Pet Projects

Marketing Pet Products

Mail order company Legacy By Mail Inc. started in 1996 with $2,500 and a desktop-published catalog, selling two dog toys and a line of dog books written by co-owner Terry Ryan. In less than two years, the Kula, Hawaii, company--owned by Terry Ryan, 49; Bill Ryan, 52; Karla Kimmey, 47; and Larry Kimmey, 62--has expanded, adding its own products and becoming the exclusive distributor of several lines of pet treats and toys. A top seller, the company's Canis Obnoxious line includes T-shirts, polo shirts and sticky notes with cartoons of dogs smoking and wearing leather jackets.

Legacy's customers range from new dog owners to those who've been dog lovers for years, and include many instructors and pet rescue organizations; all told, customers shelled out $100,000 for the company's wares last year. Legacy reaches customers via a constantly updated Web site, a professionally produced catalog and quarterly postcard mailings.

Funda Alp of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association says that although the pet products industry is competitive, there's still room for people with creative ideas and marketing know-how to grow successful companies. Many entrepreneurs start with just one product, often something they made for their own pets. A vital next step, according to Alp: attending pet trade shows, where pet-shop owners and buyers for big chains seek new products. Trade shows also give you a chance to check out new ideas; Alp says hot sellers now include handmade toys and natural treats.

"You have to be willing to do whatever it takes," says Karla Kimmey, citing her family's upcoming relocation from Hawaii to the mainland in order to take Legacy to the next level. If you've got that kind of commitment and a love for animals, you're sure to find plenty of start-up opportunities in the pet industry.

Terry Ryan, 49; Bill Ryan, 52; Karla Kimmey, 47; Larry Kimmey, 62
Legacy By Mail, Inc.
Year Started: 1996
Start-Up Costs: $2,500
1997 Sales: $100,000

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Pet Projects.

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