PetCoach Comprehensive In-Store Dog Support System

My husband and I are fans of Shark Tank, and we happened to watch a vintage episode from November 2016 where Pupbox was pitched,  The company was offering a subscription box to puppy owners which followed the puppies with age-appropriate offerings through adulthood, when they switched to an adult dog version of the box.  The segment ends happily as Shark Robert Herjavec makes an offer that the owners accept.

As the owners mentioned the struggles that inspired the business, which involved figuring out what they should be buying for their own pet, it struck me that had they only purchased their dog from a responsible, AKC Breeder of Merit type of breeder, they would not have had so much trouble, as a dedicated dog breeder will follow and support their puppy buyers throughout the puppies’ lifetime and often beyond.

But Pupbox, and in turn, Petco realized that not every dog or puppy buyer is so lucky. People acquire dogs many ways including, from friends and family who no longer want the dog, from rescues and shelters that don’t have the staff to engage in long-term follow-up, as strays that wander into their lives, and from breeders whose motivation to engage with puppy buyers ends at the point of sale. Petco acquired Pupbox in November 2017,  about 5 months after they acquired Petcoach, an online consulting service which also provides the same type of support that comes with a responsibly bred puppy.

In July 2018, Petco announced a retail experiment, turning PetCoach into a retail store in San Marcos, California.  The concept provides a select group of high-quality products and services inside a PetCoach store. Products include high quality, curated food selection, including custom formulations from Petco’s partner Just Food For Dogs and also offers comprehensive online record keeping for dog services available in-store.

In today’s world where specialty retail is under attack from both online vendors and the expanding pet product set in mass retailers, this provides a service level that will be very hard to match.  The question is whether this concept will generate sufficient loyalty and in turn profit, to survive.

 

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Marketing In the Gray Zone with Canine Cannabanoids

cannabis plant leavesProducts including hemp for dogs as well as humans are being introduced and promoted at a breakneck pace.   The editor of Petfood Industry weighed in on this topic in the July 2018 issue.  One of the most interesting things about this trend from a marketing standpoint is the legal standing not only of these products but also of the terms used to describe them. The products go by a variety of names, including CBD (cannabidiol) and PCR (Phyto-Cannabinoid Rich) or just simply hemp oil.  While marketing emphasizes that these products do not contain the psycho-active THC chemical, images of cannabis leaves are freely used in promoting the products, acknowledging the heritage the product shares with THC-rich marijuana.

The legality of the product itself is a subject of debate, with the product providers claiming any product free of THC is legal, while the U.S. government says they most decidedly are not.  Veterinary Practice News discussed some of the pros and cons of providing hemp oil options to patients in a July 2018 article. That said, what is most commonly referred to as CBD oils are being sold for both human and animal use with many retailers deciding to take the risk, and the first product containing CBD oil was recently approved as a human anti-seizure drug by the FDA.

In addition to the challenges of promoting a product which fits into a niche category that’s in a legal gray area, there are likely issues coming with the naming of these products as the manufacturer of the first FDA approved drug has applied to trademark the term “CBD”  and is expected to actively protect that trademark. Bark Avenue blogged about the challenges of marketing their CBD-labelled dog treats. 

I will watch with great interest as the questions of legality, nomenclature, and efficacy are explored, as more manufacturers and retailers decide to jump on the trend.  Stay tuned for updates to this post.

 

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Promoting Michigan Dog Events, Products, and Services

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide is a unique publication targeted to dog owners in Michigan.   Beth Mitchell launched this guide to dog-related events, products, and services in Michigan in 2015 and it has steadily grown as more organizations and advertisers contribute.

Beth was inspired by the Arizona Equine Resource Guide,  published by her sister who is active in equine events in that state.  Beth didn’t have a horse, but she does have a dog, and she had spent a lot of time and energy finding the best resources to train her dog and resolve some behavior issues.  She thought there had to be other people looking for a central repository of information on dog events and dog-related services, so the Michigan Canine Resource Guide was born.

