The Importance of Play
P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) is a bold, fast-growing brand committed to creating products that are better for pets, people and the planet—and to ensuring independent retailers’ success.
Will and Deb Chen couldn’t find an ideal pet bed for the couple’s pug, Momo. Generic beds didn’t match their décor and lacked in quality; beds with better quality and design were overpriced. As the story behind many startups goes, the pair took matters into their own hands, and P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You) in San Francisco was born out of necessity.
“We decided to created our own idea of what a perfect pet bed should be,” Will said. “At that time, it was just fun bouncing ideas off each other and our pet-loving friends; little did we know that it would lead us to creating a company a year later.”
In four years’ time, the company now touts additional product categories, sales that grow healthily year on year, and products that sell in hundreds of retailers domestically and in more than 20 countries, Will said, adding that P.L.A.Y.’s products have changed some customers’ perceptions of what a pet bed can and should be.
“Our products have been very well received by boutiques and smaller chains that are looking for quality, stylish products that can help them distinguish their stores from the big-box retailers,” he said. “P.L.A.Y. stands for a lifestyle, an all-encompassing celebration of fun, laughter, codependence and joy that we share with our pets. This unique relationship deserves to be celebrated and is the source of inspiration behind everything we do.”
Pet Product News: How do you find your designers? Is each product a collaboration, or are designers given artistic license?
Will Chen: We love and support local artist communities. From product and packaging design to photography, we are dedicated to engaging local creative talents. We have more than half a dozen designers in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and London who we work with regularly. We got to know most of them through friends’ referrals. We also are open to engaging new designers who have expressed interest in working with us. Our designers are given a lot of latitude during the concept initiation phase to explore different ideas, but at the later stage, the design project typically becomes a collaborative process among designer, product engineer and the business development/user-experience team.
PPN: How have P.L.A.Y.’s dog beds changed the sector?
WC: There are many pet beds in the market. Some compete on price and others strive to be known for certain particular features, but rarely does one see a pet bed line that combines excellence in design, material selection, craftsmanship, practicality, environmental sensitivity and social responsibility. We believe it is possible to achieve all of the above in a product, and that became our passion and obsession—to make the best pet products with pets, people and the planet in mind.
Our pet beds are designed and engineered to be top-quality, durable, furniture-grade products. Since our inception we have seen some imitators, but, in those cases, they were only able to replicate the outward appearance of our products. A knockoff might look similar, but there are unmistakable differences in the details.
Also, many of our customers appreciate the intangibles our products offer, specifically the caliber of our giveback programs. We work tirelessly to not only create the best products, but also make sure that as we grow, we, and by extension, our customers, do our part in giving back and helping animals in need. It’s part of our core values, and we believe it distinguishes us as a brand in a crowded marketplace.
PPN: Which designs are the company’s best-sellers?
WC: Best-sellers differ by region and sometimes even by season. Our artist collection beds, like Skulls & Roses and Chandelier beds, are great for cosmopolitan cities, whereas designs like Bamboo Lounge, La Folie or Chevron outdoor beds do great in more tropical places like Florida. For vintage home décor, designs like Savannah or Houndstooth are elegant and classy; styles like Camouflage and Denim are timeless classics that can fit in most homes.
PPN: How did the wine barrel bed concept come about?
WC: This niche product—truly a unique artisanal piece that impresses—has drawn a lot of attention. We had the opportunity to partner with a local craftsman who recycles and refurbishes used wine barrels from nearby Napa Valley, Calif. Each is a beautiful masterpiece handmade in San Mateo, Calif., and comes with a customized P.L.A.Y. cushion. The wine barrel bed frame is heavy and costly to ship, so we have limited the item to web sales and for a handful of stores that really wanted them.
PPN: Please talk about P.L.A.Y.’s cat and outdoor collections and accessories.
WC: Our cat collection was launched only last year, and we are working on expanding it; for now, it consists of bedding, scratchers and tunnels. Part of the design inspiration for the Snuggle Bed came from the cat parents among our team members, and it came as a bit of a surprise to us that many cat parents love to get our lounge beds for their felines too.
For scratchers, we leveraged our strengths in other categories and created something new. We thought it would be perfect for home décor if scratchers can have a more sophisticated finish, so we took our Urban Denim and Savannah fabrics and applied them to our scratchers. We made sure that the shape is artistic and modern, and quality is top notch. For instance, we use U.S. Food and Drug Adnimistration-certified cardboard that is higher quality and sheds less than generic cat scratchers.
The result is two award-winning designs, the Leeloo and the Arty; Oprah magazine’s editorial team picked our Arty scratcher for a feature last October.
