PetFlow Paws its Way to the Top of Facebook, Sniffs Out Growth Path

7/5/12Follow @arleneweintraub

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we bought traffic and sent it to our site,” Zhardanovsky says. “Facebook tells you to build an audience of fans and engage that audience with interesting content. Then step number three is get that customer to buy. At the beginning, we were trying to do step number three without the others.”

So PetFlow turned its attention to its fan page, filling it with cute pictures of dogs and cats, and then inviting Facebook users to write captions and interact with other fans. “The point of that is when they’re interacting with each other they’re seeing ‘PetFlow,’ ‘PetFlow,’ ‘PetFlow,’ and eventually they’re going to make that purchase,” Zhardanovsky says. PetFlow quickly grew from 200,000 fans to more than 500,000.

PetFlow has also been successful running product promotions on Facebook, Zhardanovsky says. After treat maker Dogswell launched a premium dog food called Nutrisca, for example, the company gave PetFlow 2,400 small trial bags. PetFlow ran a promotion on its fan page a few months ago, offering the bags for 29 cents a piece, Zhardanovsky says. Prior to the promotion, PetFlow sold just 58 full-sized bags of the food in two months. But in the two-month period after the promotion, he says, the company sold more than 200 bags. “It actually generated a lot of real customers,” Zhardanovsky says. Facebook, he adds, “has reduced our cost of customer acquisition by 50 percent in the last two months.”

As for that online tiff with Pets.com CEO Wainwright, it resulted in a two-and-a-half hour phone conversation that Zhardanovsky says was illuminating, particularly when they compared notes about how much the cost structure has changed in e-commerce. “God knows how many [warehouse] facilities they had to build. We have two facilities running on a state-of-the art system in the cloud.” That system costs under $10,000 a month, he says.

That’s not to say PetFlow hasn’t run into they typical challenges that e-commerce companies face. Zhardanovsky says the startup struggled at first with the fulfillment side of the business. “I spent days packing orders to get a feel for what goes into it,” he says. “It’s a monumental challenge to actually get an order to a customer’s door.” PetFlow is now able to keep its orders flowing with a full-time staff of 33 and about two-dozen part timers who work in the warehouses, he says.

Zhardanovsky expects rivalry in the pet space will continue to grow. In addition to Wag.com, PetFlow is competing against companies like Pet Food Direct and Amazon, not to mention the two offline giants PetSmart and Petco. But Zhardanovsky believes PetFlow can continue to offer an edge in its selection of premium brands. His company currently offers 78 high-end foods, as opposed to Wag.com’s 56 and Petsmart’s 19, according to figures PetFlow has compiled. “We have a breadth and depth that other retailers don’t have,” he says.

PetFlow has raised $10 million in venture capital from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Westwood Ventures. The company plans to raise another round in the next few months to scale up its product selection, Zhardanovsky says. PetFlow plans to boost its marketing spend and to offer more products for people who have not just cats and dogs, but also fish, lizards, and other critters. “The more products we buy from our suppliers, the less we pay. The more shipments we do, the less we pay,” he says. “It’s just a matter of getting to that scale.” He adds that PetFlow plans to launch a service to compete with BarkBox, the New York company that sends treats and toys to pet owners who sign up for monthly shipments.

Zhardanovsky says PetFlow has tested every form of advertising from print to TV, but he believes it’s Facebook that will give his company the staying power that Pets.com didn’t have. “If I turn off all my other sources of paid media, my marketing goes away. But my marketing on Facebook doesn’t stop,” he says. “I already have that base of a half-million fans. I can continue to generate sales from them. In a sense, it’s the most viable of all marketing channels.”

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/zhard Alex Zhardanovsky

    Thank you for writing about PetFlow, Arlene!

  • Sara

    Nice article! Thank you! (But why the [sic] after ensure? It’s used correctly…”Ensure” = guarantee. You’d “insure” something through an insurance agent. Sorry, I’m a writer. Can’t help it.)

  • Elf

    Petflow wants to be cutting edge? Then use flat rate shipping boxes and offer delivery to Alaska. In this day and age of shipping costs it should be a no brainer!! I’m appalled at the reasoning behind many on line companies that only want to use Fedex or UPS. I live as many do here a very rural lifestyle but we have pets that would enjoy treats. I live off the grid and there is no road to my place which means there is no delivery truck. I come into the PO by bike, atv or dog sled to collect my mail, which by the way includes packages from the lower 48 in FLAT RATE boxes.