On the Cutting Edge
In a little more than four years, Quaker Pet Group has developed into one of the most aggressively innovative manufacturers in the pet care market.
A lot has happened in just four years at Quaker Pet Group.
In fact, the company has made quite a name for itself through some savvy acquisitions and product introductions, since it burst on the scene in May 2010. In those few years, Quaker, which has dual headquarters in Whippany, N.J., (administration, operations and warehousing) and Denver., (product development, marketing, sales and support staff), has purchased or licensed such well-known brands as goDog, New York Dog and Sherpa Pet Trading Co.
Now, with a solid foundation of products across the dog and cat categories, company executives are primed for organic growth of their existing brands—though a future acquisition or two is certainly not out of the question.
“This is an incredible industry, and there are tons of opportunities out there for a company that has the right amount of capital and is innovative,” says Neil Werde, president and chief operating officer of Quaker Pet Group, and a 14-year veteran of the pet industry. “That’s what we have, and we intend to use them to keep growing quickly. The key is to be an innovative company that stays on the cutting edge.”
Quaker’s growth has impressed many in the industry. Werde and his business partner, David Blatte, the company’s CEO, took only two months to make the first purchase, buying New York Dog in July 2010. In early 2011, the company made its second move, purchasing the assets of the well-established Sherpa Pet Group, which included the Sherpa Pet Trading, goDog, Fox & Hounds, and Cloak & Dawggie brands.
“We knew that we could do this on our own,” he says. “David has a background in running businesses and private equity, and I originally came from the toy industry, where innovation is the key to survival.”
Today, with the addition of several Quaker Pet Group-owned brands, including Hear Doggy!, SuperCat, goDog and Silver Tails, the company offers more than 500 SKUs, and there are about 50 employees working between the two headquarters.
“I think we run a very good operation, and we are an excellent manufacturer,” says Werde. “But, in the end, it comes down to the product. To be successful in the pet business, you need great product that creates a niche and fills a need. I think we are doing that.”
With an emphasis on product innovation, Quaker Pet Group is not resting on its laurels. Werde makes it clear that the company intends to keep growing, and the Quaker team is focusing on four areas for that expansion. One is the Sherpa brand. Werde plans to expand Sherpa beyond the carrier and travel bags for which the brand is already known. Also, he notes that Quaker is now offering the Guaranteed On Board program. The program, developed with the help of major airlines, outlines all of the steps a pet owner needs to take before traveling in-cabin on a plane with their pets placed in a travel carrier.
“Our goal is to give consumers the peace of mind that when they get to the gate, their pet carrier is compliant with airline rules and regulations,” Werde notes. “If they follow these steps and they are still not allowed on with pets, we are offering them a guarantee of a refund for the cost of the flight and the pet’s travel fee. We think this gives us a true marketing advantage and is a tremendous service to the consumer.”
Another area of focus is with the goDog brand. Werde says that Quaker is offering a 30-day guarantee that its durable plush products, featuring the company’s Chew Guard Technology, will perform better than standard plush products. “The durable plush segment is the fastest growing segment of the toy category,” he says. “It is slightly more expensive than standard plush, but we found that consumers are willing to pay 20 to 30 percent more for durability because it lasts longer, combined with appealing fun designs. Now, we are guaranteeing it.”
Quaker introduced four types of goDog bedding at the Global Pet Expo in March with the same guarantee.
Werde says that the ultrasonic squeaker in Hear Doggy! products is designed above the human-hearing range so that only the dog hears the sound. “It is still in the comfort zone for the dog,” he adds. “A dog can play with the toy in the middle of the night, and the owner won’t hear a thing. This year, we married our goDog Chew Guard material with the Hear Doggy! ultrasonic technology. It is a great way for us to extend both brands.”
The last innovation, at least for now, is with the SuperCat brand. Quaker has introduced a “nano-burst technology” that constantly releases catnip scent when the cat rubs up against the product. It is designed to last approximately six to seven weeks.
“We plan to keep introducing these types of new products, promotions and innovations, because this is what the pet consumer wants,” Werde adds. “The pet industry is very similar to the toy industry. We are designing products that are created to appeal to moms, but in this case, moms with pets. We know a big component is all about creating that eye-catching design.”
Werde is optimistic about the future. He is looking for acquisitions, as long as they make sense, but he wants to pay more attention to building existing brands too. “Four years from now, I think we are going to be many times larger than we are today,” he says. “There are a lot of categories out there that we are not yet in, as well as retail channels including grocery and drug outlets, that are ripe for expansion into. And, we are in the right place for growth, with a great team of employees, who are doing great things and having fun doing it.”