have a bunch of contact information, it sets you up in the future to do email advertising or target marketing.
“Hold an event and have a sign-in or sing-up sheet where you get the people’s names and their email addresses and whatever other information you need,” Sussman said. “Something that draws people in is charity, not only people but the media also. If you donate a portion of your sales to something, usually your sales go up. While celebrities drive people in, the big name celebrities are often hard to get but politicians are also very good celebrities. Local politicians are always in need of publicity and to raise their profile and it will help draw people into your event.”
Adam Jacobson, the executive vice president of Pet Pantry Warehouse, uses a lot of direct mail and target marketing, to reach his audience. He created a club card to rival local big box pet chains that had come around.
“We have a club card that gives customers discounts on most of the merchandise in the store,” Jacobson said. “Then we remarket to those direct customers based on previous purchases. We also create internal newsletter that we print and provide at the stores.”
Jacobson uses a referral network with local groomers, trainers and veterinarians to help promote their newsletter by providing content. The newsletter is published bi-monthly and has promotions that are based on a 30 day cycle.
“I can’t imagine companies not doing it this point in the game,” Jacobson said. “We assist them by marketing them in our stores. It allows us to provide our customers with the most relevant information. Within that newsletter we use it to promote the pet food that is on sale those months.”
Phyllis Ershowsky, principle of PKE Marketing and PR Solutions, said a lot of people that have their own business want to save money and feel they can do public relations themselves, when in her opinion, they should be concentrated on running their business.
“It may be challenging and scary that you have to spend money on marketing and public relations,” Ershowsky said. “But it will be a very cost effective to invest in a professional, and it’s not something you have to jump into right away.”
Before you jump into finding public relation professional, Ershowsky said you should take your time finding someone.
“In the public relations industry there is an accreditation called APR (Accredited in Public Relations),” Ershowsky said. “There are people that not only have worked in public relations for several years but also have taken additional courses and become accredited. Once you find that person, take a look at their website and their work. See if it’s something that relates to you and your business. Then see the relationship. Are the two of you on the same wavelength? See if you are compatible.”
Choosing a PR Firm
Enid Traub, the director of marketing for Dogtopia, said when choosing a public relations firm that you should take a look at their clients.
“Get references, speak to one of their current clients and a previous client if possible,” Traub said. “Remember that the references they offer are clearly going to say positives, so ask questions geared more to the style of communication and the manner in which they work. Find out who will actually be working with you day to day, often the people who pitch you on the business are not your account team.”
“Make sure you feel comfortable and like the people, you’ll be spending lots of work time with them,” she said. “Understand the PR firm’s fee structure and if you are working with a retainer, make sure you have a clear understanding and agreement on how much time will be spent on your brand and what activities are included.”
When first meeting new clients, Hassel first asks what they want her to promote that is news worthy.
“I have to first find out if they have anything or if they are just trying to get into the press, or if they have something I can make newsworthy, that’s the first step,” Hassel said. “Besides print, I also try to get our clients on the local news station to speak about different news topics on the shows. After they get in the news I suggest they hold a small event. Now that people know about your place you have to give them a reason to come. I have clients have a happy hour or a pet photographer in the store and a portion of proceeds go to charity, but that isn’t always necessary; though the press like it.”
Ershowsky said her company believes in advertising in the traditional ways of advertising in print and television. But, added that social media is a great way to keep the conversation going.
“Social media lets you talk on an ongoing basis,” Ershowsky said. “If you have a customer that asks why you discontinued a product, that they really wanted that product. You can talk to them and explain why, but also, most likely, you are going to put that back on your shelves eventually to get more sales. Also, if someone has a complaint, you can now fix the situation with them.”
Hassel said social media is great but don’t let it take away from your website.
“Some people will spend all their time working on social media,” Hassel said. “Some people over the past year or two years don’t have a website, but really just a placeholder and they just use Facebook. The problem is not everyone has a Facebook, as crazy as that sounds.”
