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Pet tags might occupy a specialised market, but business is booming in Australia and around the world for Bow Wow Meow.

On a fateful day, 10 years ago, Amy Lyden wasn’t looking for a worldwide business opportunity when she went to the local pet shop to stock up on everything she needed for her two new kittens.

“I was really disappointed with what I found, particularly in the way of identification tags—something I’ve always thought is pretty important,” she says. This gave her the idea to produce and sell a range of quality, functional, and versatile pet tags. “I did some research and found out there were seven million cats and dogs in Australia alone. I wrote a business plan and went into business shortly after that.”

Initially her business flourished selling the tags through pet shops and vet clinics around Australia. But in its first year Bow Wow Meow exported to New Zealand and then expanded into Asia, and Lyden hadn’t yet considered going online. The pet tags now sell through 1,500 outlets worldwide.


Web Logic

Three years into the business, Lyden launched her first website, www.bowwow.com.au Given online buying wasn’t too popular back then, she decided to use the site as an add-value and branding mechanism. “The internet was only just taking off and so we thought we’d experiment with it,” she says. “We didn’t sell any product at all, it was just a site to help people find a name for their pets. So that’s how our online business started.”

To her surprise, the site was hugely successful. “We were getting millions of visitors every year and we started thinking about how we could leverage this a bit better, because obviously it costs a lot to maintain a site and keep it interesting. We had the opposite problem to most, we had the traffic to the website but didn’t know how to sell to them.”


In 2000, Lyden decided to retail her pet tags online and launched her key online business website, www.pet-tags.com She wanted it to be more than just a catalogue of Bow Wow Meow’s pet tags. “We wanted to make it really interactive, and so we based it on the same fundamental things that made the pet-naming site a success.” For example, customers to pet-tags.com can match the colour of a selected collar with the colour of their pet and make sure everything matches. Lyden believes this is unique to her site.

When deciding to retail online, she says it was never her intention to service the Australian market and the site was designed specifically for the market she was selling to. “For us, it’s a way to reach other markets that we don’t service through our distribution outlets. We mainly sell to America but we’ve sold to over 50 countries around the world. You’ll see on the site that prices are in US dollars because that’s who mainly buys from us—and we offer free [direct] shipping because luckily we have a light product.”

However, this isn’t without its problems. “When we launched the e-commerce site, I couldn’t find a bank that would allow us to process funds in US dollars, so we had to look for another solution and we ended up programming it ourselves.

“Though we had a huge trading history and we’d been in business for five years at that point, as soon as we mentioned this was for the internet they didn’t want to know about it or their costs were too high for us … maybe it’s different now.”

 She says technology can also work against them. “Technology is a double-edged sword for an online business. It’s great when it’s working and everything is automated, but if anything happens and your site goes down or there are problems with your host server, your business just stops and that can be very difficult.”

But, she adds, being open for business 24-7 is a bonus. “I love it that I can be away from the office all weekend and when I come in there can be hundreds of orders from all over the world. The money’s in the bank and they’re already in the database—that’s the fantastic part.”

All the marketing done for pet-tags.com has been focused on the internet through channels such as search marketing. “We do everything we can to get traffic to the site,” Lyden says, but admits it’s also helped having had the first website for eight years now. “Bowwow.com.au almost always gets listed in the top two when people Google pet names for instance, and from that site we drive traffic to our e-commerce site.”

Looking ahead, Lyden says she’s focused on growing her exports. “Australia is a tiny market, and so if you can export to other markets and tap into other countries the potential is unlimited for a lot of small businesses.” And with the internet she says international barriers are breaking down all the time, making it easier to do business globally. “For us, I can see it expanding more and more.”

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