Pet Age’s Tom Mazorlig spoke with Chad Gibson, co-founder of Zen Pet, about the company’s beginnings, its quality standards and the working relationship with his sister, Zen Pet co-founder Jen Barelli.
Tom Mazorlig: Can you tell me about how you started Zen Pet?
Chad Gibson: In college, in 2000 roughly, we created a company called G & B Marketing. We had one particular product called the IV Stabilizer. It’s a splint for IV treatment for veterinary use. We created that—and we still do—and that’s what got my foot in the door on distribution on the vet side. We tried adding some new products every couple of years along the way. The product that put us on the map was the Pro Collar. That was picked up by Petco and PetSmart over 10 years ago.
Five years ago, we were approached by a Canadian company called Contech Enterprises. They were an acquisition-based company that would buy smaller guys like us, and we sold to them. My sister and I worked for this company for four years and doubled the business in four years. However, they added a bad acquisition in lawn and garden, closed up shop and went bankrupt. We were in a mad-dash scramble to capture all of our accounts. In doing so, we got our IPs back at pennies on the dollar and opened our doors back up under Zen Pet.
Zen Pet brand has been in the market for close to three years now. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the last five years.
Tom: What is your process for ensuring high standards of product quality?
Chad: Part of our strategy is to work very closely with our manufacturer. Our manufacturer is actually one of our best friends; he’s in Tijuana, Mexico. We are able to strictly monitor our quality control standards because it’s so close. The factory is only an hour away from us. Quality control and proximity to our manufacturing is huge in the sense that if we see any types of problems in materials or in feedback from our customers, we are able to adjust our product in general or the quality of the materials. We don’t have to wait for a very long lead time like others do when they source in China.
Tom: Zen Pet creates products for both the veterinary and pet space. What are the challenges you face producing items for both of those markets? How does that work for Zen Pet as a company?
Chad: One of the most important aspects of being in the veterinary channel is that you gain recognition and recommendations by the veterinarians themselves. That is huge for us because we can go to the retail accounts and multi-chain accounts and say we have all this distribution and recommendation from the vet side. However, not all veterinarians like to sell hard goods. That’s where we do have a little bit of a barrier in the vet channel. But our veterinary sales keep on growing and growing.
Tom: Do you think there’s a trend of pet stores carrying more products that used to be thought of as more strictly veterinary products?
Chad: I see pet stores carrying a lot more products that are tailored to solutions, like health and wellness products. That’s what we specialize in. Do I see a lot more products from the veterinary channel coming into retail? Yes. The hardest part is packaging it properly so the customer realizes what the benefits are.
Tom: You own Zen Pet with your sister, Jen Barelli. What’s it like working so closely with a family member?
Chad: We’ve been working very closely for many years. We’ll put boxing gloves on here and there, but for the most part we work very well together. It’s nice because if I miss something or she misses something she tends to notice or I tend to notice, and we’ll pick each other up from that. It’s kind of like having a duplicate of yourself, which everybody would love to have. Of course, we have our differences on some issues but we’ve come to terms with each other. I’m comfortable with her decisions and she’s also comfortable with mine.
Tom: What’s your typical day like?
Chad: We come in to the office and we brief each other on what orders have shipped, who needs to ship any account updates. That usually leads into sales and marketing calls. Everything in sales, marketing and account management filters through either Jen or myself. We also deal with customer service calls, which we are going to be expanding and bringing someone in to help us on that. We are both on QuickBooks online, which makes it very easy to handle all business activity, even if we are on the road. Lastly, we tend to check in with our warehouse a couple times a day. We do visit our warehouse twice weekly.
Tom: What new things can we expect to see from Zen Pet in the near future?
Chad: We are very close to getting national distribution in independent pet stores. We’re rebranding two of our products. Zen Cone is kind of a hybrid of a soft cone and a plastic cone. The other one is Tick Tornado. It’s in a two pack at a good price point.