“I always go to the person’s website first because it should have all the info I want to know about a person or company. But if there is just a placeholder and it has a copy write date of 2011, I lose interest. The same can be said for the media if you pitch them a story.”
Lorin Grow, the founder of Furry Face, didn’t originally have a social media presence and didn’t have a website.
“The way we got into it, is we didn’t have a website and we had been through several previous attempts to create a website,” Grow said. “Many of them were just templates and they were not right for us. The website actually came from a customer that regularly came in my store. They made it and it was everything we hoped it would be and ended up winning an award. As a joke I said, ‘What else do you do?’ They told me they did public relations, I had no idea what that meant at first.”
The company Grow worked with, helped their social media presence.
“I run the day-to-day happenings on our social media pages,” Grow said. “Each month, the public relations team will run a campaign that lasts the entire month. It starts with a brainstorm session and we all agree on the campaign, they design it and submit it to me. I may tweak it or change it and then they change it and submit it back to me.”
Grow said the public relations team has helped her save time and helped her with any issues she has.
“I remember I was trying to promote something on Facebook and Facebook kept kicking it out of its system, my pr team was able to help me and did it in a matter of minutes,” Grow said. “They introduced me to Offerpop.com, I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have time to research it. They told me everything about it and all I needed to know.”
“The public relations team looks out for me and my company’s exposure to make sure we are best represented. I pay a flat fee for the year and they are available to me as needed.”
Traub said the public relations firm they use is an extension of Dogtopia’s home office team and allows them to have a high level of public relations expertise without adding additional marketing staff.
“In working with a PR firm, we benefit from multiple team members with extensive experience contributing to the success of our business,” Traub said. “This is essential.”
Have Pet, Will Travel
Gone are the days of throwing Fido in the back seat of the car, or leaving them at the local kennel, as more companies begin developing products geared toward the consumer’s desire to bring their pet with them while traveling.
Experts say pet travel is a multi-billion dollar industry, which they don’t see slowing down.
“More people own pets than ever before, and they are treating them as part of the family,” Cristen Underwood, director of marketing for Quaker Pet Group, said. “In conjunction with a trend toward pet-friendly destinations and accommodations, it is getting easier to include furry family members in travel plans. There is also an increased awareness of pet travel safety, especially for car travel, due to recent safe pet restraint legislation in certain states.”
Quaker Pet Group’s Sherpa brands are arguably one of the most well-known names in pet travel, because of the brand’s founder Gayle Martz, a flight attendant who designed the world’s first formally approved airline carrier in 1989.
Since then, pet travel has grown to include pet-friendly hotels, planes, camps, cars, websites and thousands of related products.
According to PetRelocation.com’s Summer Pet Travel survey, 60 percent of pet owners traveled with their pet in 2010.
“More destinations, accommodations and stores are becoming pet-friendly,” Underwood said. “Because pets have become more humanized, people see them as ideal travel companions. Smaller pets have grown in popularity, making them easier to tote along.”
Bringing along a pet, whether it be in the car, or on a plane, means consumers are spending extra money on items such as carriers, first-aid kits, toys, portable dishes, leashes, car restrains and other products.
On the Road
According to a January 2009 survey conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America, 76 percent of those who traveled with their pet did so by car, and according to the same survey 78 percent of them traveled with a dog.
Companies, retailers, entrepreneurs and lawmakers are all taking note of this statistic and creating products, stocking shelves, making laws and building businesses around this niche.
Amy Burkert, founder of GoPetFriendly.com, built a successful blog, about the original difficulties of traveling with her German shepherd. Now, she’s turned pet travel into her career.
“We [my husband and I] were leaving from Pennsylvania and heading to Canada, then going to Minnesota then coming back home to Pennsylvania,” Burkert said. “We had to find seven hotels and it took two days to find them. I didn’t have any more time to find dog friendly beaches, or any dog friendly activities. There wasn’t anywhere you could go to find pet friendly stuff.
