Energizing Playtime

With unique product designs that emphasize quality and engagement, ZippyPaws is improving pet owners' quality time with their canine companions, whether it's in the home or outdoors.


To say that Jennifer Cao got an early start on her career in the pet industry would be a bit of an understatement. The co-founder and vice president of ZippyPaws was struck with the idea to start the company while she was still a student at the University of Southern California (USC), but her industry experience actually goes back much further.

“My father was a sourcing agent for one of the big dog toy companies,” says Cao. “He worked for them exclusively for about 15 years, developing new products in the plush toy and outdoor gear categories.”

Of course, having a father—Benny Cao, co-founder and president of ZippyPaws—who was so intimately involved in the development and production of pet products meant that Cao was exposed to the industry at a fairly early age. “Growing up, I was always immersed in the pet industry,” she says. “I grew up testing my dad’s clients’ products with my dog.”

This experience eventually served as her inspiration to get into the pet business. “While I was finishing up school at USC, I realized that there is a lot of potential in the industry, and I thought I could bring some of my own creativity to [the business],” she says. “I couldn’t imagine myself not working in the pet industry. Because of my experience growing up, I felt like I had some inside knowledge on how the business worked behind the scenes. Also, I felt like I had something I could bring to the table as a dog owner.”

While she began developing a blueprint for the ZippyPaws brand before finishing school, once she graduated, Cao shifted the enterprise into another gear by starting to design and produce products. Once again, her father’s background as a sourcing agent in pet product manufacturing would prove to be invaluable in the company’s development. “Once we decided to start ZippyPaws, I was able to use my father’s connections with factories, as well as his experience and expertise, to launch the company,” says Cao.

Naturally, ZippyPaws’ initial focus was on toys, as this was the area in which the father-daughter team had most of their experience. In addition, it was the product category in which Cao thought her artistic flair could be put to good use. “I have a strong artistic background, and I felt like I could really put my own designs into the toys and make them come alive with characters,” she says.

Innovating the Toy Category
The company’s Squeakie Buddies line was the first developed by Cao and remains a topseller for ZippyPaws today. “I just wanted to do a simple, no-stuffing toy, but I didn’t want it to be boring,” she says. “I wanted to include characters that are not really seen in dog toys.” Available in seven character designs—including a moose, walrus and beaver—products in the line also feature the company’s cylindrical Blaster squeakers, which are larger than the average round squeaker, thus providing a longer, more engaging noise for canines.

Squeakers, in fact, have become something of a specialty for ZippyPaws. In addition to offering toys that incorporate Blaster squeakers, the company has developed product lines around its Jiggler squeaker, which produces noise when shaken from side to side, and its new Crescent squeaker, the size and shape of which produces a noise-making effect no matter where the toy is squeezed.

“Our slogan is ‘a squeakin’ good time,’ so we really put a lot of emphasis on our squeakers, and we do a lot of innovation in that category,” says Cao.

Comprising eight colorful characters—including a dragon, chipmunk and parrot—in both regular and junior sizes, ZippyPaws’ Jigglerz line utilizes the company’s Jiggler squeaker to engage a dog’s natural inclination to shake its toys around during playtime. Meanwhile, the Crescent squeaker is used in the Donutz and Zippy Snake lines to make the use of stuffing unnecessary, as well as make it easier for canines to produce a squeaking sound when biting down on the toys.

Another popular line from ZippyPaws that demonstrates the company’s innovative approach to product design is its Zippy Burrows. Made up of three small, squeaky plush toys that are housed in a “den,” the line exercises a dog’s coordination and appeals to its foraging instincts by enabling it to burrow out the little plush critters or even treats.

“Interactive hide-and-seek puzzle plush toys had been on the market for a number of years before we started making them, but I felt like the category was kind of limited in the types of characters that were available,” says Cao, noting that the Zippy Burrows line includes nearly 30 puzzle plush characters.

The Latest Adventure
With a formidable lineup of toys under its belt, ZippyPaws branched out into the outdoors arena in early 2014 with the introduction of its Adventure Gear and CLIMBERS Mountain Climbing Rope Dog Leash lines. However, according to Cao, this was a move that the company was formulating long before bringing the line to market. “I had been working on [the lines] for a while, because I wanted to make them perfect,” she says, noting that ZippyPaws has spent the past year rounding out its selection of outdoors products.

Included in the Adventure Gear lineup are travel bowls, treat bags and poop-bag dispensers, as well as safety vests and life jackets—the newest additions to the line—all of which feature touch construction that is perfect for even the most avid outdoors enthusiasts. The company’s CLIMBERS leash line is made from real mountain-climbing rope, giving the products thousands of pounds of tensile strength and unmatched comfort for the dog owner’s hand. “The weave in the rope was specially designed for us,” says Cao. “It is strong, flexible and comfortable on the hand—it doesn’t cause leash burns.”

The leashes are available in four- and six-foot lengths, with the six-foot length available with either a traditional clasp or an ultra heavy-duty bull snap. Originally introducing the leashes in three colors—red, blue and black—ZippyPaws plans on adding four new colors later this year.

Also coming soon to complement ZippyPaws’ existing leash offerings are lightweight leashes for smaller dogs and slip leads, all utilizing the same mountain-climbing rope construction. “We really want to make our leashes a whole category,” says Cao. “We don’t want to just be a toy company that happens to offer a couple of leashes.”

Of course, ZippyPaws’ expansion plans extend beyond adding leashes. Cao says that the company will likely continue to increase the range of squeakers that it offers, as well as the toy lines in which those squeakers will be housed—including a tug toy line that is currently in development. She also expects to add a dimension to the ZippyPaws Adventure Gear line. “I really want to get into pet safety, by developing products like LED collars and things like that,” says Cao.

Beyond growing its product offerings, ZippyPaws is focused on further developing its brand recognition within the industry. “We are still a relatively small company, so we want to increase our distribution, including within some of the strong multi-unit pet store chains that are out there,” explains Cao. “We want to get to the point where people are asking for our product by name.”

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