Fun Meets Function
ZippyPaws co-founder and vice president Jen Cao discusses her approach to designing the company’s award-winning lineup of pet toys and adventure gear.
Pet Business: How did growing up watching your father—Benny Cao—work in product development within the pet industry prepare you to build a successful venture like ZippyPaws? How has it helped set you apart from other pet product manufacturers?
Jen Cao: Growing up around dog products in my childhood has certainly helped me understand the manufacturing process. I visited the factories with my father when I was young and was exposed to the different materials, squeakers and production that goes into a seemingly simple toy. As I got older, I realized that all this information helped me understand why a certain way of manufacturing would—or would not—be feasible.
PB: Tell us about the design process you use when developing new products. How does your artistic background factor into the process?
Cao: Throughout the design process, I always focus on the core essence of a toy — what purpose does it serve and why is it unique?
I approach new product designs in a variety of ways, including:
- Designing an exclusive new squeaker, then creating a toy around it;
- Finding an awesome new fabric, and then finding a creative way to use it on a new toy;
- Improving the functionality and/or design of existing products; and
- Creating trendy products that make great photo props—#Instagramfamous.
PB: Once you have an initial design in place, what are the next steps before you launch a product? What are some of the key boxes that must be checked before a product is ready for distribution?
Cao: There are three basic elements that must be in place before we will launch a product:
- Scaled production—the product needs to be simple enough for mass production. Easy manufacturing process allows for less error and maintains a high control of quality
- Enough demand—through research, we make sure that enough customers love the new product and are willing to buy.
- Great packaging—we make sure that with packaging (header cards, bags, sleeves or boxes) looks uniform on retail shelves. We want our retail customers to grow their sales with us.
PB: How does the design and development process differ when you are making toys versus leashes versus outdoor gear
Cao: Being a leader in the toy market, we have more expertise in the functionality, design and material selection for plush toys. We are knowledgeable on how to create fun toys that are also durable.
With leashes and outdoor gear, we conduct extensive testing on the durability and usage of these products. We research how different breeds and owners use our products to further improve their functionality before we launch them.
PB: What are some of the standout products that ZippyPaws introduced in 2016? What are the key features of those products?
Cao: In 2016, ZippyPaws introduced Z-Stitch, a special stitching technique used for toys’ border webbing. Z-Stitch covers more area than regular stitches, making the toys extra strong. So far, we have launched durable no-stuffing Z-Stitch Snakes and Warriorz, which were well received.
PB: Will ZippyPaws be launching any new products in 2017? If so, what do you expect will be some of the highlights?
Cao: ZippyPaws will expand its Z-Stitch toys by introducing two new lines: the Z-Stitch Grunterz (large grunting toys) and Z-Stitch Floaterz (floating water toys). ZippyPaws is also unveiling two new exclusive squeakers, an exciting year filled with great design and innovation!
PB: What does the future hold for ZippyPaws?
Cao: ZippyPaws is committed to being a pioneer in the dog plush toy market, focusing on creative, high-quality products. In addition to continually innovating in plush toys, we will also be introducing other product lines that fit the lifestyles of modern pet parents, including leather collars and leashes and much more.