“Rod, my husband, said to look into finding anything that made it easy to find pet friendly places online and if I couldn’t, I should make one. So when we got home I looked, and found nothing. So I launched the website in 2009.”
The couple took it a step further in 2011 by selling their house to live in an RV with their dogs while traveling around the country writing about pet-friendly destinations.
Now a pet travel expert, Burkert advises stores to be their customer’s one-stop destination for pet travel needs.
“We don’t do a ton of shopping and when we need something we go for a high quality product,” she said. “If my leash breaks when I am on the road and I need a new one, I am not going to pick up a $2.99 leash. I want a nice high-quality leash. We are willing to invest. You don’t have to worry about price points as much.”
Pet retailers, should also educate the public about pet restraints, she suggested, as more states pass laws impact the industry.
“People that are not doing that, don’t understand how dangerous it is, not just for their pets, but for themselves and others on the road,” Burkert said.
It’s something Sam Irwin, the territory manager of Hollywood Feed, natural and holistic pet food merchants in Tennessee, said she considers it as one of her job duties when people come into her store.
“When I have customers come in with their pet the first thing I ask them is, ‘did you know about X laws and that your pet has to be confined when driving them in the car,’” Irwin said. “It is really easy to tell customers about the travel products and it rolls off the tongue when you learn all of the laws. Also, it helps your customer and teaches them things they may not be aware of.”
More and More Products
Every year at industry trade shows, more travel-related pet products, like the Pet Cooler Carrier, are introduced, while long-standing companies, like KONG, develop ways for those traveling with pets to use their product.
“Our classic KONG rubber toy keeps dogs busy, engaged and relaxed and they are especially helpful when pets travel,” Mark Hines, lead canine behavior & training specialist for KONG, said. “A stuffed KONG can help reduce anxiety and stress and can keep the dog occupied while in transit keeping its mind off the trip itself and focused on the reward of getting all the treats out of the KONG.”
Craig Skaggs, the founder and inventor of the Pet Cooler Carrier, which keeps a pet cool in their carrier and also provides drinking water, has been doing research and developing the design for several years. During that time, he has seen the segment grow.
“I think the possibilities for growth in this area [pet travel] are huge,” Skaggs said. “From what I see, it’s still in its infancy. Not only will more places want to encourage pet owners to bring their pets, but they’ll continue developing new ways to cater to those pets while they’re there. Many hotels already offer pet beds, treats and premium dog food to pet guests. All of this encourages people to travel with their pets, knowing that they will be welcome.”
Emily Tobin, the public relations coordinator of Deep Creek, a four-season vacation destination in Maryland, said popular travel destinations will continue to be increasingly more pet friendly. Also, as more restaurants and attractions begin allowing dogs, the travel segment will grow.
“Pets are a part of our family and helping them feel welcome is important to us,” she said. “We provide all of our pet friendly homes a food and water bowl upon arrival as well as a water station outside of our office during the summer months.
Pet travel has become so main-stream that family vacation powerhouse Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., even had to address it.
The company worked with Best Friends Pet Care to open a 27,000-square-foot pet care center near their attraction that offers boarding, daycare and grooming for dogs, cats and other family pets.
Their website boasts: “While you explore the parks, your pet can enjoy playgroup, special treats and a movie. After park-hopping, spend time with your pet playing in our private dog park or taking a walk around the grounds.”
Derek Huntington, president elect of the International Pet Animal Transportation Association, said, pet travel has, “grown very quickly and in a very short period of time.”
“Pets are cared for on a much higher scale than in years past,” he added. “As a result, people will buy more products for their pets and they will travel with their pets. So with pets being part of the family, pet owners are willing to go to great lengths and expense to be sure they can travel with them.”
One factor impacting this area, experts say, is the Baby Boomer generation.
“Baby boomers, which are a very large population, are losing their kids, they are growing up and moving out, so baby boomers are getting pets,” Susan Smith, the owner of PetTravel.com, an online resource for worldwide travel, said. “In general, baby boomers love to travel and they love their pets.”