Pet Licensing in the Pandemic | Steven Shweky, Fetch for Pets

IMC Licensing

August 10, 2020

On the latest episode of The Brand Licensing Podcast, we’re sitting down with Steven Shweky, President of Fetch for Pets, to talk all things pet licensing.

Steven is top-dog at Fetch for Pets and has been a leader in licensing for over 25 years. He started Fetch in 2008 and has licensed several CPG brands and entertainment properties into the pet space.

Listen to the full episode below, or check us out on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Don’t forget to subscribe!


Episode Transcription

Emily Randles: Hey Steven. Thanks for joining us today on The Brand Licensing Podcast. How’s everything going?

Steven Shweky: Everything’s great. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

ER: Steven is top dog at Fetch for Pets and he’s been in licensing for over 25 years. He started fetch in 2008 and he has licensed several CPG brands and entertainment properties into the pet space. And our IMC team has worked with Steven and his team, and we just love all the work that we do together. So we thought it’d be great to have Steven on as a guest and talked to us about the pet space and licensing. But before we jump in Steven, can you give us a rundown on your resume?

SS: Sure. I come from a long line of family that was in the accessory business. So my grandfather started a company in the fifties selling rain gear and cold-weather products. My brother started a company in the early eighties doing ladies’ belts and I joined him while I went to college in the nineties. You know, I was selling fashion product and it was difficult. One is because I’m not that big of an authority on fashion. And two is that it didn’t give me a real significant point of difference. So that’s kind of why I looked at licensing as my answer. I wanted to walk into a customer with you know, something that I had different from my competitors to offer. I took my first brand in ’95 and I’ve had hundreds of brands since I was doing hair accessories and jewelry. I got into the cosmetic business launched a company called Lotta Love, and we did a candy-flavored chapstick, sold that, and went into skincare and beauty, which eventually led me to pet beauty. And I launched the pet company in 2008 with my first brand, Bed Head. We created Pet Head by Bed Head and that’s how I got started. And I haven’t stopped since.

ER: So we’ve worked with Lotta Love, but it was must have been after you sold it, but I didn’t know you started that. That’s awesome.

SS: A guy came into my office on a Tuesday. He looked like bill Clinton and he had white hair and I’ll never forget it. He was hilarious. And he came with an idea with a Tootsie Roll flavored lip balm, and I said, let’s do it. You know, I love the idea. Let’s get a hundred licenses and that’s exactly what we did. You know, we built the company in four years to over $25 million and then I sold it and moved on to the next project.

ER: We did Wrigley Double Mint lip balms, Big Red and all the Wrigley gum brands.

SS: Yeah, that was probably after me. I think the last brand that I worked on was Snapple.

ER: It’s such a fun space. So you’re in the pet space and must be a pet lover. So what do you love about working in the pet category?

SS: I had love for dogs and wanted a dog since I was a child. Apparently, my mother lied to me and told me I was allergic to dogs and that’s why I couldn’t have one. I found out after I got married that I was not allergic to dogs and then I asked for permission with my wife to get a dog and she wasn’t a fan. So I decided to start a pet business. One day, I just brought home a puppy and now I have two dogs and I love them. It’s really the inspiration and driving force. You know, the great part about being in the pet industry is it’s easy to sell product because you’re selling love. With the brands that we have and the consumer trust that we have, we’ve been really successful building on that feeling of love.

ER: What kind of trends are you seeing in pet products?

SS: I’d say that pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, things are a little bit different. There’s still definitely a focus on natural products and clean ingredients in product. Whether it’s edible or topical, sustainable product is still very important to the pet consumer. We’re seeing a massive growth in preventative care products. Grooming is probably the biggest winner of the bunch. We’ve seen crazy escalation during the pandemic. While other categories are returning to normal, pet grooming is still 50% above last year. Vitamins and supplements are also a great space in that area. There’s was also a huge spike in pet adoptions. I read somewhere that it was about 700% over last year due to the pandemic. People went out and adopted pets to make them feel better.

ER: Yeah, I definitely heard the adoption space was going up. I saw something that said now that people are starting to go back to work you actually have to train your pet to be used to you not being home so much. There has been a lot of comfort on both sides from the pet and from the owners when everybody was at home.

SS: Yeah, I kind of got the feeling my dogs were getting sick of me. I have one of my dogs that sits next to my son while he works from the dining room table and the dog sits next to him the entire day. It’s the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen.

ER: Well, it goes back to your point about love, right? It’s all just about the love and the connection. So you guys are currently working in the pet space and we’ve talked a lot about that, but you also work in the consumer products space as well. What’s the big difference between pet products and consumer products?

