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Behind the Scenes: Quaker Pet Group

Posted: May 15, 2012, 1:45 p.m. EDT


Playing for Keeps
Quaker Pet Group aims to satisfy the needs of retailers, owners and pets by offering a wide spectrum of fun and solution-based products.
By Michael Ventre

After 25 years in the toy business, Neil Werde knows a little about the playful nature of all creatures, and the market for products that satisfy those impulses.

“I cut my teeth on the Sonny and Cher doll, and the Captain & Tennille,” said Werde, president and COO of Quaker Pet Group, LLC, who also has a six-year stint as an executive with Aspen Pet Products on his resume, among other posts, as well as a tenure as a music executive at Rhino Records.

Quaker Pet group president Neil Werde
President Neil Werde with a oversized example of new plush toys from Quaker Pet Group’s Go Dog brand at the 2012 Global Pet Expo.
In his days as a toy titan, Werde developed his innate knack for invention. He carried that sense into the pet arena with a position at Happy Dog Toys.  Just about two years ago he and partner David Blatte started Quaker Pet Products—acquiring New York Dog, makers of pet apparel and accessories, in July 2010 as one of their first moves—and now they’re on an aggressive track of acquisitions and product development.

“We’re kind of old hands at this stuff,” he said of innovation as well as product integration. “I come out of years in the toy industry dealing with 500 new product introductions a year. This situation is such a natural. We’re giving our sales people and reps new innovative products to sell.”

While at Rhino, Werde spent a good deal of time creating new and interesting ways to package music. For instance, Rhino is known for its compilations and collections. As an executive in charge of development and marketing, Werde helped spearhead the effort to get those artists’ collection CDs into Starbucks stores. He has taken that same spirit of business adventure into the pet industry.

Quaker Pet Group, based in Denver and New York City, has a passel of brands underneath its banner, including Silver Tails, New York Dog, Hear Doggy!, Vet Tech, Sherpa’s Pet Trading, Fox & Hounds, Cloak & Dawggie, GoDog, Luna Brite, Woof Wear Organics and Rain. And it is on the lookout for more, Werde said, as long as it fits within the company’s philosophy. Like the CDs at Starbucks, Werde wants to appeal to consumers with substantive offerings in appealing presentations.

“If the right treat company comes along maybe, but we’re not in the food business,” he said. “We love the health and wellness area, we love the grooming area. Obviously toys. We’ll consider anything and everything.”

However, he said, it has to pass the Quaker test.

“It’s got to be innovative,” he said. “It has to have some proprietary, patented, branded or trademark-able product. We have to have lines our retailers really want; need is a tough word, but there has to be a point of difference, or I’m not interested.”

Music Man
You can take the man out of the music business, but you can’t take the music out of the man. As a senior vice president at Rhino Records, Neil Werde was able to add to his management credentials while indulging his passion for music. Here is a list of his top 10 favorite albums.

¯Beg, Scream & Shout: The Big Ol' Box of 60's Soul (Rhino)
¯John Coltrane: Heavyweight Champion -The Complete Atlantic Sessions (Rhino)
¯Exile on Main Street - The Rolling Stones
¯Elvis: The Sun Sessions
¯What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
¯London Calling - The Clash
¯Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix
¯Blue - Joni Mitchell
¯White Album – The Beatles
¯Astral Weeks - Van Morrison

A prime example of this strategy is SuperCat, which is coming out of production at the time of this writing and should ship soon after. SuperCat plays on the feline’s insatiable desire for catnip, but it’s the delivery method that is unique, according to the company. It’s basically a scratch-and-sniff process, involving microencapsulated catnip oil. Each time a cat rubs up against it, one of the microbubbles breaks, releasing more.

“Regular catnip oil has a short life span; it loses potency,” Werde said. “Our catnip oil lasted six weeks. We have video of cats drooling for it. Not that it’s much stronger than other catnip, but that it’s always fresh, because they’re always getting a fresh burst of it.”

Werde said there will be seven products in all in the SuperCat line.

Quaker is also infusing its spirit of innovation into its Sherpa carrier line, another brand under its umbrella that was acquired in February 2011.

“We took over all the operations that were already there, and the warehousing, so it was pretty simple,” Werde said.

Werde said Sherpa has several new patented products that will be added and shown at the next Global Pet Expo. And Quaker is working closely with Gayle Martz, founder of Sherpa Trading Company founder and creator of the first on-board in-cabin pet carrier. Werde said the folks at Quaker like to think of her as “Pet Travel Ambassador.”

Sherpa is one of the innovators in the pet travel business, with carriers for just about every breed of dog and cat, and with carriers specifically designed for American and Delta airlines. Werde made the connection with SuperCat and Sherpa by noting that although Sherpa had some cat carriers, “we really hadn’t focused on cat product lines.” Now, presumably, the savvy cat consumer can satisfy catnip and carrier needs from one parent company.

Quaker Pet Group's SuperCat brand
Launched at Global Pet Expo, the SuperCat brand will eventually have seven catnip oil bubble based products in its lineup.
Quaker also plans growth in its new Silver Tails line for senior pets. Werde said Quaker is involved in a huge initiative to get the word out about Silver Tails, and that the product line is in almost 900 Petco stores in the health and wellness sections.

“It’s an expensive marketing process to get people to know what it is,” he said. “We’re working on new intros for the next Global.”

One of Quaker’s goals with Silver Tails is education, making sure that the needs of senior pets are spelled out—and then satisfied.

“We made our toys blue and yellow in the Silver Tails line, because it’s been proven that those are the colors older dogs see the best,” Werde said.

The company estimates that by 2015 more than half of all pets in the United States will be considered senior.

“People have really focused on pet food companies and senior pets and knowing the different requirements,” Werde said. “Senior pets should be cared for like aging parents. Older pets have needs in areas anywhere from dental to mobility to deteriorating muscles to hip dysplasia.”

Overall, said Werde, he wants Quaker to make a difference in the business.

“We want to offer solution-based products,” he said. “We want to be one of those companies that offers solutions to the needs of consumers.”

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