A group of small ecommerce businesses selling dog-related goods have banded together to create a new entity, the Canine Collective. The collective has got big plans, with a pop-up in Auckland’s Ponsonby Central planned, and a list of exciting events on the go.
The collective was founded by Mai Young, who runs subscription box service Bark Bag, and Gretchen Hamlen-Williams of dog accessories retailer Wolves of Wellington. Young and Hamlen-Williams met through their dogs, as well as their dog-based businesses – Young’s pup Snowy and Gretchen’s husky Indy developed a rapport after they met while their owners attended a pet expo in Wellington.
Young says there’s a natural sense of community among those operating dog-related businesses in New Zealand. Operating as a group allows the 13 independent retailers and eight service providers involved in the collective to take opportunities that would be too difficult or expensive for a single SME business, says Young.
“Gretchen and I had looked into [pop-up stores] separately and we were like, ‘Oh no.’”
“For a small New Zealand business that’s online-only, it’s kind of hard to get that physical presence,” says Young.
The 50 square-metre Auckland pop-up store will run from June 26 to July 2, and will host a VIP shopping night with wine, cheese and a Q&A with a vet soon. There will also be a “doggy degustation” night, and a ‘Pawty in the Park’ dog play session at Western Park in Auckland’s Freemans Bay on July 1.
Eventually, Young says, the collective hopes to stage pop-ups around New Zealand.
Young’s own business Bark Bag is now eight months old. She left her career as a corporate lawyer to launch Bark Bag after finding herself “not too thrilled” with the selection of existing subscription box offers aimed at dogs. Snowy was the inspiration for its unique AI customisation engine: “He’s really, really picky.”
She describes Bark Bag as “kind of like a personal shopper for a dog.” It uses the same machine learning technology as music apps like Pandora to keep track of each individual dog’s preferences – over time, the AI builds up a picture of what kinds of items each dog prefers, and will produce a list of suggestions for inclusion in its Bark Bag. This list is checked by a human, then the items are packed and sent.
“If we didn’t build it for scale, then if we did get big one day, it’s just not feasible to keep track of 500 to 1000 dogs so that’s where technology comes in,” Young says.
The platform was built by Young’s partner, Michael McKenna, who works in software for loyalty app Goody Card.
Young believes the market for high-end, personalised dog goods is growing strongly, but says the Canine Collective members are primarily in business because they adore dogs.
“We’re doing this because we genuinely love our dogs, and love everything to do with dogs.”
“I don’t want to say we’re crazy dog ladies, but it might be implied.”