BarkPark And A Lifestyle Gone To The Dogs

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We are all often encouraged to think outside of the box. Generally, the advice indicates that one should abandon their preconceptions — the walls of their box — in the hopes of inspiring a creative new take, approach or strategy.

It is, in most cases anyway, not terribly literal advice.

Then again, most of us are not literally in the “box” business the way the team at BARK is. Founded about a year ago, mostly with the goal of making CEO Matt Meeker’s Great Dane, Hugo, happy, the brand helps expose dog owners to a range of toys, treats and other fun items for furry friends that one would be hard pressed to find on the shelves of most mass-market pet stores.

“When I got [Hugo], I just wanted to make him happy because I was, and am, obsessed with him,” Meeker explained.“And every day I thought about what I could do to make this enormous dog happy. And I would go to pet stores to find that right thing, and pretty much every day I came home with the [same] bully stick.”

Dogs, of course, are literally happy with things as simple as old shoes and sticks, but Meeker really wanted to do better, and he quickly learned that the world is not lacking in brilliant, fun, original products for all kinds of dogs. In other words, the problem isn’t supply — it’s access. Unless dog owners have an awful lot of time on their hands to patrol the shelves of independent pet stores nationwide, the odds are that they will be picking from the same set of options at the big-box pet store.

BarkBox takes that out of the equation. It does the discovery for the dog owner and then uses that to tap into the greater good, making the dog happy.

“We thought it was a discovery product, but we also discovered along the way that discovery is only part of the appeal,” Meeker said. “Once you get one BarkBox and open it with your dog, the products and things on the inside are icing; the real cake is opening that box with your dogs and getting to do something fun [with them].”

In fact, finding that joie de vivre in pet ownership that is the real business behind BarkBox — the boxes themselves were, in some sense, incidental. BarkBox doesn’t want to be the best subscription box out there for the enthusiastic pet owner. It aspires to build a lifestyle brand for dogs, and with the launch of BarkPark, it is literally thinking outside the box to provide it.

Going forward, BarkBox’s 600,000 monthly subscribers have picked up a rather unique perk, with the new take on the dog park. As explained by BARK, the BarkPark is not some generic strip of green where urban dogs can run around, but is instead a “members-only outdoor clubhouse where dogs are the members.”

Nashville will host the first BarkPark — opening September 8 — which will be open daily for 12 hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. through November. The space will be designed and landscaped for dog use — easy to run around and full of toys and treats. The BarkPark will also feature human “hosts” who are trained to monitor dog play and ensure safety for all attendees.

The firm also promises that the BarkPark will avoid one of the common pitfalls of dog parks — it will be cleaned regularly.

The park experience will also allow dogs and their owners exclusive access to events like dog yoga and  “Okto-Bark-Fest.” The park will also host some of BARK’s existing programming, such as the Open Bark Night comedy show, which is routinely held in other cities across the country.

For the humans, the park will also feature restroom, seating, snacks and WiFi.

The BarkPark is only an experimental concept right now, but if the pop-up proves popular enough with its Nashville test drive, BARK will open BarkParks nationwide. The parks will reportedly serve as a new retail channel for BARK. Consumers can already purchase BARK products at 1,800 Target locations, and in some Urban Outfitters stores, with plans for more retail pair-ups reportedly on the way.  With their parks, BARK is hoping to develop yet another place that dog enthusiasts can stock up on something special for their best friend.

BARK membership allows park access for one dog and up to two humans — it strongly suggests the BarkPark is an excellent place to take a hot date, for what it’s worth. Memberships will go on sale in mid-August, and pricing is tiered at daily ($19), monthly ($48) and season passes ($78), though there will likely be discounts for multi-dog households.

Will it work? Do dogs really need a lifestyle brand? Well 600,000 customers have already answered that in the affirmative, and if BARK can create dog parks where shoes won’t immediately be destroyed by walking through them, then dog owners will certainly appreciate the lifestyle enhancement.