Cook says this business model made sense because not only did e-commerce eliminate the overhead costs of a brick-and-mortar operation, it made shopping more convenient for customers. “I hate to drive and I don’t like going to the grocery store,â€ says Cook. “I figured a lot of people out there feel the same way.â€ But it’s about more than convenience; Cook says having quality products is what makes her business stand out among other pet food retailers. “I wouldn’t put anything on the site that I wouldn’t feed my own dog.â€
Cook originally thought it would be relatively easy to establish an e-commerce business, but developing the website and its functionality turned out to be one of her biggest challenges. She consistently ran into setbacks during the pre-launch phase, and just two weeks before the grand opening, she and her team of four employees were changing up the website–a process Cook calls stressful. Four months after the launch of the website, “we learned we weren’t Google-friendly because we had lots of images, but not a lot of text to help with SEO [search engine optimization],â€ Cook says. “So we had to hire someone to help change everything over.â€
SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website or Web page in search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. How your online store is indexed in search engines is critical. It’s important for virtual storefront owners to make sure potential customers are able to find their site when they are searching for the services or products that you offer.
Cook says the company also faced resistance from potential customers who didn’t see the benefits of feeding organic foods to pets, or who believed natural products are too expensive. “If you can buy a 40-pound bag of regular food for $20, what do you think is in there? There are a lot of fillers and additives in those foods,â€ Cook says. “It’s like feeding candy to your baby.â€ She says there are plenty of natural pet foods that are affordable and high in quality, and to convey this point, she’s making it her mission to educate customers through her website and free pet care workshops held in the Houston area.
Cook is also educating her staff by teaming up with nutrition experts who provide accurate information that can be passed along to customers. “We want to teach people how animals can bring longevity into your life. If you’re bringing longevity into your pet’s life with proper nutrition, they can bring the same to you with exercise, love, and the care they give,â€ she says.
According to industry experts, many pet food companies have already developed lines of natural foods under very strict guidelines. “In the United States, pet food is the most highly regulated food product after infant formula,â€ says Kurt Gallagher, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Food Institute.
Financial resilience in this industry has been powered by owners’ tendencies to treat their pets like family members by offering more innovative, specialized, and premium products and services, reports IBISWorld. Retailers are cashing in on pet owners’ desires to pamper their pets. In addition, growth in pet ownership in the United States has led to higher demand for pet food and pet supplies overall.
All Natural Pet’s sales revenues reached $30,000 in 2011, but Cook is hopeful that sales for 2012 will climb to $100,000. The push now is to develop repeat customers through its subscription-based service that automatically has pet food redelivered to clients according to need. To further spread the word about the company’s products and delivery service, All Natural Pet joined forces with other local businesses. It recently partnered with Boneyard, a dog park and bar in Houston, to open The Treat Boutique, which offers all-natural and eco-friendly products for pets. Cook says she’s also established a working relationship with a local pet magazine, co-sponsoring events and contributing to its online blog.