E-tailer Inubar, Founded by Lot18 Alums, Debuts in Pet Wares Sector

7/10/12Follow @jpruth

Pet owners who dote on their four-legged companions have a new e-tailer to peruse, now that New York startup Inubar has come out of stealth mode today. Inubar offers a selection of aesthetically designed products and is initially focusing on toys, bedding, and accessories for dogs. New items will be added each week.

Websites that curate products for shoppers have been popping up lately and at first blush Inubar looks like a crossbreed of BarkBox and designer goods site Fab.com. Inubar co-founder Tiffany Luck says her company has a different strategy than BarkBox, which sends each subscriber a monthly box of pet products picked by the staff. Luck says Inubar sells a mix of essential items that pet owners need, as well as eye-catching, rare products to discover. “It is a little more traditional retail than BarkBox,” Luck says.

And while Fab offers such items as handmade rugs and designer coffee tables, Inubar is all about pets. “We are trying to be the place you go when you want to try something new and you need something,” Luck says.

Inubar, which is bootstrapped thus far, sells items that are designed for an evolved sense of style, yet ready for everyday use. For example, the site sells colorful squeaky twig toys designed to satisfy any dog’s urge to chew and to appeal to pet owners who’d like something more sophisticated than rubber steaks strewn across their floors. A white ceramic jar with a sculpted dog on the lid might look at home on kitchen counters—but it is for dog biscuits and barbeque-flavored treats shaped like squirrels, not cookies. “The idea is we’ll always have this highly curated collection that’s rotating,” Luck says.

Inubar plans to introduce four new products each week with popular items retained in an evergreen section of the website. All products currently on the site cost less than $100 each, though Luck foresees adding items that cost up to $200. “If you go into a boutique retailer, you see prices of $500 for a pet bed,” Luck says. “We’ll be offering a lot of the same things you find at these high-end retailers just at competitive pricing.” For example, lounge beds from designer Jax and Bones cost up to $98 through Inubar, down from a retail price of $169.

Starting a business in the pet products sector is a challenge, Luck says, because of the dominant brick and mortar incumbents. “Wal-Mart is the largest in terms of market share,” she says. “Petco and PetSmart are both big players.” Grocery stores and other big-box retailers also carry broad arrays of pet products, though Luck believes Inubar’s focus on design gives it an advantage. “It’s easy to find beautiful home décor items through Fab, One Kings Lane, or Fancy,” she says. “We thought that was missing in the pet space.”

It’s one crowded space online, however. In addition to BarkBox, Inubar will be competing against the likes of Jersey City, NJ-based Wag.com, an Amazon-owned site which launched a year ago. And two-year-old PetFlow.com, based in New York, is quickly growing its customer base and recently became the most talked-about retailer on Facebook, according to PageData.

But Luck maintains the pet market is fragmented in terms of how suppliers reach consumers outside of brick-and-mortar retail distribution. She says many suppliers, such as Jax and Bones and New York’s Bocce’s Bakery, which makes homemade dog treats, want new ways to reach customers. “All these small suppliers, who are also about uniqueness and design, really don’t have a great distribution outlet right now,” she says.

Luck wants Inubar to be the platform that meets this need. The company works with more than 30 suppliers and is in talks with another 100, Luck says. Orders are handled through drop shipping arrangements with the suppliers and Inubar charges a $5 flat rate on all deliveries.

Luck and fellow co-founder Ran Tao were early employees of wine and gourmet food private club Lot18 in New York before founding Inubar. “[Tao] ran e-mail marketing and loyalty retention,” Luck says, “and I did business development and customer acquisition.”

They are putting their experiences at Lot18 to work at Inubar. For now Inubar has no plans to raise outside funds, but that may change as the business scales up, according to Luck. As dog owners, she and Tao chose to focus on canines initially, but they plan to add products for other pets in the future. Puff, the company’s resident Pomeranian, serves as their go-to product tester.

Luck says Inubar plans to introduce a section on the website for pet owners to submit information about their pets such as breed, age, favorite toys, and treats then use the data to create a recommendation engine to help other pet owners who are unsure what to buy. “We’re trying create a dog taste graph,” she says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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