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8:52 AM   April 18, 2014
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Behind the Scenes: Animals Matter Sells Comfort and Company’s Owner Finds Joy

By Dennis Arp

Nancy Kline absorbed some incredulous looks when she announced she was giving up her self-described cushy job in the pharmaceutical industry.

People just don’t abandon a life spent hobnobbing with Beverly Hills physicians. Do they?

Kline is pushing the envelope of awareness even further with a new campaign that is launching in August. The ad has an in-your-face element, and Kline has gotten some negative feedback about the imagery. However, she expects the ad to open eyes and deliver the message that even dogs that aren’t cute and cuddly deserve the comforts of a happy home.

“I wasn’t really doing anything except making money,” Kline recalled. “I wanted to be part of something that was about giving back.”

The first thing she gave back was her company ride.

“When the carrier showed up and picked up the car, I really struggled,” she said.

Nevertheless, Kline said she has never regretted choosing the path that led her to found Animals Matter, the Torrance, Calif.-based manufacturer of luxury pet accessories that is also a fervent supporter of pet rescue and adoption.

With the growth rate of Animals Matter at 40 to 45 percent a year, plus a new line of toys ready to complement the company’s popular beds and furniture, not to mention a new advertising campaign poised to cause a stir in the industry, who has time for doubts?
“I’m driven by feelings, and if I feel I have to do things, I do them,” Kline said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love making money. I just want to feel good about what I’m doing.”

It was Kline’s altruistic spirit and her love for animals that steered her toward entrepreneurship. As a volunteer at the Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, Calif., about seven years ago, she met the organization’s founder, Lori Weise, who also owns Modernica furniture in Los Angeles.

“She adopted one of my dogs, Katie, and we hit it off,” Weise recalled. “She talked about how she wasn’t really happy in her job and she wanted to do something with animals and manufacturing.”

The two talked about fabrics and design, about looking for vendors and negotiating pricing. Kline mentioned that all the dog beds she had seen were in pinks, purples and plaids. She started tinkering with her own designs and developed a prototype in microsuede. She added other fabrics and styles designed to fit with contemporary upscale living room and bedroom furnishings.

“I became obsessed with starting a business,” Kline said.

Encouraged by her husband, Scott Avera, she quit her job and trundled her new venture’s wares to the H.H. Backer show in December 2003. There was a lot Kline still didn’t know--about manufacturing, selling and everything in between.

“She had lots of setbacks, as any new business does, but she is very creative and she and her husband are very smart business people who learn fast,” Weise said. “She has helped me with my business, too--developing ways to market and cultivate new business.”

Animals Matter now operates out of its own 15,000-sq-ft manufacturing plant and warehouse and now includes the brand L.A. Dog Co., which features products such as ramps, stairs and safety harnesses.

Lynn Crosby, owner of the pet boutique Maxwell Dog in Studio City, Calif., said she has been impressed with the quality of Animals Matter products and its customer service since Kline first walked into her store soon after the company’s launch.

“She took the concept (of pet beds) and made it better,” Crosby said. “From the fabrics to the way the products are made on the inside, she definitely took things up a notch.

“I started this store because I wanted to offer something different from the typical bones and paw prints. Nancy offers products that fit with customers’ contemporary décor,” she added.

Animals Matter has also sought to distinguish itself with its promotional imagery. From the start, Kline has used her own American pit bull terriers, which she rescued from abuse or neglect, as models for her ads and for her company’s website.

“No one was using pit bulls in advertising, and everyone cautioned us against doing so,” Kline said. “But these are our dogs--they are who we are.

“Our feeling was we had to be authentic or this just wouldn’t work. We did get some strong negative reactions, but we also heard from others who said all dogs deserve love and good treatment, regardless of breed,” she added.

Now Kline is pushing the envelope of awareness even further with a new campaign that is launching in August. Lounging on her company’s plush Katie Puff bed is Clancy, a pit bull rescue who was victimized as a fighting dog. His ears are missing and his face scarred.

The headline states, “Comfort Has No Boundaries,” and the ad includes the Animals Matter web address to learn more about Clancy and how to get involved in rescue and adoption efforts as well as proper pet care and treatment.

Kline acknowledges that the ad has an in-your-face element, and she has gotten some negative feedback about the imagery. However, she has also received a host of positive responses.

“I think it’s going to be very impactful,” Crosby said.

Weise expects the ad to open eyes and deliver the message that even dogs that aren’t cute and cuddly deserve the comforts of a happy home.

Weise is eager to open minds to the importance of adoption as she also conveys a commitment to social responsibility, which she seeks to make real through the actions of her company. Animals Matter provides free health insurance to employees and even grants work-schedule flexibility to those who sew products.

“From the start I’ve known I wanted to have a great working environment and to give back to the industry we sell in,” Kline said.

Of course, Kline also hopes her new campaign highlights the quality of her products.

“That Katie Puff is such a calming bed because of its great design,” Weise said. “I sleep with seven pit bulls in my bedroom, and given a choice, they would all go to that bed."

The next step for Animals Matter is into the not-so-calming toy market, which Kline acknowledges is full of worthy competition. However, she’s convinced her plush toys, sold under the L.A. Dog Co. brand, will stand out for their fun designs and durability.

Kline knows firsthand the toys are tough, because they’ve endured play at the paws of her own home-based testers.

For Daisy, Roc and Katie it’s quite an existence. Test some toys during the day, then retiring to comfy beds at night.

If it sounds like the dogs are now the ones with the cushy jobs, Kline is fine with that.

These days, she has new ways to find her rewards. <HOME>

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Behind the Scenes: Animals Matter Sells Comfort and Company’s Owner Finds Joy

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