Cat GPS Tracking: The Wave of the Future or a Passing Fad?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a pet industry entrepreneur who has a passion for ensuring cat owners never experience the emotional pain of permanently losing their cat. Lisa Tamayo is the CEO of a new pet technology company, SCollar. Lisa and her husband built and sold a technology company several years ago, so they are no strangers to either starting a new business or how to incorporate technology into a new product. While SCollar is one of the many entrants into the race to breakthrough to the front of the pet technology pack, there are many tech-oriented products for dogs, but few for cats. According to the most recent APPA National Pet Owner’s Survey, 27% of cat owners have an electronic tracking device for their cat, an increase of 50 % since 2012. However, the majority of these tracking devices are implanted microchips. A collar with GPS is still quite a new concept and currently just 2% of cat owners have one, a number that is likely to grow over the next several years as more products are introduced to the pet market.

I was curious how a GPS system for cats worked and how it could keep cats from being lost forever. Lisa was kind enough to share her significant wisdom and insight into all things Cat GPS and below are snippets from our conversation.

Cats are elusive creatures. Whether a cat stays indoors exclusively or roams about the neighborhood, cats like to find small, tight places to tuck themselves into and sleep. Which is pretty inconvenient when you want to find them. There are times when a good shake of the food bag will do the trick, but not always. You call and you call and nothing happens. That little hitch in your throat stays there until he finally appears, sauntering over to rub against your legs while you contemplate yet another futile cat lecture. Time to talk about the next wave of Cat GPS Tracking.

If kitty goes outside, you would like to know where he hangs out. And if he doesn’t come when called, you need a way to find him. New technology is finally making both of these things possible. Currently your furry friends can be tracked with Cat GPS using cellular signals or Radio Frequency signals. But… what does that actually mean? A Cat GPS Tracker, really?

GPS CAT TRACKING WITH CELLULAR:

GPS with cellular offers more accurate tracking and can show kitty’s location in real time on a mobile app. There are several companies with cellular GPS trackers on the market, but most are too big for cats and small dogs. All of the currently available GPS Cat cellular trackers attach to a cat’s regular collar. GPS Cat cellular trackers are more expensive – ranging from $100 to $200 and require a cellular subscription costing between $5 and $15 per month. The best cellular GPS options for cats are Paw Tracker, Nuzzle, Pawtrack, and Pod.

The GOOD: GPS with cellular allows for real time tracking of a cat.
The BAD: Pet owners incur a monthly subscription cost.

GPS CAT TRACKING WITH RADIO FREQUENCY:

Radio Frequency (RF) tracking has been around for years and functions in a similar fashion to a walkie talkie. Most RF trackers attach to a cat’s collar, although newer companies are introducing RF tracking integrated into the collar. Some RF trackers require a remote to help pet owners find kitty, while others have introduced tracking on a mobile app. Social GPS, combing the signals of other users, is a tool some RF trackers employ to help locate a lost cat. Trackers using RF have a “line of sight” range of up to 500 meters but the range around a neighborhood is much smaller because the signal is blocked by obstacles like houses and trees. Prices range from $20-$100. The best options currently available for cats are TabCat, Pawscout and Scollar.

The GOOD: GPS with Radio Frequency is a more affordable option for tracking.
The BAD: The distance covered in a neighborhood is usually limited.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CAT GPS TRACKER

A Head Start: The best tracker will show the pet owner where the cat has been to give an idea where to start looking. The most feared scenario is the one where the cat is missing and the pet owner has no idea where to look. All of the tracking devices listed point the pet owner in the right direction, just with varying degrees of effort. Older RF trackers use remotes, while newer technology uses the map based interface on a mobile app.

A Good Match: Match cat tracking requirements with cat movement patterns. The best type of tracker depends on the cat and the living arrangement. If the cat spends a lot of time outside and disappears for long periods, a GPS Cat Tracker with cellular is likely the best option. If kitty doesn’t go outside very much and spends most of her time close to home, a GPS Cat Tracker with Radio Frequency is likely the best option.

Multiple Uses: Look for a cat tracking system that includes other functions to help manage the cat. The pet wearable universe is rapidly growing and changing and newer technology does more than just track cats (and dogs). Trackers that light up at night, have sound for communication, monitor activity, and manage regular reminders for feeding and medications help with overall kitty care. A cat tracker with multiple uses also makes it easier to justify spending the money on the technology.

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with MHT Partners, a premier middle-market investment bank, where she specializes in M&A in the pet sector. She is also a principal at BirdsEye Consulting, the pet industry’s premier consulting group. BirdsEye advises in the areas of M&A, strategy, and licensing. She can be reached at birdseye@carolfrank.com.

