Professional Women Network Spotlight:
The PWN interviews Erika Basile of Planet Tails
How did you get started in the pet industry? What motivated you to open your pet business?
I wanted to be a veterinarian but didn't get accepted into vet school. That killed me. For years I worked in the medical equipment industry. Then I started volunteering at the Humane Society. Eventually, I had children and started writing for our local Naples children's magazine. I put two and two together and thought, "Hey, I can start my own magazine about dogs." Then came Naples Dog Magazine, back in 2006. It was a quick immersion into the industry. We raised over $1.2m for our community and I felt like I finally found my kind of people: animal people! Since then, I've been involved in many areas of the pet industry as a pet product scout for Good Morning America with Dr. Marty Becker, pet product buyer for eCommerce sites, writer for numerous websites, and, of course, volunteering.
I decided to open a pet store/ animal shelter because something was missing from my day-to-day life as a pet product expert. I was not connecting with animals in real life but was constantly talking about them and the products they loved. I missed seeing animals and speaking to pet owners so I decided to follow my dream. Just last month I received my 501(c)(3) status so I have added Planet Tails Charities to the space within Planet Tails LLC. I'm already expanding the shelter and finding it to be more rewarding (and more work) than I ever dreamed.
What do you do to make yourself and your business stand out?
I've had a few investors, and even the CEO of Target, mention how unique my store is. The design and clean layout looks very much like the Apple store. I started the second Cat Cafe in the US, which has drawn a lot of attention. Planet Tails also won the 2015 Global Pet Expo Retail Excellence Award for Store Design. Potential investors have told me it will be a hard road to franchise Planet Tails because they think the key is ... me. I say that humbly, because I really am a goof sometimes and I think my customers like that I am down-to-earth. I offer advice and also tell them if I don't think a product is right for their pet. I host a Planet Tails Yappy Hour and if no one shows up I joke on Facebook that I'm sitting alone with four bottles of wine and my dog in a pet store. I don't give customers a hard sell when they walk into the shop; instead, I put myself in their shoes as their pet's owner and friend. Some of our volunteers notice that our customers chat with me for a LONG time. I love this because I think of each person and their pet who visits Planet Tails as if they are visiting me in my home. They come all the way to see me, they bring their dog in their car, they take their dog out of the car, and come inside. They deserve attention. When a cat person comes to Planet Tails shop or the Planet Tails Cat Cafe, I am instantly their favorite pet friend, probably because I am a cool crazy cat lady. Owning a Cat Cafe' and working with our local kill-shelter shows everyone where my heart is. I'm not all talk. Saving and caring for animals is what makes me and my customers happy.
Do you think there are challenges specific to women business owners?
No. I don't.
Where do you see yourself and your business in the future?
I am taking it slowly. I think planning is great, but I also believe in listening and following where life leads me. When I started Planet Tails, I wanted to be open-minded about the different revenue streams, marketing targets, and layout. I was also very careful where I spent my money as far as displays and walls are concerned. Everything in the space is modular; the walls are all made of lanai (think Florida screened pool cages) and can move as needed. This allows me to adapt to the store and shelter's needs. One day I may franchise Planet Tails' retail shop, or the Cat Cafe, or write a book, or start a cake pop for dogs product. Good and bad ideas are always popping up. I keep a list of them all and read it once in a while. I either chuckle or put a star next to one of the ideas.
What advice do you have for newcomers to the industry?
Read business books and learn about cash flow and yearly projections. Make sure to diversify your store in case one revenue stream fails, you always have back-up. Keep your branding open to all types of pets, not just dogs or cats. I chose Planet Tails because pretty much all animals have a tail. I can add bird, aquatics, hamsters, most reptiles, and other product lines if needed. I think focusing on only dog is limiting. I see high growth areas in starter-pets including betta fish, birds, hamsters, and hermit crabs.
I also think making children part of a store's focus is key. We have Critter Craft days and host Girl Scout and Boy Scout troop meetings. On Sundays, when the shop is closed, we offer birthday party space. This helps educate children about pets and responsibility, as well as their parents . And, really.... my own dream was to have a birthday party at a pet store. So, yeah, I'm still following my dreams from when I was a kid. The last thing I would love to share is the importance of networking. I have been to the pet trade shows numerous times and I stay for the entire show. The vendors are full of information. I look at their product displays, and I set up meetings with the other pet shop owners who are like mine but from other parts of the country. This gives me a fresh perspective. Lastly, I love late night browsing on Pinterest and Facebook. This always sparks creativity for my shop, love of pets, and products. Planet Tails is my life.
Special thanks to the volunteers who helped with the PWN event at Global Pet Expo
We would like to thank the following people who helped assemble 200 hygiene kits on Tuesday, March 3rd as part of a pre-show volunteer opportunity sponsored by the APPA Professional Women’s Network and Global Pet Expo.
The kits were distributed to two local shelters: Families in Transition Osceola County & Community Hope Center.
