Pet Industry Pioneers
The Kyjen Company is innovating the pet industry with a growing lineup of products designed to keep dogs active and engaged.
From the start, The Kyjen Company has had a big advantage over other start-up pet product companies. While most young manufacturers face the daunting challenge of finding distribution to the retail level, Kyjen was actually born with a distribution channel already in place. In fact, Kyjen was specifically created to feed a pet product distribution business that was started by founders Kyle and Jennifer Hansen in 1992.
“We were one of the fastest-growing distributors in Southern California,” says Kyjen president Kyle Hansen.
Despite this success, Kyle says that he had difficulty expanding his distribution company’s offerings in the manner he wanted. “We couldn’t get some of the manufacturers’ product lines that we needed–they wouldn’t sell to us,” he says. “As a result, we got frustrated, so we decided that we needed to create our own brands.”
In 1995, the Hansens launched The Kyjen Company to fill that need.
Luckily, the Kyjen founders had years of experience to draw from when they set out to tackle this new frontier. “Being a distributor, we saw where there were opportunities in the market–unmet consumer needs,” says Kyle Hansen. “We identified those unmet needs, as well as the things that we needed as pet owners, and we went from there.”
Addressing Unmet Needs
As Kyjen has grown, the company has stuck to the approach of meeting needs that have not been sufficiently addressed by existing pet products. For example, Kyjen’s Outward Hound line was inspired by the Hansens’ own difficulties in traveling and taking part in outdoors activities with their pets.
“We were going out places with our dogs on the weekends and throwing stuff in a grocery bag, and we said, ‘we need a better solution than this,’” says Kyle. “For activities like backpacking or boating, the quality of goods just wasn’t there. We thought that the trade needed a complete line of travel products, which we created.”
Another segment of Kyjen’s product offerings–the Plush Puppies line–had similar origins. However, this time it was a matter of existing products on the market falling short of the Hansens’ expectations as pet owners.
“Somebody came out with a line of plush toys that our dogs just loved, but they were really expensive and they had some parts that weren’t necessarily safe for dogs,” says Kyle. “At the time, the dog toy category mostly consisted of latex and vinyl toys, so we said ‘Wow, this is a good growth opportunity.’”
Since the launch of the Plush Puppies line, Kyjen’s pet toy offerings have expanded greatly, with a particular focus on providing products that dogs find engaging. “We’ve evolved from a single-squeaker plush toy to products that keep dogs occupied and last longer,” says Kyle Hansen.
This evolving lineup of toys includes pet owner favorites such as Invincibles stuffing-free, multi-squeaker toys (the winner of Pet Business’ 2010 Industry Recognition Award in the dog toy category), the Hide-A-Squirrel puzzle toy, and Egg Babies, plush animal toys that contain three removable squeaking eggs inside.
An Evolving Company
As Kyjen’s product offerings have evolved, so has the company. In 2010, the Hansens moved their business to Colorado and revamped key aspects of its operations–all with a view towards future growth.
“We have developed a culture that embraces change in all aspects of our business; change is an ongoing process for everyone at Kyjen,” says Kyle.
“We brought on a new high-level management team, including an experienced inventory and logistic team, to help forecast and meet demand so retailers can be assured of product availability. We brought the sales team in-house, making them personally available to assist retailers who sell and merchandise our products, regardless of their size.”