The slogan “Run fast, bark loud” also can be considered a philosophy that’s inspired by the sheer joy and abandon by which dogs play. Pet Age recently spoke with John Plausse, founder of Spoiled Rotten Dogs, to find out how a mission to infuse a sense of playfulness in the human products that he designs has turned into a flourishing pet business.
Can you describe the origin of Spoiled Rotten Dogz?
People plan, God laughs. I started Spoiled Rotten Dogz (SRD) in 2005 as an online pet boutique selling items from other manufacturers and a line of my own custom doggie tees. One day, I was shopping at The Black Dog [a dog-themed gift store] on Cape Cod, and it was packed. I was a bit confused because they didn’t sell many items for dogs. However, standing in the middle of the store and watching the crowd, I had an epiphany – being a dog owner is a lifestyle and dog owners like to represent that lifestyle. I walked out of the store and changed my entire business from selling random products to creating a lifestyle brand.
In the beginning, I designed tee shirts and sold them at pet expos and street fairs. After each event, I would review customer feedback and adjust the product line. One day, a customer asked why I wasn’t wearing one of my own designs. I was gobsmacked. She was right. After that, I designed shirts that I wanted to wear; vintage shirts with a mix of humor and sentimentality. At the time, there was nothing in the market that reflected that vibe. So, that became my brand.
At that time, the conventional knowledge on how to launch a brand was to create a business plan and then execute that plan. As a creative person, I felt that approach too rigid and limiting. I self-financed SRD which allowed me the freedom to toss out the conventional approach and follow my own process which was to experiment and iterate. This agile model of “design, execute, evaluate, redesign” allowed me to discover and build my brand. The evolution of SRD was the result of a collaboration between me and the consumer – a conversation that is still ongoing. It is a powerful connection.
How did you grow Spoiled Rotten Dogz?
It’s all about relationships. In the beginning, I approached individual store owners so that I could understand their customer and how our value story could benefit them. I’ve tried utilizing sales reps. Some relationships worked, others did not. The experiences that did not work were largely the result of a difference in focus regarding the sales experience.
Spoiled Rotten Dogz is not about the hard sell, but rather on establishing long term relationships. Now, I only work with people who understand, share and support that strategy. SRD is a boutique company looking to provide unique products primarily to brick-and-mortar stores. Market domination is not the goal. I am very content being an upscale niche brand.
Why do you feel it’s important that Spoiled Rotten Dogz supports independent brick-and-mortar retailers?
Brick-and-mortar retailers are the backbone of most communities. Besides the economic benefits, local businesses support local charities, provide a place for consumers to shop, interact and become educated. Many stores host adoption events and are a local resource for rescue work. Store owners have a significant investment in their business and, as a small businessperson, I understand and respect that. I want to help them protect that investment.
What has surprised you the most about customer reactions to Spoiled Rotten Dogz products?
The fanatical loyalty of our customers. These days, we only sell wholesale. However, we still do two retail events each year to test new designs and gather consumer feedback.
We have lots of repeat customers who are excited to see what is new. It also gives customers the opportunity to share their stories with us. One of my favorites is about a man who bought our shirts for many years and had quite the collection. Last year, he passed. After his passing, his wife gathered all his shirts and created a quilt, which brought her great comfort. Her story moved me. It’s a reminder that what we create has a life beyond us and that it is a privilege to serve our customers.