All the Rage(ous)
With deep roots in the housewares industry, PetRageous Designs prides itself on marrying fashion and function in its expanding lineup of pet products
It is no secret that many of the best pet product innovations often get their start in the world of human products. The same can sometimes be said of the most successful pet product innovators, and Gretchen George, co-founder and president of Burlington, Mass.-based PetRageous Designs, is a prime example.
As a retail buyer in the housewares industry for 20 years, George developed a strong understanding of the ceramic dinnerware market before moving on to work in product development for a major manufacturer. During her tenure in this role, she was inspired to go down a new path that would ultimately lead to the creation of PetRageous Designs. “I saw that there was a real niche out there for pet dishes,” recounts George. “My background in ‘human’ dinnerware was with a lot of hand-painted products and things like that, and I said, ‘Why can’t we take this expertise that we know works with human dishes and put it onto pet dishes?’ So I asked if I could play around with that part of the business.”
With the company’s blessing, she did much more than simply “play around” with the concept of hand-painted stoneware pet dishes. In fact, over the span of five years, George built a whole new business for her employer before finally embarking off on her own. “I left to open PetRageous Designs because I was pretty much a one-woman show there,” she says. “I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing all of this for someone else?’”
In early 2004, George launched PetRageous Designs with two partners (Charlie George and Dan Wren) and a modest selection of hand-painted and hand-glazed stoneware pet bowls adorned with fitting patterns such as bones, fish and paw prints—as well as coordinating accessory items, such as treat storage jars. The company made its industry debut at a major industry tradeshow, where it shared a tiny booth with another manufacturer. But despite these humble beginnings, George says that there was no lack of immediate interest in the company’s products. “People knew that I was the pulse of [my former employer], so it was pretty easy for them to make the transition to PetRageous,” she says.
Encouraged by early success, it was not long before PetRageous Designs set its sights on expanding the scope of its product offerings. Deciding that she wanted the company to be “the feeding source for [its] customers,” George and her team developed a lineup of raised feeders, as well as plastic and stainless steel bowls to round out the company’s selection.
While this represented a significant expansion of PetRageous Designs’ product offerings, the company’s development reached a new level when it moved beyond feeding products to incorporate pet apparel into the fold. “About eight years ago, I had a couple of key customers asking me to get into the clothing business after they found out that I was a textile and clothing major in college,” says George.
Basing this part of her business on the concepts of “good fabrics and great fit,” George hired a designer from Liz Claiborne and set about improving upon what she viewed as a less than spectacular pet apparel market. “There was a lot of clothing out there, but it really didn’t fit a dog properly, or it was difficult to get on and off,” she says.
The result was an apparel lineup that addressed many of the common concerns that pet owners have when dressing their four-legged friends. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from customers [about our apparel],” says George. “They rave about our Kodiak coat, for example—how well it fits, and how their dogs can spend hours out in the cold but it keeps them so warm, and it is user friendly for the dog.”
Clearly, fit and fashion are important to PetRageous Designs when designing apparel, but the company’s No. 1 concern is making sure that every item is easy to put on and take off the pet. “Most of our products are back-closing, or they just go over the head and wrap around [the pet],” she explains.
According to George, working with fabrics in the apparel end of the business eventually led PetRageous Designs to yet another new frontier—toys. While the company has been successful in this segment of the pet trade, as it has in its other ventures, she says this product category has proven particularly challenging. “The toy category is a lot more competitive,” George says, noting that another hurdle that PetRageous Designs has faced is the fact that minimum order quantities from contract manufacturers often makes it difficult to be truly innovative and creative in the category.
Despite these challenges, the company has developed a comprehensive selection of pet play items, including its aquatic-themed
FloatRageous neoprene toys, rugged nylon ToughRageous interactive toys, and engaging SqueakRageous and CrinkleRageous unstuffed plush toys—all of which reflect a sense of fun and whimsy, while remaining eminently functional.
With an expanding staple of products that spans categories as diverse as feeding, apparel and toys, PetRageous has come a long way since it entered the scene as simply a ceramic pet bowl company. “Now we’re pretty much a full-spectrum pet company,” says George. “We do basically anything that is really home-décor related for dogs, with the goal of making the dog and the owner happy.”
Given the company’s home-fashion-focused approach to design, George says that PetRageous Designs always considers broader trends among related human products when developing new items. “We pay close attention to home décor trends, including colors, knowing that a good portion of our business follows those trends in the marketplace,” she explains. “So, if a pet owner is redoing their kitchen, they can find the latest colors and motifs to coordinate with what they are doing.”
In addition, the company thinks in terms of product collections, rather than single, stand-alone SKUs when designing additions to its product lineup. This is an approach that George says has served PetRageous Designs’ independent pet retailer customers quite well. “Independent stores need to get credit for a fashion look, and you’re not going to get that look with a single item,” she explains.
George also notes that PetRageous Designs’ collection-oriented strategy has proven to be a great fit for the growing number of households with multiple pets. “Most of our collections come out with a SKU for the large dog, a SKU for the small dog and a SKU for the cat,” she says. “And, in some cases, a SKU for the extra-large dog.”
Retailers can expect PetRageous to continue this winning approach as it continues to evolve its product lineup moving forward. The company already has a number of introductions lined up for 2015, with next month’s Global Pet Expo serving as a major launching pad.
PetRageous Designs expects to debut new coats featuring unique linings, sweaters made using techniques and yarns, a variety of fashion-forward ceramic feeding products, and a host of items for pet play, including interactive toys. Looking further down the road, George says that the company is currently looking into possibly developing a treat line, as well as a collection of pet beds.
Whatever products PetRageous Designs introduces over the short or long term, George says that one thing is certain—they will all fit the trusted brand that the company has carefully cultivated in all of the categories in which it competes. “Years ago, we became focused on carrying [our brand identity] throughout our lineup,” she explains. “We love our name, and whenever we are developing a product, we ask ourselves, ‘Is this Rageous?’”