Imagine that one day, a video of your dog and cat goes viral on YouTube. Next thing you know, you’re launching a pet travel company featuring their faces. Well, that’s exactly how it happened for Devon and Ashley Meadows, the husband and wife partners behind Next Level Pet.
“We set up a camera to monitor our pets during the day since we had just rescued our dog, Chazz. It turned out that our cat, Greyscale, was not amused,” says Devon. “The video was mildly funny but wildly conversational. So we put it on YouTube and it went viral—it got more than four million views. We made $5,000-8,000 over the course of the next year from random videos like that one.”
Thinking there was more to this and inspired by a family member who had launched an Amazon business, Devon decided to try his hand at developing travel products for pets and selling them online. He found a manufacturer, developed their first product (a pet toothbrush) and got to work learning the nuances of selling on Amazon.
What started as a side gig quickly grew into a full-time job. Toothbrush sales were steady, so Devon and Ashley set to work developing new products, refining the packaging, and connecting with distributors.
Next Level Pet has found a profitable niche, but as any business owner knows, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. Here are some of the lessons learned from their hard work.
1. Start Lean
Before launching on Amazon last summer, Devon did some market research to see which products were selling on the platform. He found that there wasn’t a lot of competition in the pet hygiene space, and the products that did exist had few reviews and uninspired packaging.
It immediately felt like an opportunity.
“Garlic presses are the poster child of the most overwhelmed product on Amazon. Toothbrushes were the opposite of that,” he explains. Since his goal was to get his feet wet, it made sense to start with an inexpensive item that could be manufactured and tested easily.
“Garlic presses are the poster child of the most overwhelmed product on Amazon. Toothbrushes were the opposite of that.”
After settling on the toothbrush, Devon reached out to 20-30 manufacturers, proposing a unique variety toothbrush pack with better package design than the competition. Initially, he shipped the goods straight to Amazon, so all he had to do was set up the page and get the products.
His process has since changed a bit, “Now we send everything to a warehouse in LA first,” he says. “Amazon charges a lot to hold onto extra inventory, so we give them a month or two worth of inventory and hold the rest.”
2. Think Long-Term
There were a few other challenges working with Amazon, including their rule that a product price on Amazon has to be the lowest on the internet. Still, Devon found that the compromise was worth it because the company also handled trickier aspects of the business like inventory, shipping, and even customer service. But despite the ease associated with the e-commerce giant, there were downsides, too.
“People on Amazon call it “Amazon crack” because it’s so easy and instant and you can get great sales. You don’t need any awareness or marketing at all. But at the end of the day, they can shut your account down for a variety of reasons you may not have control over.”
This lack of control is partly why Devon is currently focused on building up his store on Shopify, exploring other sales channels, and landing multiple wholesale deals to help him expand. Still, the appeal of Amazon makes it hard to completely abandon the platform.
“Amazon is such a machine. So many customers go there and search ‘dog toothbrush’ every day. You don’t get that kind of active person seeking goods anywhere else on the internet,” he explains. “Amazon is a really ideal place to launch a product.”
In the long run, however, Devon is doubtful that an Amazon business will be sustainable due to this lack of control, saying, “Our goal this year is to get 50% of our sales outside of Amazon.”
3. Follow the Margins
Currently, the company sells four products in total–three pet carrier bags and the toothbrush set. Future products will include backpacks, car hammocks, and more pet carriers. “We’ve sold 2,300 bags since launching in January. Now we’re in the first round collecting feedback and applying changes to the revision.”
Ironically, at one point Devon actually had plans to give up manufacturing their pet toothbrush in order to focus on pet carriers exclusively. But the profit margins of the pet toothbrush sales, as well as landing a deal with a major pet company, changed his mind. Sometimes you just need to let the money talk and then listen to what it’s saying.
4. Build your brand
According to Devon, the biggest downfall of Amazon is that you can’t capture customer email addresses.
“Amazon’s goal is to hold everyone to Amazon. Every once in awhile a customer will find their way to our site, but I’d say about 95% don’t,” he explains. To counter this problem, Devon wanted to come up with interesting content to draw customers into the Next Level Pet e-commerce store. And since the theme of their product line is pet travel, he decided they should hit the road.
“We’re going to start expensing a trip every month so that we can create content–we’ll take our dog, take pictures, write blog posts and use our own products to understand exactly what needs improvement.”
The goal is to build up travel-oriented content and focus on branding. “It’s a turning point where we’re learning what kind of fun things we can actually do as a pet travel company,” he says. “But we’re hoping we’ll drive interest and capture some email addresses along the way and get people interested in buying new gear because they know that our brand has really cool stuff.”
Though Next Level Pet started as a side gig, it has quickly turned into an ambitious full-time passion project for Devon. “We’d love to someday be the largest pet travel company in the world,” he says. “But right now we’re just working on improving our own road trips. It’s great to do something we both love, and we’re taking it one step at a time.”