Planet Dog takes a big bite out of pet market

"Now, wait just a dog-gone minute!" exclaimed SNEWS staff when we read about a 273-percent expected sales growth this year for Planet Dog.
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"Now, wait just a dog-gone minute!" exclaimed SNEWS staff when we read about a 273-percent expected sales growth this year for Planet Dog.

We figured the Portland, Maine-based, company had to be calculating using dog years or dog math for such a high figure, especially when we heard the 5-year-old company was also barking about sales increases of 170 percent in 2001 after 150 percent in 2000.

Surprised, we called Planet Dog co-owner Alex Fisher, who told SNEWS that the company has not only grown steadily, but also finally turned a profit this year. "It takes years to grow a business and grow trust with the customer," said Fisher. He said Planet Dog has succeeded because customers are drawn to its strong philanthropic mission. Modeling Planet Dog after companies such as Ben and Jerry's and Patagonia, he and co-owner Stew Maloney believe in the maxim that "values equals value," Fisher said.

Planet Dog's non-profit division, Planet Dog Philanthropy (PDP), takes 10 percent of Planet Dog's profits and distributes the money to organizations involved in environmental education and preservation and animal welfare. In its first year in 2001, PDP gave away more than $20,000 in grants and product donations.

"We're in a feel-good industry, and customers are excited by our philanthropy," said Fisher, noting that his company is unlike most in the pet industry.

"The pet industry has been dominated by very large manufacturers that pump out products with no character at all, and don't have a company mission that parallels the personal mission of customers," said Fisher.

This distinction may be at the root of Planet Dog's success. Or it might have something to do with the fact that its products cross over into many markets. While 20 percent of Planet Dog's accounts are outdoor specialty stores, Fisher said the high-end gift industry represents the majority of sales.

You'll also find Planet Dog products sold through natural foods stores, Discovery stores and even L.L. Bean, Orvis and Early Winters. But Fisher said, "We typically don't work with large accounts. Mostly high-end boutique stores. You won't find our product in Wal-Mart or Petsmart, or other stores that sacrifice Planet Dog's integrity."

As Planet Dog has widened distribution, it has also increased its number of SKUs from 76 in 1999 to a whopping 842 this year. The company is now branching out to cat lovers, as well. Its new 38-page catalog devotes two pages to the new Planet Cat line. "Sixty percent of our customers who have dogs also have cats," said Fisher, adding that out of the company's top 20 products, five are from Planet Cat.

With all those new products and customers, the company has also grown from only three employees in 1999 (that would be the founders!) to 11 in 2002, including two new hires in mid-November.

SNEWS View: It's great to see a company fetch the stick and run with it. We expect Planet Dog to experience continued success because its owners understand a thing or two about building a brand and don't just "sit" and "stay." Specifically, they've sniffed out a trend where more companies are establishing a non-profit division not only to give back something to the community, but also to build consumer loyalty and strengthen the company's reputation. Actually, we expect to write many more SNEWS articles about the pet market, because as you can see we're having a howling good time with the pet puns!

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