Whether in-store, on the road or through virtual appointments, omnichannel veterinary care provider Petfolk wants to make it all better.
To do so, the Charlotte-based direct-to-consumer (D2C) can connect with pet owners through its three (and soon to be eight) specially designed physical locations in three states, a growing fleet of mobile clinics or its 24/7 virtual care hotline. Taken together, the 2-year-old firm’s founders said Petfolk’s new digital service platform was created to disrupt an industry that is often stretched for time and talent and frequently outdated from a technical standpoint.
“Connected care is really at the epicenter of what we’re doing,” Co-Founder, CEO and 25-year practitioner Dr. Audrey Wystrach told PYMNTS, explaining her company has integrated technology into the veterinary space in order to provide more seamless access to care for an increasingly large universe of pet owners.
“When we talk about how that happens, a virtual care ecosystem surrounding beautiful brick-and-mortar locations, where you have 24/7 access to your healthcare providers is really going to be the core focus of the business,” she added, referring to her team as a guided care group that looks to avoid unexpected trips to the vet. “We don’t want you to have to drag kids and pets to hospitals at 10 o’clock at night.”
Barking up the Right Tree
Beneath her new CEO hat, Wystrach is also wearing a family crest so to speak, as her co-founder and co-CEO also happens to be her brother, Michael Wystrach, himself a repeat entrepreneur who has pivoted from founding Freshly and then selling it to Nestlé for $1.5 billion two years ago and is now pouring his energy and D2C expertise into scaling his next brand.
“[Pet care] is one of a very few industries that’s been recession proof,” he said. “Over our last two recessions, it has actually still grown double digits.”
He pointed to the recent uptick in animal adoption rates plus the fact that many millennials and Generation Zers are having kids later, and often view their first pet as a test drive for parenthood.
“When we looked at [Petfolk] from a consumer standpoint, first and foremost [we asked], ‘Does this need to exist in the world?’ and the answer glaringly was, ‘Absolutely yes,’” he said, before noting the early traction the concept has gained as Petfolk’s 40,000 visits this year marks 5,000% annual growth.
Like any newly funded startup, the plan at Petfolk is to use that momentum and the proceeds from its August fundraise (in this case a $40 million Series A) to scale the business, which means adding people, mobile care vans and physical store fronts needed to grow the footprint from North Carolina and South Carolina to Georgia and Florida.
“I think right now, the reality of the veterinary world is that there’s a massive shortage in supply,” Michael Wystrach said. “Right now, it’s hard to get in and see your vet, so there’s a huge backlog and pent-up demand for veterinary services, and there’s a huge amount of pets that aren’t being seen because they literally can’t get in.”
Let’s Grow This Puppy
Like other new brands, that scaling process is closely linked to marketing and customer awareness efforts through a range of avenues, but here, Petfolk’s founders noted at least two unique differentiating factors that they’re hoping to leverage.
The first is customer acquisition costs (CAC), which have risen sharply in the time since Freshly was making its name in the marketplace. But unlike that venture, Michael Wystrach explained, the supply shortage and demand imbalance in the pet care category serve as a tailwind when entering any market.
At the same time, the presence of a brand-new physical store, as well as a branded van driving through a community, also creates an immediate awareness among would-be pet owners to the point where he described Petfolk’s CAC exposure as both “amazingly affordable” and “a pleasant surprise.”
Lastly, this new digital pet care platform also has one other unusual advantage that it is using to build the brand — a roster of celebrity backers and investors — including Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Danica Patrick — who were introduced to the Petfolk brand alongside sibling Mark Wystrach, who is the lead singer for the country music group Midland.
While hard to quantify, the ability to use these star power endorsements to raise brand awareness among pet owners and animal lovers is certainly helpful to Petfolk’s mission and growth, albeit secondary to the core mission.
“The important thing with us is meeting the pet parent where they want to be met,” Audrey Wystrach said, pointing to the importance of her company’s hyper focus on convenience and customer experience. “I think the veterinary legacy industry has not been very consumer focused, so everything we do is positioned around the pet and the pet parent and how we make [that] more joyful and easier than ever before.”
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