Beth started gathering content for the publication in 2014, creating a dog-themed cover and using her sister’s equine guide as an example of the type of content (with horses) that would be featured.  She had booths at dog shows and dog expos around the state and asked people she met at those events how they publicized their events, then explained how the Guide could expand their audience.  She also asked for referrals to other types of events and host organizations she should include.  She solicited ads from other event vendors and asked for referrals to canine professionals, retailers, and manufacturers to find other potential advertisers.  Many lunch hours on her day job included ad sales calls!  Event-giving clubs and organizations are encouraged to contribute dog events for the calendar to help make the publication as complete as possible; there is no charge for the listing.  Advertisers not only appear in the publication, their events are promoted through weekly emails, they are listed in an online directory, and they contribute articles and blog posts that appear in the publication, on the website, or both. Beth retains a creative director who produces ads and other content as needed and has several part-time ad salespeople recruited from the dog community.

The publication is still promoted through booths at select dog events, and every year Beth attends new events to reach a wider audience.  The guides are distributed free at dog events, participating businesses, and pet specialty retailers.  The guide can be viewed interactively online or downloaded in pdf format from the Michigan Canine Resource Guide website.   In addition to the guide itself, the Michigan Canine Resource Guide has an online calendar of events on their website, a directory listing for all advertisers,  and blog posts on a variety of canine topics.  The Guide also has a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter (@MiDogGuide) accounts. It stays in contact with dog enthusiasts through an opt-in weekly newsletter and advertisers also have an option to send sponsored emails to subscribers.  As the publication has grown, Beth has upgraded her marketing tools and currently uses WordPress for the website and MailChimp to manage her email subscription list.

The Michigan Canine Resource Guide has grown steadily in event listings, advertisers, and circulation since its launch.  Beth’s goal is to provide all Michigan dog owners with the resource they need to find local businesses, services, and events that will enable them and their dogs to live a healthy, happy life together. The biggest challenge is getting ALL the dog clubs in the state to contribute information about their events in a timely manner, so the event calendar is as comprehensive as possible.  Beth hopes that as the Guide becomes more and more of a “must have” for Michigan dog lovers, every canine organization or business will feel it’s an important element in their promotional plan.

 

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Bingo Pet Salon Offers Upscale Pet Services

Bingo Pet Salon StorefrontSoutheast Michigan’s local MetroMode media outlet reported on Bingo Pet Salon an upscale pet business opening in Royal Oak, one of the hippest inner ring Detroit suburbs. Bingo Pet Salon offers a contemporary look and feel and in addition to dog and cat grooming services, offers pet sitting and locally made specialty pet products, including personalized collars.  Located near the heart of the walkable downtown Royal Oak shopping district, the salon offers pet owners the opportunity to drop off their pets for grooming, take their time shopping and dining and then pick up their pet on the way home.  The business offers a free photo share for pet-sitting clients who become fans of the salon on Facebook.

This savvy business is taking advantage of a great location to position the typical time required to groom a pet as a benefit to their busy owners. Their pet sitting services include free email or text updates to out-of-town owners, with an upgrade available to include photo messaging about the pet.  The merchandise offered aligns with the trend to “buy local” and offers unique items which are in keeping with the boutique nature of human clothing and accessories sold in the Royal Oak shopping area.  The hours of operation are  targeted   to working pet owners, open every day except Monday until at least 6 PM and until 7PM on Friday and Saturday.

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Christmas Gifts for Dogs

Dog carrying her wrapped Christmas giftIt looks like good news for pet retailers this holiday season. An annual AP-Petside poll conducted by GfK found that pet owners are planning on spending more on their pets’ Christmas gifts in 2011 than in 2010.  About half (51%) of pet owners plan to buy their pets a Christmas gift, a percentage which has held steady for the past 3 years.   The average expenditure planned is $46, up from $41 last year, with as you might expect,  more affluent households planning to spend more.

Toys are the most popular Christmas present for dogs, followed by food or treats.  Bedding, clothes and grooming supplies round out the top five gift categories for dogs, although one might wonder if those last two are gifts dogs would choose for themselves!

