Greetings! Here is the next edition of the APPA's Professional Women's Network quarterly e-newsletter.
The APPA Professional Women's Network's (PWN) mission is to attract and engage women in all aspects of the pet industry. Our purpose is to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas, and to promote social and career development activities that can help everyone achieve greater success.
This newsletter is just one of the many ways PWN keeps everyone connected to information, education, networking opportunities, roundtable discussions and collaborations on subjects that can help women in our industry to strengthen their skills and grow their careers.
Each issue of this e-newsletter features a prominent, successful women in the Pet industry. Our featured guests share experiences, ideas, successes and reflections on the role of women in this business. You will also enjoy a variety of great industry-specific articles on trends, marketing, finance, networking and more!
It's a great way to stay informed about upcoming happenings. For your convenience, we'll always include links to relevant websites and social media sites to help you stay cyber-connected too.
Thanks for taking time to check out our e-newsletter. We hope you enjoy this issue, and each and every one that follows it!
Manufacturer Spotlight: Stephanie Volo:
An Interview with Stephanie Volo from Planet Dog
Stephanie is the Top Dog and co-owner of Planet Dog, the socially responsible and award-winning dog products company. As their fearless leader and company ambassador, Stephanie oversees Planet Dog Wholesale and the Planet Dog Company Store and leads her team through strategic planning, budgeting, daily operations and management, marketing and sales, product design and development, and overall team evolution. In addition, she is responsible for establishing and growing Planet Dogís Premium partnerships.
Under her leadership, Stephanie has grown the company from three pack members and five canine product testers to 34 pack members and almost 40 product testers. In 1999, Planet Dog offered 76 product varieties that were sold in 82 stores and to 244 retail customers nationally. Today, they offer 350+ products in over 8,000 stores worldwide and have more than 30,000 retail customers. She has led her team to such high honors as the Maine Governorís Award for Business Excellence, Outside Magazineís Best Places to Work Award, and countless product design and innovation awards throughout the pet industry.
She currently lives in Kennebunk, Maine with her husband Jeff, her son Wade, her 14-year-old chocolate lab, Chauncy and the 2 Ĺ year old Great Pyrenees, Maximo they rescued in November 2010.
When, why, and how did you join Planet Dog?
In 1997, I got a call from a former colleague, Alex Fisher, asking me to help him develop a multi-channel, socially responsible, innovative company for dog products. He said there were already great companies like Patagonia and Ben & Jerryís doing it for people, but there wasnít anyone doing it for dogs. Our plan was to be mission and value driven, and I am proud to say that we have stayed the course throughout these 15 years.
Since Day One, we have been giving back to areas that inspire us through our Planet Dog Foundation. Originally, our spectrum of grantees was too broad, so in 2006 we honed our mission to focus on working-dog organizations. We fund exemplary non-profits that train and support working dogs (i.e. search and rescue dogs, police dogs, guide dogs and therapy dogs). Dogs are amazing! They are so intuitive, and offer so much to people who truly need them.
100% of the sales of our Glow-For-Good ball go to PDF and 2% of every other sale goes to PDF. Since 2006 we have contributed nearly $800,000 to working dog organizations throughout the country.
How do you differentiate your product from your competition?
This has definitely evolved over the years. We introduced Planet Dog to the pet industry at Backer in 1999. I think we were a little ahead of our time. The whole ďeco-friendlyĒ thing hadnít really caught on yet, so it was more difficult then we anticipated. But ďbeing greenĒ has now become all the rage, which makes me happy.
Our main differentiator is our philanthropic mission; we are very community oriented. Planet Dog Foundation is our heart and soul and why we joyfully come to work every day. Also, we are highly innovative Ė we donít launch products just for the sake of having a new product. We have a product development architecture and R&D plan which is a good two-year time frame. In addition, we manufacture about 75% of our products in the U.S. Our best selling products are made here.
We ask ourselves ďWill this product enhance the lifestyle that people share with their dogs?Ē We have a long list of criteria Ė it must be durable, it must be eco-friendly, it must be top quality. Can it be functional? Can it be beautiful? If the product isnít successful, then the Foundation cannot be successful. In other words, we create bandwagons, we donít jump on them.
We havenít swayed from our mission one bit since we started.
Our sales channel is also unique. We have a dedicated inside sales team. We donít use distributors in the U.S. We donít use outside sales reps. Our sales team will go to your store and train you and your employees on how to sell Planet Dog products at no charge. We are committed to educating the retailers that are dedicated to carrying our products. We provide free signage and POP displays that convey the fact that Planet Dog represents a brand and a lifestyle.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned while leading your business?
That you canít demand respect. I thought my team would automatically respect me and read my mindÖbut that didnít happen.
I thought I was managing people differently then I actually was. I believed I was empowering them and being a team player and offering support when in fact I wasnít communicating well at all. I was micro managing and people lost respect for me. When you are a small company, it happens really quickly and drastically. People were afraid to tell me! I finally learned that we are only as good as the people around usĖ trust them, listen to them, be clear about their expectations. Walk the walk and talk the talk. Things have now totally turned around.
Also, be sure to listen to your instinct. Itís a good, good thing. In the past I have often not listened to my instinct and it ended up hurting us. I have since learned to trust my instincts.
What advice would you give a new entrepreneur in the pet industry?
I firmly believe there is room for everybody, especially in the pet industry. I really feel that way. You have to be innovative! Donít just do what everyone else is doing. Thing about your thoughts and ideas; gather focus group of friends to help evaluate and validate your ideas.
Whatís next for Planet Dog?