SS: It’s a much different landscape. The competition is fierce when I’m competing with companies like Proctor and Gamble and Colgate and Georgia Pacific and all these huge, huge companies. We have to operate really off the merit of our products because we don’t spend tens of millions of dollars in marketing and advertising. We’ve really had great success in this space. We found our niche that we fill and it was a tough road learning about this business. It took us a good four or five years to become profitable in this business, but now it’s been off to the races.

ER: At retail, you have your pet specialty and then you have your FDM. I’m assuming there’s a big difference in selling those. Any big challenges or differences between those two?

SS: I mean, the competition is a lot less serious. We’re dealing with companies maybe just a little bit bigger than we are and there’s a lot more opportunity to be innovative and bring new ideas to the table. There’s more runway to take chances for the retailers.

ER: So have you guys developed any in-house brands that you sell and distribute? And if so, what’s the difference between working on an in-house brand versus a licensed product within your portfolio?

SS: I’d say that it’s not our strategy to build in-house brands. We want to show our licensors and partners that we’re committed to building their brands and not our own. We don’t ever want them to feel threatened by our own brands, which I think is a big problem in licensing today. We do have our own brands in spaces where we don’t have a great licensed alternative. For instance, we had an in-house brand in the healthcare space called VetMD. It was great, but we did it only because we didn’t have an alternative. This year, we brought on GNC as our healthcare brand for pets, which is much better.

ER: That’s a perfect brand for that category. What’s your next big project that you guys are working on?

SS: Well, a big part of our business is working with Clorox and all their brands. They’re constantly throwing new projects at us. We’re their go-to company when they have a problem or they have an idea that they want to execute that they can’t do on their own. So, as you can imagine, I get a lot of strange things thrown my way. But we’re working with them currently on their initiative to position themselves as the sanitizing brand across the world. If you’ve seen in the news, they’ve partnered with companies like United and Uber and AMC where these companies are gonna utilize the Clorox logo in their establishment to give the confidence to the consumer that they’re germ-free. We are making some of the products that are being given out at these establishments. We’re working now with these huge companies more on a B2B level. It’s an all-new experience for us and a ton of fun.

ER: Is Clorox doing this through licensing or are they doing this just through partnerships?

SS: It’s kind of a hybrid approach actually. I’m sure you’ve heard their core business they can’t keep in stock. Wipes are out of stock now until April of 2021. They won’t be back in full capacity. So the CEO really wants them to focus on the current assortment. They’re going outside via licensing to expand that business. This is where we’re working closely with the sales teams and the relationships they have with these large companies to help. We work closely with them and keep them in the loop the entire time from a sales perspective. At the end of the day, it’s a licensing deal. I am so blown away by the scale of what Clorox is working on for this project.

ER: What a value added across the board, not only for those companies, but as a consumer. That’s great. Congrats. That sounds like a really exciting project. So, you’ve been in space and you’ve worked on a lot of projects and brands. There must’ve been some mistakes or mishaps along the way. What’s one of the biggest mistakes that you’ve learned from?

SS: I have a habit of taking on more than I can handle. That’s definitely one of the big things I learned a long time ago. When I commit to a brand, I make sure that I can be all in with every part of my business. I learned a long time ago that there’s so many companies that want their brand in the pet space. But if the brand doesn’t lend some measure of expertise to the pet product or the pet specifically, then it’s not going to work. That’s why you look at a lot of these celebrity brands, I don’t think any has ever worked because they have nothing to lend to the product. That’s just their name. I’d say that was the biggest lesson.

ER: Well, my next big question is what is the strangest licensed product that you’ve seen?

SS: That’s a crazy question! I really am at a loss on that one. I think I would need to think about that and get back to you. I’m so focused on my business. I’m working 18-hour days just trying to handle the increase in volume. It’s been insane through the pandemic. We are definitely seeing a massive impact on our business due to the pandemic. Not everything that came out of this was a tragedy. It definitely created a lot more business opportunities for us.

ER: And a lot more pet owners with a lot more love in their homes.

SS: A lot. I was reading some great research yesterday and it seems that the bulk of the ownership is coming with the Gen Z and Millennials being the first ones to acquire new pets in this adoption trend. Our market was more shifted towards Gen X but is now skewing a lot younger after this. We’re just trying to figure out how we need to do to adjust to meet the current demographic.

ER: I would imagine that would maybe even shift probably more in the future once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath. Those consumers shop differently and look for things differently than your Gen X and your Boomers.

SS: Totally. They’re not as brand loyal as Gen X and the Boomers. They are also more concerned about the environment and things being natural with limited ingredients. So , that’s definitely a shift for us.