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Looking to Raise Growth Capital?

Top 10 Questions Asked by Investors

Growing your pet products business takes money, and unless you have a rich uncle, significant cash flow, or a very progressive bank, chances are you may need to raise capital of some form or fashion over the life of your business.  As an investment banker, I’ve heard potential investors ask just about every kind of question imaginable to entrepreneurs in order to gauge whether the opportunity is an appealing investment. If you have a unique, differentiated product with a solid growth plan in place, you will likely find interest from investors looking to put their money into the white-hot pet market.  Before going out to pitch your business to these potential investors, I thought it would be helpful for you to know the key questions you MUST have answers to before you make that first call or send that first email.

  1. How much of your own money have you invested? Early on in my consulting career I worked on a project where the founder of the company, who is a well-known celebrity, was trying to raise millions of dollars for her pet product company but refused to put any of her own money in. Guess what?  We didn’t raise a dollar.  Investors will need to know that you have significant skin in the game before they are comfortable giving you their money.
  2. What is your growth strategy to double or triple your sales in the next five years? For investors, it’s all about growth and how they are going to make a return on their capital that matches the level of risk they are taking on by investing money into your pet company.
  3. If you were an investor considering an investment in your company, what is the biggest hesitation you would need to overcome? Be honest here.  It’s not going to be all flowers and rainbows and there will be hurdles to overcome.  An investor will have more confidence in you when you give them a thoughtful, honest, and authentic answer to this question.
  4. Do you have a competitive analysis finished for me to review? This is the first page I go to when looking at a potential investment opportunity.  Who is your competition?  What are the barriers to entry in your category?  What makes you unique and special?  One of my favorite messages to entrepreneurs is “If you can’t do it better or differently than your competitors, then you are wasting your time and resources.”
  5. Why did you start this company? “To make money” isn’t an answer we often hear in the pet industry, since fortunately our industry is full of passionate people who love animals.  While making money IS an honorable goal, also be sure to be clear and concise about your intention, passion and convictions around your dream for your business.  Remember that passion and persistence go hand in hand. When you are passionate about what you do, you will be able to overcome obstacles you never dreamed possible, and investors like to know that you will do “whatever it takes” to make your business a success.
  6. What is your exit strategy? When would you like to exit? Who are likely acquirers? Remember that investors need to eventually get their money back out of your company and you must have a plan to make that happen.  A well thought out answer to this question is critical as it reveals a great deal about how much you know about industry players, valuations, and your long-term strategies.
  7. How will the capital you raise be used? Here’s what investors DON’T want to hear: to pay off debts or to pay the owners a salary.  What they do want to see is a specific list of expenditures designed to increase revenue and profitability.  Remember that you are raising GROWTH capital.
  8. Can I see a list of your Intellectual Property? Having patents, trademarks, and copyrights will greatly enhance the value of your business and protect your business from being overtaken by a competitor.
  9. What affects your gross margins and how do you expect this to change over time? If you have followed my articles over the years, you will know that I generally recommend striving for gross margins for a pet products company of at least 40%. A gross margin at that level not only lead to greater profitability, but will significantly increase the value of your business when you go to sell it.
  10. If money and resources were not barriers, what are three improvements you would make to your business? A thoughtful answer to this question not only helps an investor decide whether your business is worthy of his or her money, but also helps you dream big, prioritize how you will spend your growth capital and invest future profits.

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with MHT Midspan, a premier middle-market investment bank, where she specializes in M&A in the pet sector.  She is also a principal at BirdsEye Consulting, the pet industry’s premier consulting group.  BirdsEye advises in the areas of M&A, strategy, and licensing.    She can be reached at birdseye@carolfrank.com.

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Exit Strategies for Baby Boomer’ Owned Business – Part II

An Interview with Dr. Pamela Dennis, author of “Exit Signs”

I ended my last column with these three burning questions: If you are a Boomer who owns a pet company, what can you do to increase your chance of selling your business for optimum value? Should you get a jump on the plethora of Boomer businesses that are likely to hit the market in the next 10 years? And where would you even begin to start the process? To answer these important questions and more, I connected with Dr. Pamela Dennis, the author of the new book Exit Signs: The Expressway to Selling Your Business with Pride and Profit.

This topic is timely and important as a significant number of pet company owners are approaching retirement age. As Dr. Dennis (www.pameladennisphd.com) writes in her book, many of them do not have a clear exit strategy, yet an entrepreneur’s business is likely their most valuable asset.

Carol: Why did you write this book?

