At first glance, Buddy Belt seems like any other thriving small business.
The Toronto-based company was founded in the late ’90s by Roxanne Pettipas, a dog enthusiast and entrepreneur who designed a new kind of harness to stop eager dogs who aggressively pull at their leashes from injuring themselves. Business boomed as Buddy Belt tapped into the growing desire of people to splurge on their pets.
A deeper look makes its clear that Buddy Belt isn’t like other businesses. Ms. Pettipas is not the company’s CEO, nor is she the chief source of PR – both honours go to Buddy, the miniature dachshund that was the inspiration for the new collar.
“I decided years ago to tell our story from Buddy’s perspective and have him promote the product, since he’s the one wearing the belt,” Ms. Pettipas says.
At first the idea seemed like a neat but small marketing twist. The company posted the occasional photo of Buddy to its website, and customers sent letters thanking Buddy for the new belt. But over time momentum began to build. Last fall Buddy Belt launched a Facebook page devoted to the belts and the story of the entrepreneurial dog. The pet business exploded. The next Woofstock, billed as North America’s largest festival for dogs, which takes place this weekend in Toronto, is by far the biggest event of the year for Buddy Belt. It’s expected to attract an estimated 300,000 people.
Today Buddy is a doggie celebrity. People regularly email Ms. Pettipas asking to have their pictures taken with Buddy. Other dogs send him messages through Facebook.
But what surprised Ms. Pettipas the most were the videos being posted to YouTube by customers and fans – videos she had nothing to do with. “The quality is incredible. It’s something we don’t have the means to do here ourselves, and it’s all devoted to Buddy and our brand. I’m continually surprised by how devoted our customers are.”
In the months ahead, the company plans to hire a full-time marketing manager to help cultivate and grow the momentum behind Buddy.
What’s striking about the story is its spontaneity. No one planned for this to happen, but it did, and one simple idea has taken what could have been a small business with a loyal but niche audience and made it into something bigger. It’s become a symbol to the pet-loving community.
It reminds me of the Travelocity dwarf or the Energizer bunny. People immediately relate to them, and they encapsulate an entire PR message in a single image. Not every company has a Buddy, or course, but there is a takeaway for small businesses: Look beyond the product and tap into the passion that drives customers to buy in the first place. Seek the emotional connection.
It’s a great way to build a company that stands out from the pack.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. With more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies, she is focused on fostering the overarching vision for the Canadian market. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients, some of the most innovative and well-respected companies in the country, to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies that drive measurable results. Ms. Wedgbury is known as an innovator, an advocate of career opportunities for women and a dedicated supporter of the technology industry.