Building a Pet Industry Powerhouse

In seven short years, ZippyPaws has evolved from an ambitious startup toy company to a fast-growing, recognizable brand with an increasingly diverse product lineup.


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Given its polished branding and the breadth of its product selection, it may come as something of a surprise that ZippyPaws has only been around for a little less than a decade. Yet, it was just seven years ago when Jennifer Cao—a recent college graduate at the time—founded the company with her father Benny, a pet industry veteran. The fact that the company has come so far so fast is testament to the value that having the right mix of passion and experience can bring to building a successful business in the ultra-competitive pet industry.
 

 

 

“When I graduated from school, I wanted to leverage [my father’s] experience and my love of design and art to create something I’m passionate about,” says Cao, who serves as ZippyPaws vice president and chief product designer. “I love dogs, and my dog J.J. has served as the inspiration for everything I’ve designed. I wanted to incorporate some of his character into the toys we make—he’s very lively, playful and cunning. I remember going to a lot of pet stores and having trouble finding toys that fit his personality.”

According to Cao, this translated into a lineup of quirky and trendy toys that appeal to a younger generation of pet owners, which would serve as ZippyPaws’ foundation.
 
While the company’s products still feature that same sense of fun and style, there is no question that ZippyPaws and Cao have evolved as the company has matured. One area where she says that this process has been particularly apparent is in her approach to product development.
 
“In the beginning, I was looking at the industry and figuring out how I could make existing products better,” she says. “Now I have developed a vision for what’s missing in the industry and how I can bridge those gaps.”

Going hand in hand with this change in approach is a more selective strategy for developing new products, which is done at a more deliberate pace. “I do a lot more testing and I don’t release new products every month anymore,” says Cao, noting that ZippyPaws limits its launch schedule to just once or twice a year now to better serve its customers.

Still, even as product development has taken a slower pace, ZippyPaws’ sales continue to grow at an enviable rate. In fact, Cao reports that the company’s YOY sales doubled in 2017, and she is expecting them to increase at least another 50 percent this year.

To keep up with that type of explosive growth, ZippyPaws just bought a new 50,000-plus square-foot office and warehouse facility in Chino, Calif. The new building is three times the size of its original headquarter (also located in Chino), which Cao says should increase the company’s capacity as a supplier, as well as allow the company to host additional, and larger, charity events—something she has been wanting to do for years.

According to Cao, the company will also be making significant additions to its staff early this year. “We want to increase our team, particularly on the marketing side, as well as in product development, packaging and sales,” she says.

Another area in which ZippyPaws has been investing in growth is in refining its brand image and marketing. This includes not only concentrating on further developing its approach to cohesive visual marketing, but also providing key resources to pet stores and pet owners—most recently, with the launch of a new company website.

Describing the new site as a “hub for retailers and consumers,” Cao says that its initial focus is on offering important information about product features and construction, including a downloadable PDF format that pet stores can use for staff and customer education. However, she notes that the ZippyPaws website is still a work in progress and will continue to evolve, just like the company.

 

 

Growing the Brand
While it has taken a more deliberate pace to product development, ZippyPaws continues to expand its offerings in both established and new product categories. In toys, the company has added food-themed items to its popular Zippy Burrows line, as well as in its new NomNomz collection.
 
“A lot of pet owners and children are excited about food-related items,” notes Cao. “I wanted to tie that into dog toys as well, because while you want the dog to like the toy, you also want the owners to enjoy it. It really goes with our approach of connecting dog toys with kids toys, which we will take even further with a new puppy collection that we have in the early stages of development.”

Even as ZippyPaws expands its lineup of fun, colorful plush toys, the company has also recently placed a lot of emphasis on developing tougher products that can stand up to abuse from active play and rigorous chewing.

“In the beginning, we were more focused on fun characters,” says Cao. “But over the past few years we’ve been focused on our Z-Stitch technology, which is a special stitching technique used on the toys’ border webbing that covers more area than regular stitching. That, coupled with high-quality materials and multi-layered fabrics, makes the toys really strong.”

With the Z-Stitch lines performing well in pet stores across the country, ZippyPaws is also expanding its tough-toy lineup with a range of thermoplastic rubber (TPR) products. The ZippyTuff line features a range of fun shapes in bright colors and, of course, is designed to last even in the paws of the toughest chewers.
 
Another direction that ZippyPaws’ has recently gone in with its product development represents a much bigger departure for the company. Last year, ZippyPaws put its own unique spin on leather leashes and collars with the introduction of its Vivid and Legacy collections. It was a move that Cao explains was inspired by what she saw as a lack of trendy yet affordable leather products in the market.
 
“As a dog owner, I want my pet’s collar and leash to reflect my personal style,” she says. “And although there are a lot of high-end leather products on the market, most of it is just too expensive.”

ZippyPaws leather leashes and collars, on the other hand, are priced in the $20 to $30 range without compromising on the high-end look and feel found in much more expensive collections. The company’s Legacy lineup offers classic colors like black and brown, while the Vivid line is more dynamic, incorporating latest on-trend colors—currently magenta, teal, slate and cobalt.

“We will constantly be keeping the Vivid collection fresh by introducing new colors, because trends are constantly changing,” says Cao.
 
This move into leather leashes and collars is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new and diverse directions that ZippyPaws plans to take in the future. Retailers can expect to see the company putting its unique stamp on a variety of product categories in the months and years ahead—while, of course, continuing to grow its operations and sales along the way.
 
“We want to keep building our brand identity,” says Cao. “We want to be known as an innovative pet brand that always puts our own spin on new categories.” PB

 

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