Dr. Dennis: I spent the majority of my career building, growing and running a professional services firm. I loved it! Then I left it. I sold it after almost 20 years, with a great deal of pride that it had surpassed our wildest dreams for growth and working with the best companies in the US and globally. And it was going to go on without me, a big goal when I started the firm. The sale ensured my retirement was going to be well funded too. We followed an exit plan.

I kept hearing painful stories about people (some were my friends) struggling with how to prepare themselves and their business to be sold. AND to do it in a way that met their personal goals but also left their business in good hands. One owner close to tears said, “I was very successful selling my business – just to the wrong buyer.” Then I learned the dismal statistics about ownership transfers and the lack of planning.

I wanted to write a book for owners who had invested much of their lives in building their businesses and had three goals: a profitable sale that would assure their retirement life style; pride in leaving a strong business for their people and customers; and a path forward. I wrote the book in 3 sections to do this: 1) build a strategy, 2) assure sustainability and 3) achieve serenity.

Carol: Why is the topic of exit strategy so important?

Dr. Dennis: Owners of small and mid-size privately held businesses are in the race of their lives. They just don’t admit it. The consequences of this denial are a disaster in the making for owners and for the local economies where they reside. The asset value of small to medium sized businesses today is estimated at over $10 trillion. Among that group of asset owners are 12 million Boomer business owners who are hoping to transfer ownership in the next five to ten years at a rate 9 times over previous levels. The negative impact on the market value of companies will be devastating.

About half of the U.S. job base in these companies will face a transition. According to PWc in 2010, 66% of small business owners are counting on the sale of their business to fund retirement or encore careers, but we know that only 25-30% of owners are successful in selling and almost 20 percent simply close their doors. This not only impacts individuals but communities and the national economy. Individual retirements, millions of jobs, and the viability of main street businesses will be significantly impacted. A NYT article quoting a study by a former FED member estimated the US could see a loss in asset values of $4.8 trillion dollars in the next decade. Research says lack of planning is the major reason for the dismal transfer outcomes. While 96 percent of these business owners know the importance of having an exit plan, fewer than 15 percent have one.

Carol: Why don’t owners have exit plans? What can owners do if they don’t have one?

Dr. Dennis: The three main reason business owners give for not engaging in exit planning is, “I’m too busy,” “It’s too early,” and “I don’t want to think about it.”

Exit Signs uses the metaphor of being in your car on an important journey. The reality today is it’s not just a journey, it’s a race. A famous race quote is, “You gotta work on the nut behind the wheel before you starting fixing bolts in the car.” Owners have first to face reality: this is the race of your life. It will take preparation and planning. The preparation begins with the owner — defining goals, overcoming resistance or fear, pulling together the expert advisors to be their pit crew.

I advocate 3 important actions.
1. Be Honest with yourself: “Are you, personally, committed to selling?” If not, don’t deceive yourself and waste valuable resources. Letting go is a process that starts now.
2. Face Reality — Check out your “vehicle” or business for its salability and areas for improving it. With so many companies coming on the market in the next 10 years, you must be in the top 10% of your industry.
3. Start drafting that new name badge. Too many owners don’t know how to answer the question, “Who am I if not my company?” They know too well what they are leaving behind, but not what to look forward to. Enzo Ferrari said, “What’s behind you doesn’t matter.” You don’t win the race looking in the rear view mirror. However, the past does provide important lessons for what will be gratifying in the next phase of your life.

Carol: What are some of the traps owners fall into when selling their businesses?

Dr. Dennis: I call them road hazards and potholes in the book. Some of them are what’s in our heads, others are what’s in our business operations.

One road hazard I call “Too Busy to Leave, Too Tired to Stay.” It’s being so busy running your business you don’t have the time to think about how to leave it. These owners are so busy performing all those functions, some of which they may even detest, that it’s an effort just moving down the road directly in front of you.

One alternate route is to think of wearing bifocals as you build your yearly plans or prepare your growth strategy. What do you need to do today AND how does the long range exit plan impact what you focus on up-close? When you invest, for example, in customer acquisition or process improvements, how will they build the value of your business in the eyes of a buyer? When you strip the profits out of the tax return today, how will it impact the salability and value of the business in three years?

Another example of a pothole is what the Nat’l Fed of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has called one of the top 3 problems small businesses face in selling their business: lack of complete and credible performance data — financial, legal, customer and operations. Exit Signs provides planning worksheets that build a strategy to avoid the pothole or overcome it.

Carol: Does your advice benefit entrepreneurs early in their businesses as well as for those “Late Stage business owners”?

