Pet Business: Tell us about EzyDog. When and how was the company started? How has it evolved since it was founded?
John Hatcher: We officially launched in 2003. However, some of our products’ origins go back as far as the late 90s. My business partner Phil is Australian, and we were in the water-sports industry together for several years—specifically, the water skiing and wakeboarding industry. Our very first product was the Cujo leash, which is basically a cut-down water ski handle. Back in our water-skiing days, we used to take the remnants of water-ski ropes and build four six-foot leashes out of it. Then Phil came up with the idea of putting a shock-absorbing bungy section in the leash, and that’s how the product launched. It was under another name in Australia.
Phil and I stayed in touch and talked about launching it as a business. So we came up with a couple more products and officially launched EzyDog in 2003. When we started, we had three products: the Cujo leash, the Neoprene collar and the Chest Plate Harness. Now we have more than 500 SKUs in the line, including backpacks, floatation vests, toys, and several different kinds of leashes and harnesses—so we’ve grown quite a bit. From a revenue standpoint, we’ve had year-over-year growth for the past 10 years.
PB: Tell us about some of your most popular products. What sets them apart from other products on the market?
Hatcher: For about the last eight years running, our number-one selling item has been the Chest Plate Harness. It’s very unique in that the chest plate is made of EVA, which is a formable rubber. It will actually form to a dog’s chest over time, so it creates a custom fit. It also distributes load, which makes controlling a dog much easier. It requires much less strength to hold onto a dog that is pulling when you use the Chest Plat Harness. It also rides lower, giving you better leverage over the top of a dog, rather than pulling from behind.
Our Cujo leash has been a top seller since we started. Again, it’s basically a cut-down water-ski handle, but it has several features for the handler. It distributes load across your hand, so it requires much less strength to hold onto it. When you use the Cujo leash with our Chest Plate Harness, it just makes for a much better walking experience.
Our newest product is our Zero Shock Leash. It is more of a traditional webbing-style leash with a little bit of shock absorption in it. We labeled it as shock absorbing because we keep that section very short so that all it does is eliminate that static pull when a dog pulls really hard, but you maintain control. You can still use it as a training leash.
Another one of our newer products that does well is our Convert Harness, because it basically converts into other things. We offer side-saddle bags that attach to it. We have removable patches on it, so you can put different patches on—everything from search and rescue to service dogs, as well as fun patches that say things like “Alpha.”
PB: Products designed for pet owners who have active outdoors lifestyles seem to be growing more popular in recent years. Do you agree? What do you think is driving this trend?
Hatcher: Yes, those types of products are definitely popular with pet owners. Over the past five or six years, there have been a lot of companies emerging in the outdoors or active-lifestyle category. Dogs have become more and more part of the family. So, just like people want more than one pair of shoes for their kids, they’re demanding more specific items for their pets that fit their lifestyle. It has opened up an opportunity for manufacturers to fill those needs.
That was exactly the reason why we launched our product line. I’ve owned dogs all my life, but I could never really find pet products that fit my lifestyle—particularly when it came to water sports. It just happened that the water-sports industry was using different materials and manufacturing methods that weren’t being used in the dog market. For example, we were the first company to use neoprene in a dog collar. And there are a number of benefits to using neoprene: it doesn’t absorb oil, so it doesn’t get stinky; it’s super durable; and, obviously, it’s good for dogs that are in and out of the water.