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One Brand’s Journey From E-Commerce to Supermarket Shelves

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By Published On: March 18, 20190 Comments

Focusing on innovation and “best of breed” products, the founder of Rufus & Coco has revolutionised the pet care industry. How has a cross-channel retail strategy helped the brand achieve its goals?

According to Anneke van den Broek, the CEO and founder of Rufus & Coco, the growing trend towards humanising the pet care industry gave her the chance to put her senior management and marketing expertise to good use.

“Having grown up with pets and owning more than 40 throughout my life, I knew I could bring a long-lasting passion to the business that would see me through the inevitable setbacks (which are many!)” Broek tells Power Retail.

“So, in 2008, I launched Rufus & Coco – a pet care brand unlike anything on the market. Our fun brand stood out from others on the shelves and we focused on innovation and ‘best of breed’ products – from self-cleaning brushes to all-natural corn-clumping litters – eventually leading us to become the most awarded pet care brand in Australia,” she continues.

When the brand first launched, the brand’s products were limited to vitamins, which were available online and in select speciality stores, such as vet clinics, pharmacies and pet stores. As the brand continued to evolve, Rufus & Coco expanded its product offering to include a pet grooming and accessories range and expanded internationally by becoming a stockist for ‘Pet Avenue’ stores in Hong Kong.

Within three years, Broek says that Rufus & Coco was available in Woolworths, and two years later, in Coles and select IGA stores. 

“[We’ve] become the largest privately-owned pet business selling into the Australian grocery channel in the pet accessories category!! We’re in nine countries, selling 2.5 products per minute,” she says.

Where Online Meets Offline

Starting out as an online venture before making its products available through bricks-and-mortar retailers, Rufus & Coco has more than a decade of experience operating in the cross-channel space.

Image: Rufus & Coco

“There will always be a demand from customers who can’t get to physical stores, or can’t find the product they’re looking for. To prevent cannibalisation between channels we try to differentiate our offer by offering value or bulk packs online and offering the entire range in one spot,” she says.

To ensure she’s always providing consumers with a unique, ‘best in breed’ product offering, Rufus & Coco are still as focused on innovation today, as it was ten years ago.

“We are constantly innovating and won’t develop a new product unless it is serving a clear need and point of difference, such as our ‘Wee Kitty Clumping Corn Litter’ which is an all-natural plant based litter, which can even be flushed in small amounts. Compared with the clay litters that are mined and end up in landfill harming the environment, we know we are providing the best option.

“Our toy ranges donate a percentage of sales to The Australian Pet Welfare Foundation as well. We do what we can as an organisation to represent pets and advocate for their rights, which I think really sets us apart and guides what we do,” she explains.

So, which channel is more fruitful for Rufus & Coco? According to Broek, there’s no straight answer.

“The pet industry has been slow to achieve growth in the online space. The vast majority of pet purchases are still made in bricks-and-mortar stores so it’s important to us to focus on those channels. [But,] digital channels will continue to grow, and we aim to provide great products and prices for both online and offline consumers without cannibalising either channel,” she says.

Powering Online Brands with Tech, Marketing and Mobile Commerce

Since launching in 2008, Rufus & Coco has experimented with a variety of technology solutions, having recently shifted from the Shopify platform that it used for some years and experimenting with payment providers, such as PayPal and EWay.

Optimising the brand’s website for mobile shoppers has also been a key consideration, Broek says.

“We have equal numbers of consumers looking at our mobile site and our desktop site, so for each of our websites (we have three) we’ve carefully re-designed the site separately for mobile users. It’s about simplicity and ease of use – helping the mobile shopper get straight to what they’re looking for.”

“We’re also very active on our social channels – they’re a great source of traffic for us. We manage these in-house and love sharing our real passion for pets with our followers. As a brand, we love meeting and talking with our customers so attend lots of live consumer and trade pet events.

“When it comes to media we love being able to use our voice for good and I speak often to podcasts, print and online media about our work with the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation where we’re lobbying to reduce unnecessary euthanasia in Australian pounds.”

Overcoming Key E-Commerce and Omnichannel Business Hurdles

Anneke van den Broek. Image: Supplied.

“No success is overnight”, Broek says as she discusses the hurdles Rufus & Coco had to overcome in the brand’s early days.

“Things take time to gain traction and you need to be able to survive and manage cash flow while you are producing a product, investing in the branding and working slowly to build sales,” she says.

Finding the right product mix was also important for the pet care business, with its vitamin range quickly expanding as Broek saw demand for other goods like grooming and pet fashion.

For the most part, however, Broek says that dealing with and overcoming rejection is the most challenging part of starting an online business.

“Being rejected from supermarkets several times also felt like a setback, but with patience, passion and persistence, we kept going back and eventually succeeded. I believe you can achieve anything if you are just willing to try.”

 The Future of Rufus & Coco

What’s in store for the future of the pet care brand? New products with a strong environmental angle are reportedly in the works.

“We are constantly innovating and have some really exciting products launching in the next couple of months with a strong environmental angle – including plant-based dog poo bags that are completely biodegradable, and a rechargeable laser cat toy that doesn’t need batteries,” she says.

“In the long-term, we’ll be rolling out an e-commerce offer to more countries so that pets across the world can enjoy our range.”

Broek also says that she will be keeping her key learnings from the last ten years in mind as the Rufus & Coco brand continues to evolve, ensuring the business makes the best use of its advertising spend.

“It’s really easy to ‘throw away’ money when it comes to digital advertising, and we’ve certainly wasted our share of money over time,” she cautions. We’re really careful now with looking at ROI and spend with a clear purpose and outcome.”

At the end of the day, however, Broek says she relishes every moment she spends within the online retail sphere.

“We just love being able to speak directly to pet parents instantly. We’re engaging directly with our consumers, and sharing our thoughts, ideas and passions quickly and easily.

“It’s also such a vital tool in cementing the look and sound of your brand across different platforms.”

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