For most consumer goods companies, business is best during the winter season. But for subscription delivery service PupBox, sales spike on National Puppy Day.

Ariel and Ben Zvaifler are the married couple behind PupBox. The company ships monthly boxes filled with toys, treats, and training guides to puppy owners. PupBox collects details about the pooch -- like age, breed, and dietary restrictions -- and aligns each package with the dog's developmental stage. Ben says National Puppy Day, which falls on a Thursday this year, is historically the best sales day of the year.

The Zvaiflers launched the San Diego-based company in 2014 after adopting an 8-week-old Goldendoodle named Maggie. The couple looked to Petco and PetSmart for products and guidance. "[Maggie] would either tear through them or not like them," Ben says of the toys the couple bought their dog. "We couldn't figure out the authority on products to choose and on the training side."

As they yearned for a better way to navigate the aches and pains of puppyhood, the Zvaiflers saw that subscription box services were gaining popularity. They combined those two ideas along with their professional expertise to start the company. Ben, 30, worked at a startup and had marketing experience, while Ariel, 31, had spent her career in the pet industry, working in retail stores as a teen and later owning an aquarium manufacturer.

This year, PupBox expects to see $2 million in sales. In its first full year of business, PupBox made $275,000 in sales. That figure more than doubled to $700,000 the following year, thanks in part to the couple's appearance on Shark Tank in November. Ariel and Ben made a deal with Robert Herjavec for $250,000 in exchange for 15 percent equity.

"PupBox is the only service of its kind that focuses on the specific needs new puppy owners face," Herjavec says in an email. "While competitors focus on the entire life of the dog, our laser focus approach allows us to key in on the pain points our customers are facing during puppyhood, and ultimately that focus allows us to deliver a better product."

Herjavec is a dog lover, but the duo also warmed the tank of Sharks by giving each investor a fluffy yellow puppy during their pitch. As the Sharks negotiated with one another, they put their puppies down -- except for Herjavec, who closed the deal with a pooch in each hand.

"To be honest, they gave me puppies to play with and I got really, really distracted," Herjavec says. "You see in the segment, all of the other Sharks put theirs down so they could focus, but not me."

Its not just Herjavec who likes puppies; about 44 percent of American households were dog owners between 2015 and 2016, according to the American Pet Products Association. What's more, Millennials account for 35 percent of all pet owners. That's a promising figure for PupBox, which appeals to that group through the subscription box model and social media campaigns using "celebripuppies."

Other companies like BarkBox, Pooch Perks, and PawPack also offer monthly subscription services to dog owners, though they aren't specifically geared toward puppies. While there's plenty of competition, the market is still large; consumers spent $60.2 billion in the pet industry overall, according to the American Pet Products Association.

"One thing that differentiates us from other subscription boxes is we don't just curate one or two boxes. Our inventory is the best for each of these different age groups," Ben says. "We have customer technology so we can offer the best products."

A one-month box costs $39, but prices drop with longer subscription commitments. Because puppyhood doesn't last long, PupBox also sells adult dog boxes to retain customers. What's more, the company has started selling its own accessories like leashes and a treat tote. The goal, Ben says, is to introduce products as PupBox grows.

"People are always attracted to puppies -- but we rarely appreciate how much work they are," Herjavec says. "PupBox is solving that problem by helping new puppy owners from day 1 [sic] and building a loyal following and an incredible brand along the way."

But there's one growth tactic Ben and Ariel won't try: boxes for cats.

Published on: Mar 23, 2017