It took a depressing visit to a trade show for Ryan Cohen to realize that selling jewelry online wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. There was too much to learn, and the passion just wasn’t there.
Shortly after, Cohen was buying food for his beloved teacup poodle when he began to seriously consider how devoted he was to his pet, and how he was just like millions of other dog and cat owners who were willing to shell out big money to make the pets happy. Cohen refers to them as “pet parents” for the way they spend so freely on premium foods and amenities like orthopedic beds.
Cohen and his business partner decided to sell their jewelry inventory at a loss to try to corner the market on pet parents. The result was Chewy.com. Silicon Valley wasn’t that interested in parting with startup money at first, but the company is now valued at around $4 billion.
When Cohen wanted to take fulfillment of pet products in-house, he realized he was lacking the proper experience, so he made overtures to Amazon employees to find people who knew what it took to deliver Chewy.com’s offerings. Cohen has also poured big money into customer service—Chewy spent about $1 million in postage in 2016 to mail out handwritten holiday cards as a personal touch for customers.
The company is not alone in the online pet supply market; major competitors seem to have sensed the future buying habits of pet parents too. Cohen is not terribly worried about how easy it is for customers to switch e-commerce sites, or how big a chunk players like Jet.com or Petco may wind up taking from him. “We’ll be done growing,” he says, “when we’re six feet under.”
— Adapted from “Pet Smarter,” Susan Adams, Forbes.