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Dog Gone

Teaching an old product new tricks.

Sometimes it pays to bark up the wrong tree--at least, in a manner of speaking. That's the lesson learned by Phoenix-based sporting goods manufacturer Penn Racquet Sports in its attempt to put a new spin on its tennis balls.

"Over the years, we've had a lot of people suggest this is something we ought to do," says Penn's director of marketing and international sales, Mike Curtis, explaining the company's rationale for introducing tennis balls made especially for dogs last summer. "It's a neat idea."

From a marketing perspective, what's so neat about the new line (called R.P. Fetchem's) is that it's a perfect example of how one product (give or take a few revisions, perhaps) can be served up to two completely different audiences. Says Curtis, "A lot of people are intrigued with the concept of taking a core competency and applying it to a different market."

Naturally, Penn's doggy tennis balls (manufactured in conjunction with pet care giant Ralston Purina Co.) are packaged differently as well--just take a gander at the cartoon canine depicted on the label. And, yes, the notorious saliva factor prompted a switch to vegetable dye and an ultra-durable felt surface. What remains to be seen, however, is how many dog owners will, um, bite.

Curtis, for one, is optimistic. "It certainly could be as large as 10 percent of our sales," he says, pointing out that pet owners easily outnumber tennis players. So we guess it's true: Product lives--like dog years--are exponential.

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Dog Gone.

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