Will Chen, founder and CEO of P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), discusses his company's approach to creating pet beds and toys that deliver real value to pet retailers and their customers.
Pet Business: What are some of the most important trends in the pet bed and pet toy categories?
Will Chen: In my opinion, one of the prevailing trends in the pet bedding and pet toy categories has always been innovation. Product cycles are getting shorter, and customers are always asking, “What’s new?” It may seem obvious, but the challenge is creating new, innovative products that also combine affordability, reliability and noticeable quality features that allow retailers to differentiate and offer a unique shopping experience to shoppers.
For higher-quality, boutique-oriented brands like ours, specialization tends to be the important focus and trend. Consumers are inundated with options, so goods like beds and toys need to offer real value—be it design, function, craftsmanship, durability, eco-friendliness, special features or a combination of the above, in order to impress and convince shoppers.
PB: Last year, P.L.A.Y. introduced a line of outdoor pet beds. What are some of the key features of these beds? What sets them apart from other products on the market?
Chen: We are not the first to make outdoor beds, but we want to create ones that offer a perfect blend of style, durability and price. In line with our philosophy of supporting local artists, David Collins of San Francisco created the whimsical Chevron pattern for our first collection of Outdoor Beds. The covers are made of durable nylon fabrics that are TÜV-certified waterproof and UV-resistant. As a hallmark of all our products, great attention has been paid to the smallest details, like brass rings, protective sleeves for zippers and hidden air inlets.
Also, our outdoor beds are filled with our trademarked PlanetFill, which is made from 100-percent post-consumer recycled bottles, so it is great for shoppers that are eco-conscious too. The filler is 100-percent washable and dryer friendly, but with the waterproof cover, cleaning it is even more hassle free—you can hose the bed down easily.
Lastly, with a retail starting price of $75 for a small outdoor bed, our Outdoor Bed Collection is positioned at an attractive price point within the premier bedding segment.
PB: In an interview with Pet Business last year, you mentioned that P.L.A.Y. was working on an updated website. Has it been completed? What are some of the key features of the new website?
Chen: Yes, our new website is now live. While it is still in beta version as we are fixing some minor content gaps, overall we are happy with it. The new site uses responsive design, so it’s mobile friendly. It has better [user interface], as well as new features such as product bundling and highlighting the local artists behind the products.
There are exciting features that we will continue to add to the site in 2015, as well. I would love to share but will keep those as a surprise for now.
PB: What were some other notable developments that took place at P.L.A.Y. in 2014?
Chen: We are pleased that P.L.A.Y. grew significantly in 2014. Domestically, we continue to reach and serve more boutique stores and online resellers across the country; and internationally, we have developed good distribution networks in Europe and Asia Pacific, including countries like the U.K., Spain, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Australia.
From a product standpoint, we launched new bed and toy designs, as well as enhancements to popular products, like the award-winning Wobble Ball enrichment toy, and a Designer Series of our best-selling Chill Pads.
Business development aside, we also continue to focus extensively on brand building activities such as social media outreach. Our Facebook page now has over 68,000 followers, many of whom are our brand advocates as they are users themselves. We recognize that pet bedding and toys are challenging and highly competitive categories—for us to see consistent, healthy growth and constant stream of positive feedback among consumers, it is a reflection that we are going in the right direction.
Even though we are a small business, we are also making strides in our effort to make an impact on both the environmental and social level. We have celebrated recycling over 1.5 million plastic bottles that would otherwise be sent to landfill. Our Scholars Helping Collars scholarship, which was set up to encourage high school students to demonstrate passion for animals and help for shelters, has seen more than four times the number of entries compared to last year.
PB: Can you give us a hint about some of the exciting things that retail buyers will find at the P.L.A.Y. booth at next month’s Global Pet Expo?
Chen: Many have known us for our dog-oriented goods. In fact, some cat parents like our product quality so much that they get them for their felines. We have spent the better part of last year looking into cat products, and we will be bringing some exciting items to [Global Pet Expo] this year. And building on the success of our plush toys, we will be introducing new collections at this year’s major shows too.
PB: What are your expectations and goals for P.L.A.Y. in the future?
Chen: We have many goals, but the most important expectation for us is to continue to be one of the top three trusted and outstanding brands in the premium pet bedding and toy segment. We have plans to expand our fulfillment capability in Europe and Asia Pacific, and we will continue to reinvest in product development and engineering.