Dr. Dennis: Yes. For the entrepreneur starting a business the critical question is “why are you in business, for what end game?” Is this a lucrative career move to generate revenue and invest your profits elsewhere? At some point you liquidate? Or, is this an entity to build equity and eventually realize a return on your investment? Two great strategies, but you need to be clear up front. It will impact everything from investment and budget strategies to key talent you employ.

AND, the book addresses many of the tasks and issues “mature business owners” face — who founded and worked tirelessly to build an enduring entity. The 22.7 million small to medium-sized enterprise owners who will eventually step away from their businesses need a roadmap that recognizes their long history of vision, passion, and dedication to making their business successful, and the natural exhaustion that accompanies years of growing and running a business. They want to see their brainchild (“my baby”), often their life’s work, sustained when their tenure at the helm is over. It is for these business owners that this book is written. Of course they want to exit profitably too. They want a new kind of roadmap for their exit journey that recognizes their aspirations and values of built to last versus built to flip.

Carol: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience with APPA’s members and best of luck with your new book.

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with MHT Midspan, one of the nation’s premier middle-market investment banks, where she specializes in Mergers and Acquisitions in the pet sector. She is also a principal at BirdsEye Consulting, the pet industry’s premier consulting group. BirdsEye advises in the areas of M&A, strategy, and licensing. She can be reached at birdseye@carolfrank.com.

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Exit Strategies for Baby-Boomer’ Owned Businesses: Part I

You’ve been hearing the rumors for years about the huge bubble of people born after WWII through the mid 60’s quickly approaching retirement. The Baby Boomers. You’ve probably heard the numbers:

  • Over 78 million people closing in on retirement in the next 10 to 15 years.
  • Boomers own over 65% of businesses with employees, totaling nearly 4 million companies.
  • Retiring business owners selling or bequeathing $10 trillion worth of assets by 2025.
  • This generation controls roughly 80% of all U.S. aggregate net worth.

Those rumblings you hear could be an avalanche of Boomer sellers of unheard proportions, crashing headlong into the U.S. economy, covering the business landscape, and suffocating many would-be affluent retirees along the way. Or not. With all those companies owned and assets generated, what could be the problem? Who will purchase all these businesses and what does this mean for Boomer pet company owners?

Some business will sell to employees; a select few companies will be absorbed by private equity groups; some will be acquired by fellow pet companies (aka as a strategic buyer). That leaves the Gen X, Millennials or other Boomers on the “buyer” side of the ledger, an 11% smaller group. And this imbalance between buyers and sellers will continue for the next 15 to 20 years.

But Boomer business owners are not rushing to sell for several reasons. Foremost, they are living longer—an average of 30 years longer than a century ago—and retiring later. Second, why sell your company when you get to work in one of the fastest growing, most enjoyable industries in the world? As an investment banker in the pet sector, one thing I have noticed is that owners truly enjoy working in the pet industry and for the vast majority of people I meet, selling is not at top of mind, which has created a shortage of businesses for sale and kept valuations at a premium. Also, most businesses are not large enough to fund retirement. SBA statistics show that 85% of Boomer businesses have less than 9 employees and 53% had less than $500,000 in revenues.

What about those businesses ready to sell in the near future? 100% of all retiring Boomer business owners will not be business owners forever. The vast majority of these owners have never exited a business before and even though many plan on selling their business in the next ten years, only a small percent have identified how they will exit and even fewer have put those steps in writing.

Facts about Baby Boomer Business Owners:

  • 80 percent of owner’s wealth is tied up in their companies (an illiquid asset)
  • 60 percent of business owners between the ages of 55-64 have not discussed their exit plans with their spouses or business partners.
  • 78 percent of baby boomer business owners do not have plans for how they will exit their companies.

If you are a Boomer who owns a pet company, what can you do to increase your chance of selling your business for optimum value? Should you get a jump on the plethora of Boomer businesses that are likely to hit the market in the next 10 years? And where would you even begin to start the process?

All of these questions and more will be answered in my next month’s column where I will interview Pamela Dennis, PhD. Pamela is the author of the just-released book Exit Signs: The Expressway to Selling Your Company with Pride and Profit. Exit Signs is about both the tactics of selling and the transitions of leaving your business. It gives you a step-by-step map for selling your business in a way that produces the profit you’ve dreamed about. Her clear and concise advice will help bring you confidence on how to execute one of the most important decisions of your life. Stay tuned!

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with MHT Midspan, one of the nation’s premier middle-market investment banks, where she specializes in Mergers and Acquisitions in the pet sector. She is also a principal at BirdsEye Consulting, the pet industry’s premier consulting group. BirdsEye advises in the areas of M&A, strategy, and licensing. She can be reached at birdseye@carolfrank.com.

