Tina Vidal incorporated her company on Jan. 3, 2015, on a flight home from a weekend in Vegas. It was a New Year, fresh-start moment: “I said I was going to finally get off my rear end and do this.” She was ready to take the entrepreneurial plunge.
On April 1 that year, Vidal launched Pooch Perks, a service providing dog-tested and veterinarian-approved monthly customizable boxes of curated goods for the pampered pooch. Now a year later, she is the People’s Pick winner in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge FIU Track, garnering the highest online vote.
For 13 years, the MBA graduate of Florida International University had been doing corporate turnarounds of troubled companies and making great money, but she wasn’t happy. She still does that in order to pay the bills while the startup is growing, but she’s found her passion — and Pooch Perks is making tracks.
You could say she knows her target market pretty well: Vidal has seven dogs, six of them rescues.
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Pooch Perks (www.poochperks.com) offers a variety of monthly boxes, currently priced at $20 to $50 a month depending on the customer’s selection. All the boxes typically contain toys and all-natural treats; the more expensive boxes contain items such as grooming or health products. Right now, the company offers package options for small and large dogs, but Pooch Perks will soon offer a category for toy dogs, too. “We customize for allergies, we do mixed boxes for multiple dogs as well as toys-only and treats-only boxes,” Vidal said. In addition to monthly, bimonthly and quarterly subscriptions, Pooch Perks offers a give-a-gift option for one-time or limited purchases.
To keep it fun, the boxes are themed. May is Cinco de Mayo, so there are taco-flavored and coconut colada treats, a Mexican firecracker toy and a doggie bandana with dancing chili peppers. Next month, the movie Finding Dory is coming out, so the toys will be Nemo-themed. January was a “breaking resolutions” box, so all of the items were “dessert” toys and treats.
The entrepreneurship roller coaster was daunting at first, and her strategic plan has adjusted as well. “You can’t just have this plan that you think is amazing and stick with it with blinders,” Vidal said. “You have to be fluid and fast moving and make fast changes, and we are always doing that.”
She had to learn the world of e-commerce marketing and SEO, and she wasted a lot of money the first couple of months with subpar service providers. But the business is beginning to hit its stride, having grown 50 percent in the past six months. Pooch Perks, which aims to take a bite out of the $60 billion U.S. pet-products industry, has fulfilled 1,500 orders so far.
“We’ve started doing boxes for FIU and have had interest from other businesses, and it’s opened up a whole private-label B2B line that I never envisioned when I started that I think will be an amazing revenue generator for us,” she said. In addition, individual Pooch Perks products are on sale in the FIU bookstore: an FIU dog bandana, tennis ball and soon a mascot dog toy. For the donor relations department, Pooch Perks has been creating boxes with a variety of FIU-logo’d dog-related products.
A portion of every purchase goes to organizations that rescue abused or neglected dogs, and Pooch Perks is affiliated with the nonprofit Ralph’s Place, which has a vision to build a sanctuary for the worst cases of abuse and neglect. “My overall dream is to use Pooch Perks as the for-profit vehicle to support the not-for-profit cause of rescuing dogs . . . and hopefully eradicating abuse and neglect,” Vidal said.
In the next 60 days, Pooch Perks will switch to a more robust e-commerce platform that will allow more customization options. This year, Pooch Perks acquired Pooch Party Packs, another dog-box company, and is looking at rolling up more companies.
Meow, how about cats? “I feel like we need to get really good at what we are doing in the dog space first, and then we can apply the same model in the cat space,” Vidal said.