One of our biggest goals has been to create Planet Dog campus, which Iím happy to say we have just completed. Everyone is now under one big roof. Itís much more efficient!
Our focus this year and into 2013 is to continue to spread the word to consumers about our brand. We are creating some major marketing and brand awareness programs to reach them so they will go into stores and ask for Planet Dog. We are taking advantage of our multiple sales channels to spread the word about Planet Dog. We grew in 2011 and are planning to grow about 10% in 2012Öthat way we can give more back to the Foundation.
Congratulations on being named Small Business of the Year in Portland, Maine. That is such an honor! What are some of your accomplishments, philosophies and business practices that led you to receive this honor?
I have this amazing team of people that are passionate about what we do. To us, itís all about the foundation. PDF is what is inspiring us to continue to grow. But we want to grow in a controlled way. We donít plan to become a $100 million company overnight, but weíd like to get there eventually. We have very strict policies about Suggested Retail Price. For example, I had to give up a $100,000/year customer because they refused to sell the product at SRP. At the end of the day, itís all about integrity, authenticity, and giving back.
We have been deeply engaged in our community since the beginning, collaborating on a number of vital projects. We were active members of a task-force that fought to bring an animal welfare license plate to Maine, we were major donors and planners for the Bayside Trail project which reclaimed an industrial waste site and converted it to a recreational multi-use trail, and we have been generous supporters of numerous additional local causes. Our team engages in an Earth Day clean-up every year, as well as a volunteer day with Habitat for Humanity. And, of course, we are an employer of choice here in Maine that contributes to the Stateís economic success and our national reputation. I guess all of this together - our local philanthropic efforts, coupled with the work of our Foundation, our employees and the educational efforts of our Company Store must have impressed the Portland Development Council. We are deeply honored to have received the award and hope to continue to make Portland proud of being the home of Planet Dog!
Retailer Spotlight: Tracy Bosler:
An Interview with Tracy Bosler from The Soggy Dog
How did you get started in the pet industry and what motivated you to open your pet business?
My business partner Vera and I enjoy being pet owners and have been involved with various animals since our childhoods. We treat our pets like family, sometimes better than family.
I've always wanted to start a business and originally came up with the concept for The Soggy Dog with a friend of mine soon after relocating to Henderson, Nevada. We saw a niche opportunity to create something unique in our community that did not exist at the time, a do-it-yourself dog wash center. Vera was one of our original customers and when my friend left to pursue other interests soon after opening the store, Vera came on board joining me as co-owner.
I was motivated by the idea of establishing a viable business that I enjoy, and being able to be surrounded by pets all day. Vera shared my ideas and was also committed to making our business become part of the fabric of the community, an extension of the dog park.
What do you do to make yourself and your business stand out from the rest?
Our primary focus is making our business, The Soggy Dog, stand out and not ourselves. But the more success we've had in our business, the more recognition Vera and I received. Today, we've established credibility as a trusted and respected business in the community in the eyes of our customers, local pet rescue groups, shelters, social clubs, and local leaders.
Because our customers enjoy their experiences in our facilities and we have become the "go to" place in our city, our success is validated. We are regularly commended by our customers, through social media, community publications and more recently through national and business media such as Pet Business Magazine. We were recognized as a finalist for the 2012 Retailer Excellence Awards in the Customer Service category.
Our formula is simple: Provide consistent service, maintain a clean facility (dogs shake and fur flies) and make personal connections with each and every customer. Customers have so many choices today and while price is important, it is their experiences that bring them back.
Our work comes directly from the heart. If your heart is in it, the business will follow.
Do you think there are challenges specific to women business owners?
Aside from finding the time to do everything we would like to personally or professionally, I do not believe there are as many challenges today for women business owners as there once were.
There are great women leading businesses large and small in our community and across the country. And there are excellent resources available to support and assist us in our development. Locally, we have the Nevada Microenterprise Initiative here in Southern Nevada to provide business counseling and mentoring, which we utilized when Vera joined me as a co-owner. We've also gotten help from other local women business owners who guided us in areas such as accounting and legal services.
Today, there are many networking opportunities and resources available to connect with others should we need more assistance or guidance.
Where do you see yourself and your business in the future?
We are an independent business with one store and plan on remaining that way for the immediate future. We've thought about opening a second store in the area, and have been asked by many customers to open locations closer to their homes, but for right now we are focusing our energies into our current location. We've worked hard to maximize the potential of our current space and don't want to sacrifice the personal touch, feel and experiences that this location provide by distracting ourselves with opening more locations right now.
What advice do you have for newcomers to the industry?
I recommend that they research the opportunities available in their communities to connect with resources that can assist and support their business. This might include local distributors, business counseling and support groups, and your local rescue groups. We have found that local, breed-specific rescue groups are excellent resources for advice and feedback, as they are extremely knowledgeable about products, nutrition and pet care. They also desperately need our support. There are few grants available to these very focused groups, and fundraising is an ongoing concern.
Sale & Marketing:
Whether you are looking for information on dealing with an angry customer or training a new sales rep, visit the Selling Power website for easy to read articles to help you with your challenges in sales.
For Your Business:
Chain Reaction by Mark Kalaygian from Pet Business
Pet specialty chains have fared quite well over the past five years despite and in some cases, because of recent economic troubles.
Pets in the Classroom
Since launching in 2010, The Pet Care Trust has awarded over 8,000 grants to teachers across the US, and a few in Canada. The program continues to expand through the support of pet product manufacturers, retailers and other donors. To learn more about the program, or to get involved, visit the website at www.petsintheclassroom.org, or contact the Pet Care Trustís Executive Director, Steve King at firstname.lastname@example.org.