A Renewed Passion
New leadership and a new distribution model have jumpstarted growth for The Company of Animals’ U.S. operations.
Larry Cobb saw a world of potential in The Company of Animals’ (COA) U.S. operations when he joined the company early last year. A 40-year pet industry veteran, he knew that American pet owners, given the chance, would embrace the company’s uniquely innovative lineup of training products, which were developed by world-renowned animal psychologist Dr. Roger Mugford.
“I looked at what Dr. Roger Mugford had done [in the U.K.], and I said, ‘This is what I want to be a part of.’ The methodology that he uses and the way he is committed to the well-being of the dog are second to none,” explains Cobb, who was promoted to CEO of the organization’s U.S. operations earlier this year.
While Dr. Mugford’s expertise and experience provided a solid foundation from which to grow, the organization’s U.S. division still had not yet fully realized the same success that its parent company enjoyed in other markets over the past three decades. This, Cobb sensed, was due to the fact that a vital element—the organization’s corporate culture—was somehow lost in translation in the move across the pond. The challenge set before him was to bridge that gap.
“[COA’s U.K.-based operations] are run not by brand managers, but by people who are passionate and understand how to effectively train your dog in a very humane manner, following Dr. Mugford’s lead,” he says, noting that this pet-centric versus sales-driven approach wasn’t thoroughly embraced by the U.S. sales team.
“Now, the culture we have revolves around selling a training concept. We are offering pet owners a great opportunity to train their dogs in a well-organized, humane way.”
At the same time this cultural shift was taking place, COA was also improving its go-to-market strategy in the states. Cobb, an expert on logistics, saw room for improvement in COA’s previous American distribution model when he joined the company, and he quickly started making adjustments. Step one was deciding to stop selling directly to retailers, in order to fully support pet specialty distributors.
“That was a huge step in the right direction, as far as getting support from our distribution partners while still being able to serve retailers across the country,” he says.
To better serve these distributors, in July 2015, COA relocated its distribution center from Bridgeport, Conn., to a state-of-the-art, third-party facility operated by CenterPoint in Kansas City. According to Cobb, the new, centralized location allows the company to reach all of the markets it serves while reducing expenses and offering the opportunity for growth.
“We wanted to have the scalability that a third-party distribution center offers,” he says, noting that if COA had built its own warehouse, it would already need to be expanded due to the company’s growth over the past year.
“CenterPoint is no stranger to the pet industry—it is a food-quality warehouse that distributes a variety of items in the pet category. The wonderful thing is, as we have grown our brand and our SKU count, [CenterPoint] has given us additional staff members. And they have dealt with our inbound and outbound freight in a very logical and systematic manner. They are a real joy to work with.”
With the new distribution facilities in place, COA relocated its U.S. division headquarters from Bridgeport to Davenport, Fla.—first to a temporary office, then to a recently acquired permanent headquarters. “We purchased a bright, shiny new office around the corner,” says Cobb, noting that the new distribution and headquarters facilities changeovers have improved not only the quality of the company’s work environment, but also its turn-time and fill rates.
At the same time, Cobb has been growing his U.S.-based team with additional sales and support staff, all of which came with a pedigree. “We’ve been able to recruit some of the best talent in the industry to come and work for us,” he says. “People who share our passion for bettering the lives of pets.”
While COA has been busy growing its staff and improving its operating efficiencies, the company has also been quite active in expanding its product offerings, many of which were previously unavailable in the states. “It really has been exciting for me,” says Cobb. “While I was in the U.K., I had my choice of SKUs and categories that the U.K. has but we weren’t selling in the U.S., in order to drive our business in the direction we jointly want to go.”
Among COA’s new offerings is what Cobb describes as the “HALTI walking range,” which was introduced at Global Pet Expo. “[This introduction] doubled our assortment,” he says.” Any time you double your SKU count, it’s exciting, and that gave us great things to speak about. It was an extremely successful show for us, and the follow-up from that has been so good that we had to add a salesperson.”
COA’s offerings were also greatly enhanced by the company’s acquisition of the popular Pet Head brand of grooming products earlier this year. While it may seem like an odd fit at first glance, Cobb says the marriage between the two companies made perfect sense. “Our partners in the U.K. and the rest of the world—we’re in 50 nations across the planet—had been selling Pet Head for eight years,” he explains. “As such, The Company of Animals was Pet Head’s largest customer. It made good sense for us to acquire the brand and be in control of our destiny going forward with Pet Head. We already had good relationships and understood the brand, and we saw the opportunity to expand not only in the U.S. but worldwide.”
Now part of the COA family of brands, Pet Head is managed by the company’s U.K.-based team. Its products are shipped in conjunction with the rest of the COA lineup, so distributors can meet freight minimums more easily as the company expands that portion of the assortment, says Cobb.
“One of the things we can bring to the brand is stability, and innovation will follow,” he explains. “Our management style is one of controlled growth.”
Of course, new product introductions are also taking place organically as COA continues to refine and update its offerings in the training category. For example, the company will be introducing a seemingly small but important addition to its Baskerville muzzle line.
“One of our most successful categories has been our Baskerville muzzles, which are the only muzzles that allow dogs to pant, be given treats and drink water,” says Cobb. “One of the requests we have is to offer another color. Quite often, when you have a light-colored dog and you put a black muzzle on it, it may be perceived as daunting. So, what we’re rolling out is a tan muzzle.”
Listening to customer feedback and offering solutions like this is vital in COA’s approach to sparking growth in the U.S. market, and is indicative of the company’s commitment to making proper training techniques more accessible to state-side pet owners. Noting that pet stores in the U.K. often dedicate much more space to this important category than their American counterparts, Cobb says, “We have an opportunity right now to raise awareness among American pet parents that there are proven, humane solutions for daily training and behavioral issues. And I think that it is becoming well recognized that U.S. retailers really need to create a world-class training section in their stores.”