The Purr and Pounce tunnels are smaller, cozier versions of our dog agility tunnels combined with our Snuggle Bed fabrics and crinkle paper, a peephole and a suspended mouse toy with a hidden pouch for catnip.
PPN: How is the company’s toy segment doing?
WC: Similar to the industry in general, we have seen healthy growth with our toy segment. The concept of our toys came from the same set of designers, but with toys, we also have to work through rounds of prototyping and testing with sample makers because there are more variations of bells and whistles. People unfamiliar with our products might think our toys are only adorable, but there is more than meets the eye. Many customers have come back and told us how surprised they are with the quality and durability of our plush toys.
Our Wobble Ball, a treat-dispensing enrichment toy, features attractive floor and counter point-of-purchase displays that have captured many people’s interest and done well at retailers too.
PPN: What kind of feedback and requests do retailers share with you regarding the company’s products?
WC: Seller feedback is a key component to our evolution. From suggestions on function and trendspotting to pricing and merchandising display, we love to hear from our retailers. We are fortunate to have many great retailers who regularly share with us what works for them or what they would like to see.
Some customers request certain customizations.
PPN: Please elaborate on the various environmentally friendly and eco-conscious programs P.L.A.Y. has in place in its manufacturing facility and processes.
WC: Besides using eco-friendly materials and packaging whenever possible, we also have gone to great lengths to make our supply chain greener. Our factory is a family-owned business. By visiting several times a year and working closely with them, and being their primary customer, we can influence and exact change in various aspects of the manufacturing process. Many eco-conscious programs are in place. For instance, we helped our manufacturer implement a waste-sorting and recycling program as well as a wastewater recycling program, and replace all the lighting on the shop floor with energy-saving LED lights.
P.L.A.Y. recently has been awarded the Green America Gold, the highest level of certification by Green America, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes ethical consumerism. We also have obtained Oeko-Tex 100 certification for some of our products with a stringent factory audit as part of the process.
PPN: P.L.A.Y. just expanded to the European Union. What are your plans and goals there?
WC: As of December 2015, in addition to our warehouse locations in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Europe and Hong Kong, we now have local EU fulfillment capability. Our warehouse is located in Einhoven, Netherlands. Previously, our products already had been selling in the EU through distributors in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland and Spain, but now we can better support our current and future EU distributors. It also empowers us to service boutiques and small chains in the region that our distributors do not cover.
It’s still early days, but as evidenced by our email and call inquiries, there is demand for our brand in the EU, and we are positive about the strategic value of this long-term investment.
PPN: What did the company launch at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla.?
WC: Our new Scout & About line, a collection of outdoor products that celebrates the active-living lifestyle with dogs, includes toss and float toys, functional training pouches, travel bowls, portable outdoor mats and even outdoor tents designed for dogs. We also introduced Wobble Ball 2.0, an enhanced version of our popular, treat-dispensing interactive toy, as well as a line of blankets for the home called Luxe Throw.
PPN: How does P.L.A.Y. give back?
WC: Giving back is a core value of and a source of pride within our company. In 2012, we developed our Warm Bellies Initiative in partnership with the Petfinder Foundation, where we donate a mat to a shelter animal in need around the country for every bed sold directly online. Since the inception of the program, our customers have helped us donate over 1,000 Chill Pads and helped more than 95 shelters across the U.S.
We also wanted to help protect animal populations and habitats all over the world. Currently, 2 percent of the purchase price from P.L.A.Y.’s Under the Sea Toy Collection and Bugging Out Toy Collection benefits the International Fund for Animal Welfare to aid in its mission to reduce the commercial exploitation of animals, protect wildlife habitats and assist animals in distress.
In 2015, we welcomed our newest partnership with Zero—The End of Prostate Cancer. During the month of November, we give 20 percent of the purchase price from our Mustache Beds and 10 percent of the proceeds throughout the rest of the year to Zero, which works to advance research, encourage action and provide education and support.
Furthermore, today’s youth are the key to continuing our mission to improve animal welfare. With this in mind, we created our Scholars Helping Collars Scholarship. Now in its fourth year, we choose from hundreds of essays annually to award one high school student who can share their story of the impact they made in the life of a rescue animal or animal welfare cause. We contribute a $1,000 scholarship to use toward their college education.
While we maintain our current giving back programs, we provide products and gift certificates to nonprofit and charitable groups year-round.
PPN: What plans does the company look forward to in the future?
WC: We have many exciting plans in the pipeline. We’re committed to making products that are better for pets, people and the planet and expanding our presence across the globe. We want to grow our portfolio of unique, quality products with a purpose that are innovative and solve a need. As we grow, we will continue to help animals in need through our giveback programs. n
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pet Product News.