ER: Yeah, there’s probably an increase inonline shopping too. Obviously, online has gone through the roof just because of COVID, but also with those consumers.

SS: I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime. The online business is up over 300% since the pandemic and it was already up significantly even before the pandemic. The volume that an Amazon can do for one single product is way more than Walmart can sell. You don’t have a limited shelf-space on an Amazon like you do in a Walmart. There’s really a lot of knowledge and science that goes into being successful on e-comm. We really embraced it early on and we’re well-positioned to handle this shift to online shopping.

ER: That’s great. Have you guys seen a difference in your manufacturing for products that are manufactured overseas?

SS: Back in February, our factory shut down in China, because that’s where the outfit new outbreak was. And then by the time they were allowed to start manufacturing again we got hit with it here. And so we were experiencing out of stocks due to the China outbreak. And then once it hit here, all our factories either shut down completely or had our head to work and still working on a reduced capacity reduced staff. And so it’s been a real struggle here in the US to get certain products and anything related to, you know, these sanitization products like hand sanitizer. So it’s, it’s impossible to get a pump for hand soap or some basic bottles, you know, that quoting I’d one vendor, quote me a 53 week lead time on a specific trigger for one of our products. It’s huge. It’s, it’s a struggle. It keeps, it keeps us up all night and all day. And it’s definitely the biggest pressure cause we feel like we’re letting our customers down. And even though it’s not something that’s beyond our control, we still take responsibility for it. Sometimes the customers are understanding and sometimes they’re not, and it just puts us in a really difficult situation.

ER: Yeah. That’s tough. I’m assuming that’s where your, your 18 hour days are coming from mostly.

SS: Yeah, that’s for sure. Yeah. We’re focused much more on operations today than ever before. And especially, I think the pandemic has forced us to be more process driven because we’re not in person and can have these collaborative you know, talks and, you know, mentioned things in passing. I think that’s also one of the, the good things that came out of this. We were able to focus and reinforce ourselves operationally.

ER: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And we’re feeling that as well, you know, just and we were always a remote team, but just even working with our partners and, and working on, you know, communication process updates. So I think to your point, some, some of the positives that are coming out of everyone’s adjusted situations.

SS: Yeah. Yeah. If you think about it, this pushed us so far into the future. Right. I was probably with a Walmart bar the other day and he, they estimate that this pushed consumer behavior up by three to five years. Wow. Yeah. I mean, think about that. Like now, today I’m more comfortable hiring people. I just hired today a person in England to work for me. And before this, that would have been out of the question, but now we see that things could work remotely and we feel more comfortable doing things like that.

ER: Yeah. Yeah. We made a hire as well. And I, like, we did a video interview, you know, face to face and it was different, but yeah, you just kind of like, okay, well this is the new norm and I won’t be able to see you probably in months. So welcome to the team. Yeah.

SS: I’m telling you, I hired maybe four or five new team members all done by video. And I can’t believe that I haven’t met them in person yet. Like, it’s unbelievable to me when I think about that. Yeah.

ER: A little culture shock for those of us that I know people are like, Oh, everyone, you know, loves working remotely. And we do love working remotely and you know, travel’s going to change and I do think it’s going to change, but we still are missing that connection piece. And can’t wait to get back to, you know, like reconnecting with our clients and having those face to face meetings. And then zoom, I do a great job, but there’s still the need to get back to some sort of connection there.

SS: Yeah. And I think that it’s working really because the teams in place ha were had that bond prior to working remotely. So the teams were already built at going into the pandemic. I don’t think that the model is sustainable necessarily longterm because you just can’t get used to working with someone without actually spending time with them. And it’ll be interesting to see how, how things play out. And I definitely think that there are some positions back and remain remote. I think people don’t realize how much they miss human interaction. And then they’re going to be really excited when they start to come back and see all their friends again.

ER: Yeah, that’s awesome. If people want to connect with you online and find out more or they have a pet product idea, what’s the best way to connect with you?

SS: Sure. You can just go to our website. It’s Fetch4Pets.com and there’s a portal to submit ideas or to contact us. We’re always open to new things. We love our products. We love making new products to make pet parents happy. And we’d love to hear from everybody.

ER: Perfect. And I’m assuming we can find you online? Do you have Instagram and Facebook?

SS: Facebook, Instagram. Personally, I’m a LinkedIn guy. We’re available on all the social channels.

ER: Perfect. Well, thanks again so much for your time today and your insights. It’s been really eye-opening just to hear more about how everything is evolving and impacted your world and the world of pet licensing. We appreciate it and we’ll talk to you soon.

SS: Sounds great. I really appreciate the opportunity.

IMC Licensing Logo Mark

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