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Pet Industry Outlook 2016: The News Just Keeps Getting Better!

The economy may be so-so; the stock market may be shaky; retail sales may be sluggish, at best. The $60 billion-plus pet industry, however, is expected to continue its long, strong, growth streak this year. Brian Beaulieu, an economist, recently told the Pet Industry Leadership Conference that growth in pet expenditures started significantly outpacing all retail sales in 2004 and is currently growing about 50 percent faster than the retail sector as a whole. “We will be enjoying growth in 2016, 2017, 2018,” he said, adding that he believes the industry is recession-proof. Longer-term, the future is bright, too. “There will be 100 million more Americans in 50 years,” he said. “And many of them will want pets.” Pet-loving Millennials, in particular, are mitigating fears about an aging population leaving the market, as Baby Boomers downsize or retire and become unable or unwilling to take care of animals. Bob Vetere, president of the APPA, believes this younger demographic backfill should keep the industry healthy for at least three to five years, as the Boomers age out. (Fun fact: 20 percent of Millennials who own a dog are likely to dress them up for Halloween, as opposed to only 13 percent of Baby Boomers.) Dogs, especially, are becoming more popular. David Sprinkle of Packaged Facts notes that the number of Americans who own dogs rose to 40 percent from 35 percent between 2007 and 2015; about 32 percent of the population has children. Yes, that means Americans today are more apt to have a dog than a child.

Besides the sector’s growth and “millennializing”, here are five other pet-related trends that will be big in 2016:

Acquisitions

The pet space continues to attract strategic and private equity investors; deal volume will likely continue apace this year, following a robust 2015. One area that has been picking up is the phenomenon of big fish buying little fish. And now we are seeing large, non-pet players entering the fray. Such was the case when J.M. Smuckers Company acquired Big Heart Pet Brands last year. No matter how many deals are completed, however, more small fish always appear. In fact, about 200 to 250 new businesses join the APPA each year; currently, membership is about 1,250 companies, up from 620 in 2002.

Technology

GPS and activity-oriented tags and collars will remain popular and evolve further. But Millennials, like some Boomers, perhaps, also place a premium on devices that help them make sure their pets are doing well when their owners are away. Remote cameras, speakerphones, timed doggie doors, or eating and watering contraptions are all hits with techie pet owners. Imagine watching on your cell phone your pup at home, and if the animal is causing mischief or making a mess, just call a cell phone-like device on its collar and bark, “Stop!”

Online Shopping

Traditional shopping channels for pet prdoucts—pet superstores, grocery stores, veternarian offices and wholesale clubs—are doing well. But shopping online has shown the most growth in the past five years; some 8.2 percent of pet-owning households bought pet products online in 2015. Be prepared, too, for more grooming items marketed as upscale or luxury versions of pet staples both online and in brick-and-mortar stores, all part of what has become known as “premiumization”.

Services

Growth will remain strong, too, in the pet services sector. With pet owners becoming more and more time-pressed, they will seek out more and more businesses that provide boarding, grooming, pet-sitting, dog-walking even poop-scooping. A new trend to watch: meal delivery for pets.

 Nutrition and Health

In the pet food space, frozen and refrigerated dog food sales were up by 28 percent last year; cat treats were up 13.3 percent, proving, possibly, that convenience and indulgence are still key factors in selecting pet food products. But many pet owners also care about the quality of his or her animal friend’s food. Labels, such as natural, premium, organic, eco-friendly and sustainable move products in the sector, even if few seem to know the difference between the terms, if and when they exist. This “humanization”, as well as “premiumization”, of products and consumer desires goes beyond food, too. Eco-friendly products and those labeled as environmentally safe will attract buyers. The increased demand also is pushing down prices for what often had been very expensive products. For more information on this, visit the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition website. Meanwhile, vet visits are no longer just for getting annual shots and examinations. Hip and other transplants are becoming more common, just as they are in their human owners. One cause may be that about half of all dog and cat owners own a senior pet, and half of all pets are overweight or obese, reports the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Could genomic research and DNA testing on pets become common in the near future? Don’t laugh—a couple in the United Kingdom recently paid $100,000 to clone their deceased dog, proving, I guess, that cats aren’t the only pets that can have, potentially, nine lives.

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with MHT Midspan, a premier middle-market investment bank, where she specializes in M&A in the pet sector. She is also a principal at BirdsEye Consulting, the pet industry’s premier consulting group. BirdsEye advises in the areas of M&A, strategy, and licensing.   She can be reached at birdseye@carolfrank.com

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