FOCUS: There’s No Business Like Dog Business
When Gary O’Donnell was in high school, his father, Norman, had a side business outside of his job at Michelin making heaters for dog beds. At the time, they were a practical necessity; most dogs spent their days and nights outside, not in the home. O’Donnell would help work on the heaters after school by cutting metal and wires.
That heater side business ultimately evolved into Snoozer Pet Products, a Greenville-based dog bed manufacturing company. In 1985, Norman quit his job and, instead of heaters, began making and selling dog beds to retail stores.
“It wasn’t a fancy dog bed, but it was positioned as highly durable and of value quality. We’d blow cedar into the fillings so that it smelled nice and controlled odors, but it was a purely functional dog bed,” says O’Donnell, who has served as Snoozer’s chief marketing officer for three years. His brother, Brian, the vice president of operations, has been with the company for nearly a decade.
Since the company’s founding, there have been cultural shifts in both the view of a dog’s place in the home and the family. “People are not looking for hunting dogs or utility dogs, like a farm animal, as much [today],” O’Donnell says. “People have become more urbanized and they’ve realized that a dog is a tremendous companion.”
These changing attitudes consequently affected the pet industry. Many consumers wanted to ditch utilitarian goods in favor of specialty pet products, and the market adapted. Snoozer shifted to manufacturing and selling higher-end, durable and expensive dog beds. Company growth steadily followed. In 2014, Snoozer moved to a 50,000-square-foot facility in Piedmont, S.C., and 43,000 square feet of that space is for manufacturing — double the size of the previous facility.
Norman pioneered the design of two product models that remain top sellers for Snoozer today: the Lookout Dog Car Seat and the Cozy Cave Dog Bed. The company has sold these for about 20 and 10 years, respectively. The Lookout is designed for small dogs (up to 25 pounds) that need extra height to easily see out the car window. The product provides both psychological and physical comfort during car rides. “If dogs can’t see out the window, they can get carsick or nervous,” explains O’Donnell. And the Cozy Cave, a circular-shaped bed with a Sherpa fabric-lined hood, is especially designed to accommodate dogs that like to burrow.
While the popularity of some products has stayed constant, other market trends have led Snoozer to introduce new products and customizations over the years. For example, consumers these days frequently want dog beds that match or complement their personal home décor, so many of Snoozer’s products come in a range of neutral colors, such as shades of khaki, navy, olive, red, black and brown. “They have to fit with colors people are using [in their homes]. You can’t have an ugly bed in a beautiful room,” O’Donnell says. “People like colors that blend.”
The increase in dogs’ lifespans has also led to the popularity of the company’s orthopedic product line, likely because owners want to provide their dogs with products that help maintain wellness and health, especially as they age. According to a 2013 report from Banfield Pet Hospital, “The average lifespan of a dog in 2012 was 11 years, up nearly half a year since 2002.” As more households have senior dogs, and for longer periods of time, the trend of wanting products that cater to their needs will likely continue.
As an offshoot to the orthopedic bed, the company also sells a scalloped ramp for dogs that need extra assistance getting on furniture or into cars. The design, which has rounded steps instead of squared ones, is beneficial for older dogs “with bad hips or short legs,” O’Donnell notes.
Snoozer still sells its products in stores and wholesale to retailers like Amazon, Petco, Petsmart and Amazon, but the scale has shifted since the company’s earlier days. “[Retail stores] are the smallest part of the business, but it was once the business,” O’Donnell says. He adds that the company anticipates that retail sales via their website will “become even a more important part of the business.”
The company’s online presence and retail have helped it carve out a niche in the market among other larger conglomerates in the pet product industry.
“We’ve seen the online space consolidate dramatically. We’re still a smaller player, but if we meet our base and following, then we can establish ourselves,” O’Donnell says. “People are following us [on social media] and like our products. We have a very loyal customer base and a lot of repeat buyers.”
The Dogs Issue
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Walking the Dog: Small businesses can make big money in pet services
Hound Hotels: The Upstate steps up its pet boarding game