Straight from the Experts
Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products, Inc., discusses how a team of training and behavior specialists drives the company's innovative product design.
Pet Business: How did Starmark get started? What inspired the creation of the company?
Emily Benson: Starmark began in 1994 as a six-kennel training and boarding company in the owner’s backyard in Tucson, Ariz. Wanting to grow the business, he and his business partner moved the company to our current location, just outside of Austin, Texas, in Hutto.
Starmark is now one of the largest training and boarding facilities in the world, with a 100,000 square-foot facility situated on a 360-acre ranch. In 2000, Starmark started our international school for professional dog trainers and has since graduated close to 1,000 students. It was working with dogs, their owners and students that drove the development of pet products we want to use ourselves and would benefit pets in the home.
PB: Tell us about Starmark’s approach to developing interactive toys, as well as training and behavior solutions. What sets Starmark products apart from its competitors in the market?
Benson: Our team of training and behavior specialists develops all of Starmark’s product concepts from within. This trend is carried out by testing the products with a wide variety of our personal dogs, rescue dogs and client dogs to determine what product features work and how the dogs interact with them.
PB: How can retailers be more successful in selling interactive toys, training tools and behavior products?
Benson: Using and testing the products themselves is tremendously beneficial in learning how a product functions and how the pet responds and interacts with it. This allows them to pass on first-hand knowledge to their customers. Reviewing support materials from the manufacturer is also helpful, as more and more manufacturers are providing online guides and videos.
PB: What are some of the most important product trends in these categories?
Benson: As more people are realizing the mental and physical needs of their pets, manufacturers are responding with increasingly innovative designs to stimulate and challenge them. More popular now than ever are toys pets must manipulate in a particular way in order to release treats or food inside, thereby providing a mental challenge and an outlet for physical energy.
PB: What does the future hold for the interactive toys, training tools and behavior products categories? What can retailers expect from Starmark moving forward?
Benson: Further innovation is definitely on the horizon for these categories, as consumer demands for ever more challenging products increases. Starmark has several new designs of mental stimulation products slated for release in 2015.
We are also returning to our roots with the release of several training products this year. And, of course, there is a growing list for products still in the concept and development phases for later release.