A Veteran's View
PRISM Sales' Jack Drasner discusses his experiences in the pet industry, and what it takes for today's young start-ups.
On the eve of Global Pet Expo, where he is celebrating his 60th birthday and nearly 40 years as a fixture in the pet industry, Pet Business sat down with PRISM Sales' Jack Drasner to discuss his history in the pet world, as well as his advice to startup companies.
How did you get started in the pet industry?
Jack Drasner: While attending Northeastern University, I was getting bored doing high-tech work like computer programming, and I knew that writing software just wasn’t going to be for me. So, I sat down with a copy of the yellow pages and I started looking at the different types of businesses that were out there. I came across some pet businesses, and I thought to myself, “Well, I like pets.” So, I went and learned how to groom dogs during the day and worked a co-op job writing software at night. As it turned out, I was actually good at grooming, and I opened my first grooming shop in 1974, when I was 21, in Natick, Mass.
I built up that business up to the point where we had six full-time groomers, all working behind big glass windows so customers could watch their dogs getting groomed (it was pretty ahead of its time). Then we expanded to add a kennel with dog runs and in-and-out rooms. I ran that business for just under 20 years.
Around 1991, I sold the business and went to work for Old Mother Hubbard [now part of WellPet LLC] as the New England regional sales manager. It was a natural fit, because I had carried the company’s products in my retail business and I really got to know their customer base. Then, about three years in, I became the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. I was there for about six years.
After that, I started doing independent consulting and sales, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
Was that when you founded PRISM Sales?
Drasner: Yes. In the beginning, it was just myself. I was doing consulting in and out of the pet industry. A company called 21st Century Management gave me some small non-pet companies to consult, and I learned a lot by turning around those non-pet businesses. It really carried over to help me with the pet businesses I worked with, because, after all, business is business.
How has PRISM Sales evolved since you founded it?
Drasner: Through the years of doing this, I have built up a network of independent brokers, both on the grocery side and on the pet side. So, depending on what channel a client is trying to reach, I can tap into the right particular network for their situation. And since I’ve been around so long and have grown the network so much, I have developed many relationships with a variety of independent reps and brokers that I can count on.
So, PRISM Sales basically helps manufacturers with their go-to-market strategy and expanding their distribution on store shelves?
Drasner: Exactly. I will sit down with a client and figure out what the true cost involved with going to market. Together, we come up with a pricing strategy that works not only for the manufacturer, but also for the distributor, the retailer and the consumer. If all of those dots are not connected, it doesn’t work.
When you are trying to expand a client’s reach in the pet specialty channel, are you dealing directly with retail chains, or do you work with pet product distributors?
Drasner: We work both through the distributor network, as well as directly with chains. We have a door open to make a presentation at any account in North America—as long as we bring value to the table. We won’t be knocking on anyone’s door unless we think the product works.
Oftentimes, startup companies will have difficulty getting broad distribution unless they can demonstrate a certain amount of sales velocity, but they have a hard time building up that velocity without broad distribution. What is your advice to companies in this situation?
Drasner: It is real important that those types of companies get someone like myself to sit down with them to look at their strategy. In a three-hour consultation, I can enough information to see if the numbers make sense. But I won’t even go through the numbers if I don’t think the product is viable.
Ultimately, the amount of time that an experienced consultant can save a small company is invaluable. In just three hours, I can save a client six months to a year of running around knocking on doors. One of the things we bring to the table is the ability to talk to the decision makers at a distribution company or a retail chain. They know that I’m not going to waste their time with a product that I don’t think has any value. I’ve worked with clients that have spent years trying to reach these [distributors and retailers], and couldn’t even get them to take their call. Then I reach out on behalf of the client, and five minutes later they have an appointment—that’s what you pay a consultant for. And if you can speed up your timetable by a year or two, it can have a phenomenal impact on sales, and it’s well worth the money.
To build up that type of credibility with distributors and retailers, you must have to be very discerning about the products you represent. With that in mind, what do you look for in a prospective client?
Drasner: Ideally, I’m looking for something that is totally different than what is already out there—a new category of product, for instance. One of my biggest successes was in the early 2000s, when we launched a product called Yip-Yaps. We called them pet candy, which nobody had ever done before, and we went to the front end of grocery stores and near the checkout counters at pet stores like Petco. We created a new category. If you can differentiate yourself from anything else out there, then you have some magic. It doesn’t happen too often, but I’m always out there looking for it.
I also try to look for what I call a better mousetrap. I’m working with a client right now called BooBooLoon, which is a product I love. It works better than what’s out there and consumers love it. The challenge is how do we get the message out there to retailers and distributors that this is a better mousetrap.
Either way, the product has to have some niche to differentiate it. It may just be price value, like Simply Pine Cat Litter. That product is about 20 percent less expensive than the other products on the market, and it works just as well, if not better. For value-conscious shoppers, that’s a compelling reason to buy it.