Terry Anderton was at a July Fourth party with his family and their newly adopted puppy when someone set off a firework. The Akbash-Great Pyrenees mix responded to the loud blast by taking off into the New Hampshire woods.
After five days of round-the-clock searching, the family finally found the frightened dog. Anderton didn’t realize how attached his 10- and 12-year-old children would get to the dog in the month they had her. It was then that Anderton promised his kids that he would come up with a product that would prevent the dog from running away again. When he went to the store, he saw the same type of products—such as physical barriers or shock collars—that were on the shelves when he was a kid.
“Everything there was pretty antiquated, so we started doing research on the [pet tech] market and found it to be an incredibly large market growing extremely fast and decided to take this time to disrupt the market; there was an opportunity,” he said.
Anderton introduced Wagz, a smart system that provides a completely connected pet lifestyle. And more companies are entering the growing pet tech market just like Anderton did, trying to find ways to make pet ownership easier and the human-animal bond stronger. Because of that, one can no longer call a shelf with technology-based pet products “antiquated;” today’s pet tech products are in tune with the 21st century pet owner.
Keeping it Connected
Upholding his promise to his children, Anderton’s first product under the Wagz name was a dog collar that would prevent dogs from running away. In an app, owners can draw property line boundaries as well as prohibited zones, such as a pool, within that area. If a dog goes to leave that geofence, the Wagz collar will vibrate and send out an ultrasonic deterrent. If the dog leaves the set-up area, owners get a notification on their phone letting them know the dog has left, and they can track the dog via GPS.
The collar, which also acts as an activity monitor, can even play a part in keeping the family safe. It is equipped with a bark-activated streaming video camera. Once a dog barks, the owner will get an alert and can tune in through the app to see what the dog is barking at. There is also two-way audio, so owners can talk to their dog or the person at whom the dog is barking.
Since inventing the smart collar, Wagz has developed an entire line of connected pet products. And with all of them, Wagz wants to use technology to monitor dogs for health, safety, companion time and happiness. There’s the Serve Smart Feeder that makes sure dogs have the right amount of food at the right time and the Go Smart Door that allows pets to safely enter and exit the home.
More products, such as a smart bed, the Drink Smart Dish and the Roam Smart Tiles are slated for release. The latter can be put anywhere in the house and send a tone/vibration to the smart collar to ensure pets stay away from unsafe or off-limit areas.
While Wagz’s collar helps track dogs, Marshall Pet’s helps track ferrets. The Ferret Finder is a silicone, LED battery-powered collar that uses Bluetooth to connect to any mobile device. Marshall Pet’s Ferret Finder app is a free, one-time download that allows owners to find their ferret within the house by sounding an alarm on the ferret’s collar.
Technology can also help owners in tracking a pet’s health and activity. Actijoy developed a three-part system—which includes the Health & Activity Tracker, Food & Water WiFi Bowl, and iOS & Android Mobile App—to do just that. According to Actijoy Executive Assistant Andrea Zoubkova, the system’s goal is to prolong dogs’ lives by up to two years and reduce veterinary costs.
“The entire ecosystem of the device is designed to alert the dog owner to any anomalies in their dog’s life that might be symptomatic of a health issue, whether it’s drinking too much or too little or waking up in the middle of the night and staying awake for hours,” Zoubkova said. “All those aspects can be a signal that your doggy is not feeling well, and Actijoy is here to help. It alerts you when such anomalies occur and increase the chance to prevent serious health issues.”
The Actijoy tracker is light, small and has a built-in LED light. It goes into a silicone holder—of which there are three styles to choose from, depending on type of use—which attaches to the dog’s collar or harness.
According to Zoubkova, Actijoy’s typical customers are people who crave more details about their dogs’ health conditions. They are also people who like wearables/pet tech products and are familiar with using such systems.
“Our customer wants to prolong his dog’s life as much as he can,” she said. “It is also a dog parent who likes traveling or spends lots of time at work and wants to know how his buddy is doing while he is not at home.”
We all know the importance of pets’ daily dental care. Dr. MJ Redman, DVM, DAVDC, a board-certified veterinary dentist with MissionVet Specialty & Emergency in San Antonio, Texas, previously told Pet Age that some of the cleanest pet teeth she’s seen are of those whose owners use an electric toothbrush. While all owners might want that level of clean, some dogs might be adverse to the sound or vibrations. Enter Mira-Pet. The dog toothbrush has a three-sided head and utilizes ultrasound technology to clean deep and remove tartar, destroying bacteria and plaque in the gum pockets. It is vibration-free and silent. Plus, it cleans teeth in a single pass, meaning the brush is in the dog’s mouth for less time.
Instachew has developed an entire lineup of solutions-based smart pet products. The Cozy, a smart pet cave, has an app that lets owners set a pet’s preferred sleeping temperature. According to the company’s website, “the Cozy Smart Pet Cave comes with infrared sensors that detect whether your pet is in their cave or not. Once your pet is inside, it will record your pet’s resting time, providing you with valuable data to share with your vet.”
The company’s Go-Smart Leash is app enabled, which allows owners to find other app users in the area. The leash will vibrate when there is an incoming call and will notify owners when they reached their set time goal.
