Thanks to a whole lot of snow in Colorado I was pretty much housebound this week. I was also reminded of the number of mouths I’m expected to feed. That total is nine… if I count the four horses, two cats, and one dog besides my wife & me. Now that I think about it, a horse eats enough for two so let’s bump the number to eleven mouths. And nine of those belong to animals.
A year or so ago I wrote a post called Sign Me Up!, where I marveled at the rapidly growing world of subscription-based services. Among my own subscriptions I listed a magazine, a newspaper, and digital music, I also included Chewy, the online pet food supplier whose mission is “to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere.” At the time I was just trying Chewy out, not willing to go all-in with a subscription. Today? I’m fully on board and wondering why I didn’t sign up sooner.
Every time a Chewy pet food box shows up at my front door my first thought is, “Why didn’t I come up with this idea?” Chewy’s concept is wonderfully simple… and wildly successful. First, create a list of the world’s major suppliers of dog and cat food. Second, negotiate bulk purchases of their products at a discount. Third, set up a small network of fulfillment centers. Finally, sell to customers with some of the discount, keeping the rest for your own operation and profit. It’s a middleman’s recipe for millions. Er, make that billions.
If you think this post is a plug for Chewy you’re darned tootin’ it is. Chewy offers over 2,000 brands of pet food to 15 million subscribed customers. 97% say they’re satisfied. Chewy’s net sales in 2019 were $4.8 billion dollars. Nosh on that impressive number for a second. $4.8 billion sounds like the GDP of a small country. A small country with a lot of pets.
Foresight is everything here. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed there were 200 brands of pet food, let alone 2,000. If I go back to my childhood (way more than ten years ago) I can name exactly four pet food brands or products of the day: Purina, Friskies, Alpo, and a curious General Mills creation called Gaines Burgers (“The canned dog food… without the can!”) Well, I also remember a variety box of dog biscuits called “Fives”, but that’s because I snacked on them every now and then when there wasn’t anything else in the pantry. Fives were fit for human consumption. At least, I think they were.
The pet food demand of the 1970s wouldn’t have sustained a subscription service like Chewy. On the other hand, today’s market is a feeding frenzy, especially with more people opting for “fur babies” over children. And don’t think Chewy hasn’t noticed all the doggy daycare and emotional support. Now they also deliver food for your fish, your bird, your snake, and all those farm animals grazing on your backyard lawn (alpacas, anyone?) Chewy even offers a pharmacy of over-the-counter meds when your pet is in some way under the weather.
I was going to wrap up this plug by smugly suggesting Chewy cater to our horses, but of course they already do. I can’t subscribe to hay bales yet (I’m sure they’re working on that) but I can buy grain, treats, blankets, tack, and fly spray. So instead, let me speculate it probably won’t be long before Chewy gets into the “human” food delivery business as well, to compete with Amazon, Wal*Mart, and Target. With Chewy’s millions of subscribed customers, the new offering would take off like a bull in a china shop. Or better, like a big, furry bad boy in a Star Wars movie.