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Organic Pet Boutique - Doing Business Online

Two Wall Street traders target the natural pet market.
By Kerri Danskin

Shana and Len Bentivegna—a married pair of professionals, both with experience on Wall Street—didn’t take the 2007 pet food scare lying down. Having watched a friend go through a pet’s illness, the couple’s eyes were opened to the potential for health hazards in pet products. And like any good Wall Street veterans, they saw opportunity.

Organic Pet Boutique
Shana and Len Bentivegna, owners of
“The food scare kind of made everyone wonder what’s in our pet food,” said Len. “We were just assuming it was safe. We started to dig deep. We stare at the labels when we buy our own food and we wanted to duplicate that for our own animals.”

The couple was surprised to find that buying organic pet food was not as easy as they anticipated it might be. At the same time, they started paying attention to the safety of pet toys as well.

“We started to learn about some of the dyes that are in some of the toys that are very toxic,” Len said.

These factors and a general passion for animals were enough to get Shana and Len thinking about starting their own business focusing on organic pet products. For two years they planned a launch and then in December of 2009, with Shana recently having left her job in real estate, they launched and she began devoting her attention to it full-time.

With so much competition online for pet owners’ business, the Bentivegnas knew they needed a specific angle, and the organic product category worked well for them.

Within a couple of months, they surpassed their sales expectations, taking orders faster than they could bring in inventory to stock the shelves of their Jersey City, N.J., and York, Pa., offices, Shana said.

The main focus of the business is food—they offer both natural and organic lines—but the couple has a plan for increasing sales in their other categories.

“The ultimate goal is to get  the food and then they come in there for the ancillary items,” Len said.

Making Online Work

Launching an online business is about more than designing a website and finding a host. Just about anyone can handle that kind of project, but the real challenge is in getting visitors to the site, as Shana and Len found. Shana did her own research on search engine optimization (SEO) and worked with her website’s hosting company to maximize the marketing on that end of the business.

“I have Google Analytics set up,” said Shana. “Google is the number one search engine we focus on.”

Google Analytics is a tool that allows online businesses to track the number and origin of their visitors to see how their web marketing is working. Shana’s efforts to master the content management system she uses, which allows her to enter keywords and search terms with her product listings and other content, have helped to increase the number of hits registered and purchases made on the site.

The results for the business look promising already.

“We’re looking at hopefully beating our expectation, which was about $150,000 to $200,000 for this year,” Shana said. “It’s far exceeding our expectations. We think we have a great product landing page.”

Part of that can be attributed to her efforts with online marketing, she said, but there are other factors as well.

“As far as customer service, I really focus on it because a negative review just continues and continues,” Shana said. “If someone isn’t happy with their purchase and the vendor won’t take it back, I’ll take it back and refund them.”

Service Counts

The Bentivegnas try to surprise customers with the quality of service, according to Len.

“I think a lot of people when they make a phone call to customer service at most companies, they’re almost expecting a fight,” he said. “It’s refreshing when you get someone who listens to you.”

Again showing that go-for-it Wall Street style, the Bentivegnas have big plans for the future. They are working on their own in-house brand of organic treats, which they will initially offer on the website but eventually branch out into a wholesale enterprise, Shana said.

They also are designing a kit for customers to make dog treats at home. Aiming high despite their newness to the industry, the Bentivegnas are seeking a celebrity private label agreement for their treat line.

While business seems to have an upward trajectory, Shana and Len have more big plans on the horizon.

“We also want to start a storefront,” Shana said. “Charleston’s always been a favorite city of ours. We would love to open a storefront down there.”

“We’ve thought about franchising, too,” Len said.

The couple would also like to give back to animals when the business really gets rolling.

“I really see so many dogs in need and I really want to start some kind of foundation for our business,” Shana said.

That desire comes from the pleasure the pair get from working with pet owners every day.

“I think animals bring people a lot of happiness and I think it’s great to be involved,” Shana said. “Just seeing the happiness I can bring with organic pet products is a positive thing.” <HOME>

This article first appeared in the June 2010 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser. Click here to become a subscriber.

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