Instachew also has a Smart Pet Feeder and a Smart Water Fountain with a Smart Waste Management solution in the works.
PetSafe offers an automatic litter box. The Ultra Self-Cleaning Litter Box uses disposable litter trays and rakes away waste, according to the company’s site. There is also a health counter that tracks how many times a cat uses it.
Technology can also be used to train pets, including working dogs. Dogtra’s Ball Trainer is geared toward working dogs. Suitable for different training types, including detection and search and rescue, it launches and drops balls. According to the company’s site, it “is expandable up to eight devices and uses one controller that has a 100-yard range.”
Pet tech products aren’t always necessarily made to solve a specific health or safety problem; sometimes they are created for a more light-hearted—yet just as important—reason: to strengthen the human-animal bond.
In early June, Wagz acquired Petzila, maker of the Petzi Treat Cam, “a remote treat dispenser, companion app and pet data collection platform that uses audio, video and rewards to allow pet lovers to see, speak to, watch and snap photos of their pets from anywhere.” It’s a slight departure from the company’s line of solution-based products, but Anderton saw an opportunity and took it.
“The pet treat cam is interesting because it’s not a must-have, but it’s one of those products that people like to really engage with their pet and give them a reward and we felt like it was cool,” he said.
To not only strengthen an owner’s experience with a pet, but to also ensure a dog stays active, iFetch created The Original iFetch in 2013. Back then, “the pet tech space was pretty non-existent,” according to Debbie Hamill, the company’s chief marketing officer.
“Electronic products like invisible fences and automatic feeders existed, but there wasn’t really a thoughtful movement to incorporate technology with products to improve the lives of pets and their owners until recently,” she said.
iFetch took advantage of that absence in the market. Its automatic ball launcher, which took home top honors when it was first introduced at SuperZoo 2013, keeps dogs running and fetching. The mini tennis balls the system comes with can be set to launch 10, 20 or 30 feet. There’s also the iFetch Too. This launches bigger tennis balls 10, 25, or 40 feet, or random distances.
Fans of “Shark Tank” might remember G.O.A.T Pet Products creator Michelle Winowich as the entrepreneur who dressed up as Snow White for her company’s pitch. She appeared on the show in January 2018 after having launched her pet speaker at Global Pet Expo in March 2017.
The G.O.A.T. Pet Speaker allows owners to give their pets “a voice.” Owners can either record their own voice within the app or choose a pre-recorded voice from within the app to say what they want. Within Bluetooth range, the speaker on the dog’s collar or leash will speak the message.
“At the dog park they can greet their friends by name. If your mother-in-law comes to the door, maybe your dog will say, ‘Oh no, it’s you again.’” Winowich explained. “It can also be used more practically. People use it at adoption events; they put it on the dog’s collar or on the outside of the cage, and that way, the dog can tell people about themselves. You can also use it for training commands. Instead of screaming across a backyard or the dog park, you can give a command with your own voice and speak to your dog.”
The water-resistant speaker, which is about the size of a golf ball and weighs only a few ounces, can also play music—some owners choose to play classical music to calm an anxious pet; bird owners clip the speaker to a cage or place it on a counter and stream music for their bird to dance to. It also has an LED light as well as a selfie remote button that acts like a cordless selfie stick for both pictures and videos.
“It does lots of fun things. The sky’s the limit,” Winowich said.
The G.O.A.T. Pet Speaker is currently in about 150 stores with many more retailers lined up for Q4.
“It’s a small footprint with great margins; it takes up about four inches of space and it has a great profit margin that goes with it,” said Winowich, who is looking for a distributor to expand with. “We include a free demo speaker for every store so they can just be streaming music right at the checkout. Some store managers clip it to their shirt. If the store has any discount at checkout, they’ll hit the button and have the speaker say it.”
And according to Winowich, one of G.O.A.T. Pet Products’ biggest selling points is that it had a 7½-minute commercial that millions saw on “Shark Tank.” Because of that, many customers already know how the product works. For those that don’t, the company provides videos for retailers to display.
Winowich expects not only her pet speaker to continue to perform well, but also pet tech as a whole—especially those products that connect to owners’ phones.
“I think our world is driven by our smartphones, and we all operate on our smartphones and don’t leave home without them, so anything that ties into what our consumer already has in their hand every single day,” she said. “It’s having it right there at their fingertips, the constant reminder they can have some fun. We say you can interact with your pet like never before.”
The aquatics sector of the industry was an early adopter of technology, with hobbyists looking for ways to make fishkeeping easier and more precise. With tech-enabled aquarium products, owners can have control over virtually every setting—from lights and waves to temperature and feeding schedules.
Hydor’s battery-operated Ekomixo feeder uses electronics with simplified programming for up to three feedings daily for your fish, according to Hydor National Sales Manager Brian Shavlik.
“The user has the ability to also control the amount of food that will feed at feeding time by adjusting the damper on the discharge area,” he said. “The feeder will work with flake and pelleted foods.”
Hydor also introduced an entire line of Wi-Fi-connected products through its Aqamai line.
