The West Hollywood, Calif.-based pet food company is reaping the benefits with its organic, natural, predominately U.S.-sourced pet food.
By Mike Ventre
They say timing is everything in life. And Daryl Abrams is one of the people who say it.
Daryl and Shawna Abrams
Sometime in 2006, his soon-to-be-wife Shawna sent him out to get dog food for their three beloved chowhounds. Daryl called her before the errand and asked what brand to get. She didn’t have an opinion. That caused the light bulb in Daryl’s head to flicker.
Out of curiosity, he embarked on an information-gathering mission. He called several dog food companies and was surprised to discover how reluctant they were to tell him where their ingredients came from.
"They would just say, ‘Our products are made in the USA,’ but they wouldn’t answer beyond that,” he said. "Right then I said to Shawna, ‘Let’s start a pet food company.’”
That’s when the West Hollywood, Calif.-based company Party Animal was born. Please discard any long-held perceptions of a party animal—irresponsible, slovenly, doesn’t care what he puts in the old breadbasket—and replace that with the Abrams’ canine version, characterized by images of happy, healthy, fun-loving pooches who consume only foods with organic and natural ingredients.
Now here’s where the timing comes in.
"The first three, to three and a half months, were the roughest ever,” said Daryl. He and Shawna offered free food to retailers. That’s right, free.
No catches. The deal was the Abrams would give retailers cans of the two flavors Party Animal had at the time, and in exchange, those retailers would clear off a little shelf space for it.
Daryl Abrams said 24 of every 25 retailers he and Shawna approached replied, "No deal.”
However, that all changed on March 16, 2007.
"It was because of the massive pet food recall,” he said. "As soon as that happened, which was very, very unfortunate, of course, it took that for retailers to give smaller companies like us a chance.”
AT A GLANCE
Location: West Hollywood, Calif.
Owner: Daryl and Shawna Abrams
Years in Business: 3.5
Areas of Distribution/Business: Throughout the U.S.
Annual Revenues: Undisclosed
Company Mission: To revolutionize the pet food industry by providing delicious and responsibly produced organic and natural pet foods.
Sales Growth (Year to Year): Since day one, Party Animal reports sales have at least doubled each year.
Product/Business Categories: Pet foods
Product/Business Lines: Canned dog food and dry dog foods.
He described Party Animal’s fortunes from that point as "a complete U-turn.” Suddenly retailers were begging, pleading, clamoring for pet food that wasn’t tainted, that was clean, organic, natural and whose ingredients came from impeccable sources.
Remember the aforementioned deal? Free food in exchange for shelf space? Now it was the Abrams’ turn to say, "No deal.”
"There’s something I learned in business,” he said. "It’s called supply and demand. How much open shelf space do you have? Five to 10 case minimum order per flavor. Take it or leave it. They didn’t have much of a choice.”
Of course, he did it nicely. Kevin Ordonez, manager of Tailwaggers in nearby Hollywood, said Daryl is "A great guy and he knows his stuff. He definitely gives you the personal touch. He’s focused. He has definitely done the footwork on the product, and he comes in and does training about what ingredients are in the food. It definitely helps to have him come in here.”
Now, Party Animal is a little rowdier and giddier than it was when it first began.
"Our sales have doubled or more than doubled each year,” Daryl said. "We’ve expanded our product line substantially. I still like to consider us a mom-and-pop brand. We’re not that nationally recognized company yet.”
Party Animal Organic Formulas Gourmet Pet Food now has 10 canned flavors, including three new ones—Heavenly Venison, Luscious Lamb and Ducked Up. It also boasts a dry food and has plans for treats as well as a line of cat food. The company has even developed a bit of celebrity cachet: During the summer in 2007, several online publications, including WashingtonPost.com, reported that an empty can of Party Animal found in Paris Hilton’s trash sold for $305 on eBay.
Daryl visits the Party Animal pet food factory.
The Abrams have eschewed pricey high-rise office digs along swanky Sunset Boulevard for the comforts of home. They work out of their house in West Hollywood, and have the food manufactured in factories in Illinois (wet food) and Minnesota (dry), neither of which was involved in the pet food recall, Abrams reported. Most of the food is organic, but what isn’t—for instance, organic salmon is difficult to find in large enough amounts, so Party Animal uses wild caught salmon—is natural.
"I’d say 99 percent of our ingredients are sourced in the U.S., and one percent from New Zealand,” Daryl said. "That’s the most important thing we stress to retailers.”
The Abrams said they don’t spend much on marketing and advertising.
"We put all of our marketing dollars into our product,” Daryl said. "We don’t believe in spending a million dollars on a billboard and having a lesser quality product. We truly believe word of mouth is the best marketing possible.”
That strategy seems to be working. Abrams reported that March was the company’s biggest month in three years of business. Instead of resting, the Abrams are working even harder.
"Every time we have something new we do it carefully,” he said. "We don’t want to show a retailer 20 new items at once. Shelf space is limited. An independent retailer trying to take on lots of new items is tough.
"We’re very aggressive about getting out into the marketplace,” he added. "When a retailer contacts us for an initial stocking order, we’re very generous with samples and we work with them.”
Although Party Animal is on shelves across the nation, it doesn’t have distribution everywhere in the U.S. For retailers who want the product but can’t find a local distributor, Daryl said, Party Animal charges them the regular wholesale price for the product and then pays for shipping.
The timing was right for Party Animal to take off when it did, and the timing appears to be right for continued growth.
"It’s all about being in the right place at the right time,” Daryl said. <HOME>
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