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Arf Van Furniture for Dogs by Art Van

Arf Van LogoHome Furnishings Business reports on the launch of Arf Van home furnishings for dogs from Art Van Furniture.   This is the first human furniture player I’ve seen enter this area; the products range from modestly priced dog beds which are similar to those sold in pet stores to hard goods which resemble traditional furniture.   Prices seem in line with Art Van’s moderately priced home furnishings for people.

With dogs considered an integral member of many families, there is definitely a market for dog furnishings  designed to blend in with the overall home decor.  Art Van’s entry into this market is reminds me of Bed Head’s introduction of the Pet Head line of hair and skin care products for pets. The furniture is currently on display in select Art Van stores, but must be ordered either in-store or online. Arf Van items can be shipped to any Art Van retail store at no charge.

 

 

 

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Canton Paws in the Park Event

paws in the Park LogoThis past Sunday I attended the Paws in the Park event at Canton Heritage Park in Canton Michigan.  This was the second of a two-day event celebrating pets  sponsored by Paws in the Park USA and the Humane Society of Huron Valley along with other local businesses.  There were exhibitions and spectator participation events scheduled throughout the day and vendors selling both items of general interest like windows and chiropractic services and pet supplies and services. I made a tour through the booths and met a number of entrepreneurial Michiganders, including friends Julie King of Gertie Gear pet beds and Arlene Dalida, who owns an Aussie Pet Mobile grooming franchise.  The new products I found particularly interesting were the Beer Bones made from home-brewed beer waste products and the ChooBee dog toy, designed by a former automotive engineer, whose knowledge of materials, design and manufacturing combined to make what looks like a pretty darn good dog toy. My girls are testing it now!

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Fetching Tags Custom Dog Tags

Fetching TagsI’ll admit being a sucker for marketing featuring photos of Bull Terriers! I found  Fetching Tags through their social media outreach on Twitter. The company sells premium custom dog tags, made of brushed aluminum. While lacking a bit in the amount of information they contain compared to other, more practical tags like those from Boomerang Pet Tags , Fetching tags offers tags of a whimsical, decorative nature that can be personalized with a pet’s name and owner’s phone number.  A premium product that allows dog owners to show their pet’s personality while also providing a practical reason to justify the purchase.

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Pet retailers FSI activity up in 2009

Free Standing Inserts
Free Standing Inserts

Marx Promotion Intelligence reported that overall Free Standing Insert (FSI) activity rose by 8% in 2009 to more than 272 billion coupons dropped. Pet retailers and pet products were important contributors to this increase.

  • PetSmart rose from 4th in 2008 to 2nd in 2009 in terms of overall FSI pages; Target continues as the #1 retailer on this measure.
  • Pet food and treats were in a three-way tie for sixth for the number of new products introduced via FSI in 2009 with 11, pet products rounded out the top ten with 8 new product introductions.
  • Pet food and treats edged out household cleaning products to claim the #2 spot in number of coupons dropped in 2009; this was a 4% increase over 2008 levels.

The decline in the number of newspapers provides a challenge to the most traditional means of FSI distribution. Retailers and manufacturers are evolving to use targeted direct marketing to keep delivering  coupons to their customers.

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RFID pet tracker Snif Labs discontinued

SNIF tag logoThe Snif Tag collar based RFID tracking system for pets was dropped as company founders re-purpose the technology into a product that tracks hand washing by health care workers.   The product, which originated in the MIT Media Lab’s Physical Language Workshop, launched in late 2005 and was profiled in high profile media including Wired and the New York Times.

Described as “social networking for dogs,”  SNIF was a product in search of  a market. The collar-leash combo provided information about a pet’s activity level while the owner was not present and its interaction with other dogs wearing the same tracking device.  I would  suspect that anyone willing to shell out almost $200 for the electronically enabled collar and lead set might not let their pet far out of their sight, rendering this second piece of data redundant. If the pet would get out of sight of the owner, there was no way for the owner to find a lost animal using the SNIF tag; a function that is available through some GPS enabled collars.

The SNIF website is still up with links to its news coverage, but the product ordering and retailer locator functions are no longer providing data on the discontinued product. The inventors mention they may re-introduce the product later with a more robust marketing budget, but I will be surprised if it fulfills the initial hopes for its success.

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