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From the Outside In

How three startups broke in to the pet business from unrelated industries



Natural Pack Inc. (a distributor of decorative mosses), Jascor Housewares Inc. (a housewares—mostly kitchenware—wholesaler) and Daybreak (a nonprofit helping at-risk youth in Dayton, Ohio) wouldn’t seem to have much, if anything, in common with the $60 billion pet industry. But all three, in the past couple of years, have birthed pet-related enterprises of their own.

Each company footed the bill for a coming-out party for its respective pet business at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March, where Natural Pack launched Galápagos Reptile Gear, Jascor did a hard launch of Messy Mutts, and Lindy and Co., a pet treat bakery that provides jobs for Daybreak clients, hung out its shingle.

All three startups, each having gained entry into the pet category through an unlikely path, seem to be catching the eyes of distributors, retailers and pet owners alike.

Reptile Business Blossoms
Natural Pack Inc. started in 1989 with one product: SuperMoss Sheet Moss. Since then, the Santa Barbara, Calif., company has broadened its product offerings and features many kinds of moss, plus moss-covered baskets of all shapes and sizes—the company sells primarily to florists.

Representing Galápagos at Global were, from left, Apollo Owens, sales manager, Johnathan Dolev, director of brands, and Guy Markus, operations manager.

Along the way, Jungle Bob’s Reptile World, billed as New York’s largest reptile-only pet store, and others began using Natural Pack’s moss as substrate for some of its reptile and amphibian enclosures.

It was at that point that some at Natural Pack saw a secondary market for their products.

“Branching out into the pet industry was the passion of our warehouse manager [Guy Markus],” said Johnathan Dolev, director of brands for Natural Pack Inc. “He’s an animal lover and used to manage a large pet store in town. He noticed that pet stores loved our product.”

Of course, selling the product beyond a few reptile stores was tough because of “pictures of flowers on the package.”

Dolev and others contacted stores such as Jungle Bob’s about the possibility of starting a line for the reptile segment.With positive feedback, plus snazzy clear packaging with a prominent image of a reptile on the front of each package, the stage was set to roll out Galápagos Reptile Gear.

“Our new brand is very exciting,” said Dolev, citing packaging, products, customers and the lean Galápagos team as the reasons for the buzz.

Coming out of a successful existing business is an obvious advantage for Galápagos, as it would be for most startups.

“It would be impossible to compete in this industry without the support from SuperMoss,” Dolev said, mentioning volumes, split fixed costs, shared accounting and synergy as some of the benefits of Natural Pack/SuperMoss having Galápagos’ back.

With the brand’s successful debut at Global, Dolev would like to see a repeat performance at SuperZoo in Las Vegas July 21 to 23.

“We heard SuperZoo is an ‘order-writing show,’ so we are very enthusiastic about attending,” Dolev said.

Galápagos Reptile Gear’s SuperZoo booth will be situated directly in front of Critter Alley and the Aquatic Zone.

Galápagos has around 20 different products available through its website (galapagos
pet.com), broken out by bedding, mosses and accessories.

Office Dogs
No one could have predicted that a small but treasured perk—allowing up to four slobbering, food-slinging canine layabouts into the office daily—would lead Jascor Housewares, after almost 30 years, to give the pet industry a go by creating a line of dog products.

Messy Mutts upscale dog products came about when someone at the offices of Jascor Housewares Inc. thought the same upscale style they look for in their houseware lines could be used for dog products.

The Messy Mutts line includes stainless-steel feeding bowls with silicone bases, mats, towels, gloves and mitts for toweling off, silicone travel bowls, feeding trays, water bottles and waste bag holders, plus newly added items for cats (Messy Cats).

“There are lots of synergies with home and pet, from a form and function perspective as well as a lifestyle point of view,” said Chris Shipton, Jascor’s co-owner.

Shipton’s dogs, Davis and Daisy, are regulars at the corporate office in Toronto.

“Davis and Daisy are my inspiration on a daily basis—the stuff they get in to,” Shipton said.

Cartoon likenesses of Daisy and Davis even appear on some of the product packaging and on the Messy Mutts website.

Shipton’s philosophy is simple: The same stylish designs, eye-popping colors and high-quality materials (stainless steel, silicone and microfiber) that helped make a name for Jascor can set Messy Mutts apart from its competitors.

“Just ’cause we have dogs doesn’t mean we love dog bones and bright-colored paw prints all over our stuff,” Shipton said. “I realized as a dog owner that I was tired of generic dog bowls and accessories that didn’t fit with the style of [my] home.”

Messy Mutts products are available nationwide through the pet specialty channel and at messymutts.ca.

Aha Moment
Since 1975, Daybreak has been the only facility in Dayton, Ohio, where runaways and homeless kids can turn to for shelter and support.

More important, since 2012, Daybreak has offered young people valuable work experience making pet treats through its dog and cat treat bakery, Lindy and Co.

Linda Kramer, CEO of Daybreak started Lindy and Co., a dog biscuit bakery, as a way to give her clients a meaningful employment start and a way to keep their lives on track.

“Working at Lindy’s, our youth get to experience every part of the business, from baking and packaging to sales and customer service,” said Linda Kramer, CEO of Daybreak. “Then [when they are] armed with the training, professional experience and sense of self-worth that they gain from working at our bakery, we help them to move on and out of homelessness for good.”

When the Daybreak staff put their heads together a few years back to develop some kind of employment program, one of the organization’s private donors suggested they open a doggie day care in a vacant building Daybreak owned.

“We didn’t know a thing about running a doggie day care, but we did know a lot about cooking and baking,” Kramer said. “After all, we were providing three meals a day and snacks for hundreds of teenagers every year.

“So we met with our donor to see what he thought about our idea of opening a pet treat bakery and walked out of his office an hour later with his pledge to fund the entire startup as long as we named it after his golden retriever Lindy,” she added. 

Then, Kramer put a call in to the owners of Ashley’s Pastry Shop, a local Dayton bakery, and sought their help in the new pet treat venture.

As luck would have it, Ashley’s happened to be closed on Mondays, and the owners offered the full run of its bakery to Lindy for its first full year of operations.

“It was pretty wild, but all of the pieces fell into place, and we officially opened the doors to Lindy and Co. in October 2012,” Kramer said.

Lindy is only part of Daybreak’s larger employment program, which also helps kids with job applications, resume writing, interviewing skills and even teaching them how to dress and give a proper handshake, Kramer said.

The homeless youth living in the Daybreak shelter and enrolled in its housing programs make up the bulk of Lindy employees, but they must still apply and interview for open positions.

Kramer believes Lindy and Co.’s pet treats will continue to gain popularity because “pet parents tend to have big hearts.”

“Most communities have shelters for dogs and cats, but very few have even one shelter for homeless kids,” Kramer said.

Every bag of Lindy pet treats has a handwritten thank you from one of Lindy’s youth workers.

“The more treats we sell, the more kids we can employ, and the more kids we employ, the more hope we can instill and the more lives we can save,” said Kramer.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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