PWN Event Recap:
Kathy Ireland Speaks at the Professional Women’s Network Breakfast
Attendees packed the room during the fourth annual APPA Professional Women’s Network (PWN) Breakfast on Friday, March 6 to hear lifestyle designer, model, actress and entrepreneur Kathy Ireland of kathy Ireland Worldwide®, (kiWW®) speak. After being widely well received as a guest speaker in 2014, Ireland joined Global Pet Expo again this year to share her insights and give valuable advice, like learning to listen to and accept criticism and to not be afraid to do the un-done before. Attendees were even invited to speak to her one-on-one beforehand. Not only is she an influential business leader across many industries, but also has a long running partnership with several pet wellness organizations and charities, making her an excellent selection on behalf of PWN members.
Kathy Ireland with the PWN Committee
Sales & Marketing:
10 Tips for a Successful Trade Show Follow-up Campaign
Research has long suggested that the majority of leads generated by trade shows never receive follow-up by company representatives. A study concluded that fewer than 70 percent of exhibitors have any formalized plan or process in place for how leads are followed up after the show.
For Your Business:
Women Pet Industry Pioneers: Carol Frank interviews Faith Radcliffe, SVP Ainsworth Pet Nutrition
Today I am very excited to introduce you to one of the more interesting and accomplished women I’ve had the pleasure to do business with. Faith Radcliffe is the Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at Ainsworth Pet Nutrition and is the brains and brawn behind the meteoric rise of their Rachel Ray Nutrish brand. Launched less then seven years ago, RRN is poised to hit $300 million in retail sales in 2015!
Faith has been with Ainsworth, previously known as DAD's Pet Care, since 2001.
1. How did you get your start in the pet industry?
In the early 90s, I was working for a marketing/communications company that merged with another firm named Hallmark Advertising in Pittsburgh, PA. Hallmark had been working with DAD’S Pet Care since the 1960s. In the mid-90s, I had the privilege of beginning to work with DAD’S and the Lang Family as their Account Manager. In 2001, I left my marketing/communications firm to work for the Lang Family full-time as their Director of Marketing and have been with the company ever since.
2. What is your favorite aspect of your job?
As many in our industry are, I am a passionate pet parent. I have an eight-year-old Maltese named Casper and a 17-year-old calico cat named Snoopy. I can relate to other pet parents and enjoy having a hand in both helping pets thrive and helping pet parents provide high quality nutrition that is both accessible and affordable. In the leadership of our Sales & Marketing Teams, I enjoy working with some of the most impressive retailers in the world—bringing new ideas and sound, unbiased insights that contribute to category growth. I also love being able to help determine which new products to develop and how they should be launched in-market. The process from creation to launch to consumer purchase and repurchase is dynamic and interesting and borne of complete consumer immersion.
3. Why do you think the Rachel Ray Nutrish brand grew so quickly?
Simply put, Nutrish solves key consumer needs that were largely unmet prior to the brand’s launch. By focusing on the FDM channel, Nutrish is able to provide super premium nutrition with simple, natural ingredients conveniently and affordably—where consumers shop for the rest of their families’ food. Further, Rachael Ray donates her personal proceeds to help animals in need through Rachael’s Rescue. Pet food consumers appreciate that as well.
4. What are the most positive aspects of being a female business leader?
I’ve never really thought about the positive aspects of being a female business leader vs. just being a business leader. The most positive aspect for me is that business leadership gives you a great opportunity to serve people—both those that work with you as well as those around you—and in our industry, pets, too! This can be very rewarding.
5. What are one or two of the most important lessons you have learned from your mistakes or failures?
Seek to understand. Ask a lot of questions. Some of my most memorable failures have been a result of not truly understanding the details.
Take calculated risks. The answer won’t always be in the numbers or the research. We’ve passed on an opportunity or two that ultimately became big winners for others.
6. What advice would you give a young female businesswoman for getting ahead in the pet industry?
7. What’s next for you and Ainsworth?
We are laser-focused on the expansion of our super premium, pet food portfolio with groundbreaking extensions for our Rachael Ray Nutrish Brand, as well as bringing new offerings to our private label retail partners. At Ainsworth, we are committed to bringing consumers “pet store quality nutrition, supermarket easy.” This is our company vision and it drives all of our current and future efforts.
# # #
Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is a Managing Directory with MHT Midspan, a boutique investment bank where she leads mergers and acquisition transactions for the pet vertical.
APPA Supports Green Chimneys
On Thursday, May 14, APPA will be a sponsor at the annual gala for Green Chimneys, an amazing organization that provides young people with a safe and supportive environment by nurturing connections with their families, the animals living on the property, the community and nature.
From the start, Green Chimneys' philosophy has been based on the belief that if children are given a chance to explore and discover their inherent strengths in a safe and structured nature-based environment, their self-esteem, compassion, coping and social skills will improve.
For more information, visit http://www.greenchimneys.org/.