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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 3 years ago

Treats of the trade

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A specialty pet food business credits a product packaging makeover for a major uptick in sales.
by: Randi Donahue Contributing Writer

After becoming pet-parents to Abbey, a West Highland terrier, in 2012, Robert and Kelly Ison quickly acted on what they perceived as a market need for a simple, low calorie, superfood treat that would cater to breeds prone to allergies, like Abbey.

And Einstein Pets was born.

“Out of the gate we decided it was a business,” says Kelly Ison, a co-owner who handles sales and marketing. “And we weren't talking about taking it to a farmers market and testing it.”

Ison attributes her and her husband Robert's backgrounds in corporate process improvement and human resources, respectively, to the steady growth of their Sarasota-based business.

“(Our experience) has allowed us to grow organically,” adds Kelly Ison. “We can look at areas within our business and be objective and then go, 'OK, how do we correct that?'”

Their methods have been so successful that entrepreneurs with as many as 10 years in the pet food industry have reached out for advice. Robert Ison, who left behind a successful career in recruitment in 2012 to start the business, handles fulfillment and distribution.

It took almost a year of research, recipe development, testing and branding before the Isons, who strategically chose a biscuit over a soft treat, felt comfortable enough to take their product to market in late 2012. In late 2013, they added a second flavor option of their all-natural chia seed biscuit. In 2014, the Isons went from baking in their own kitchen to outsourcing to an independent bakery for higher volume production. The business now offers six “cleverly crafted” flavors, including their original and most popular PB'N Jelly Time as well as others like Cha Cha Coconut and Turkey Bacon.

Last year was Einstein Pets' biggest year. Not only did the company win several industry awards, but a complete packaging overhaul ignited a 200% boost in sales. Its products are sold in some retail stores and pet boutiques nationwide and in the United Kingdom and Italy.

Kelly Ison credits the company's openness to wholesale customer feedback for the makeover. Storeowners told them the product — while great — took a bit too much to sell to their customers.
“Our packaging was great at first,” says Ison. “But when you are on a shelf in store next to a package that is bold and bright, your product sits there.”

To get customers to gravitate to Einstein Pets over the competition, the Isons went from silver-lined packaging with a clear front and simple labeling to larger, printed bags with a bold design featuring a graphic photo of Abbey.

Another factor in Einstein Pets' 2016 sales growth was maintaining a cost-friendly price for wholesale clients despite the packaging upgrade, which increased the amount of product per bag from 5 ounces to 8 ounces.

The Isons also provide product for wholesale customers to sample in their stores, so the storeowner doesn't have to break into a bag they purchased as inventory. “We know the only way our wholesale clients are going to come back is if we are good to them,” says Ison. “It's all about people and pets.”

The Isons have mostly kept a low inventory. But that's likely going to change to meet the growing demand. They recently leased an office and warehouse space in Sarasota to accommodate fulfillment.
The Isons have financially backed their business themselves, so far. With the consistent increase in demand, they are exploring the possibility of a U.S. Small Business Administration loan to allow for more expansion. That includes additional products, such as a soft jerky treat made with venison.

“We are trying to figure out what aligns with our products today so we can have a full and complete line for people to choose from,” Kelly Ison says.

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