Ecotech Marine is another company that allows users to control and track their aquariums anytime, anywhere. According to the company’s site, EcoSmart Live is the cloud-based equipment command center that lets users control and customize their Radion LED lights and VorTech propeller pumps.
Cubey, from JBJ Aquarium, is an all-in-one aquarium that has an LED-controllable lighting system—which can switch between red, white and blue—that can be programmed on the JBJ Aquarium app.
The products on the shelves aren’t the only component of a pet store that many believe should be making its way into the digital age—so should a retailer’s POS system.
According to Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed, advanced POS systems like his would be particularly beneficial to pet retailers because of the large number of SKUs they carry. A more modernized POS system can keep up, allowing more efficient ordering, inventory management and sales, Dasilva explained.
“Using a cloud-based software, they can access inventory, sales data and consumer profiles from anywhere in the world at any time (smartphone, iPad or web browser); it also allows pet retailers to cross compare SKUs easily from location to location,” he said.
Overall, Lightspeed has 50,000 customers—more than 1,000 being independent pet retailers—who process over $15 billion in transactions. According to Dasilva, Lightspeed customers typically see a 20 percent increase in sales after one year using the product, and the platform has a 93 percent customer satisfaction rating.
“Most retailers are accustomed to the traditional counter/computer functionality of person-to-person check-out systems, but these same retailers are overlooking the fact that there is now mobile technology integrated into POS systems,” Dasilva said. “This gives retailers the opportunity to showcase alternate options or customizations to a given item on a tablet or mobile screen anywhere in the store, without disrupting the flow of conversation with the consumer. A mobile POS system also provides small retailers the opportunity to create pop-up locations with a check-out system that is still connected to master inventory and allows for all tender options.”
According to Dasilva, Jersey City, New Jersey’s Hound About Town is one of the pet retailers who has had success with Lightspeed, saying the store uses the POS’s mobility to connect with new customers at its pop-up store at the local farmer’s market.
An advanced POS with omnichannel technology can also help independent pet retailers stay connected with their customers 24/7, provide a consistent experience across eCommerce and brick and mortar, and obtain analytics to better track and know customers and their pets.
A Vertical to Watch
While pet tech is definitely growing—SuperZoo 2018 even had an entire area dedicated to pet tech—many retailers still have their reservations about entering the space. A main reason for this is price point.
iFetch’s Hamill says the retailers who choose to not stock its electronic products do so because they worry their customers won’t be willing to make the investment.
“But our data paints a different picture,” she said. “Our iFetch products last an average of two to three years, so the upfront investment is well worth it when you consider the quality and durability of the toys. The iFetch Too also features a built-in rechargeable battery, which means that owners don’t have to keep replacing batteries when they want to use it outside in warmer months. We try our best to educate retailers about the long-term health benefits of our interactive toys so that they recognize the value of our products and can pass along those selling points to consumers.”
The retailers that do choose to stock high tech products like those from iFetch “recognize the importance of adding products to their mix which are unique and exciting, so they can provide a better customer experience than the big chains or online retailers,” she said.
“Many of our retailers feature in-store demos of our iFetch products to let owners try them out before purchase and also to add some extra excitement for their canine customers,” Hamill explained.
While the overall purchase investment of stocking higher-priced pet tech toys is a barrier to entry for many owners/independent retailers, figuring out a way to make that leap can prove to be beneficial in the long run.
“Let’s face it: store space is limited, and cash is king. However, the pet tech category represents a huge opportunity for retailers to increase their revenue and drive excitement in-store,” Hamill said. “As more consumers seek out technology-savvy products that either make their lives easier or make their pet ownership experience more exciting, they will start demanding that the retail product mix changes… or they will buy these products online. If customers can see, touch and experience these types of products in-store before purchase, they’re so much more likely to have a positive experience both with the store and with the brand.”
Another concern Anderton said he heard bigger retailers have is the fragmentation of the pet tech market.
“There’s a lot of players; they’re trying to get into the market—a lot of Kickstarter-like companies out there. And what [retailers] are looking for is a line of products that all work together because [they] don’t want to have 20 vendors sitting on the shelves. [They] want to have one or two vendors that represent basically everything that’s available in the marketplace.”
After receiving this feedback, Anderton decided to create an entire family of connected products, which has been successful for him. Anderton sees an endless amount of potential for pet tech, and the number and type of solutions it can provide is what will give it longevity.
“I see it happening much faster than the market recognizes. Our company has grown enormously fast,” he said. “We think this market is the fastest growing segment of the pet products market. And it’s got a lot of legs, [for example], in advanced medical diagnosing care, working as a post-operative solution to doctors who want to monitor the health and well-being of a dog after they’ve had the surgery. There’s so many directions that technology can improve.”
With the increase of owner interest in pet tech products and the potential for growth the space has, Actijoy thinks it’s a space to which the pet industry should pay close attention. According to Zoubkova, while many pet tech products are currently sold online, she expects there to be a bigger transition to brick and mortar.
“As the trend of pet tech has been growing fast, we generally believe that distributors, retailers and trade shows should give more space to the pet tech section to extend its exposure, educate [pet] lovers and follow the current trends,” she said.