Abe Geary is single-handedly sending Camarillo to the dogs.
Ten years into a successful career designing and building trade-show exhibits with his company, Creative Displays, Geary was searching for a way to let his dogs join in on the theatrics. The challenge was that his pets didn’t take to costumes, but there were no alternative options on the market.
So he created PetPaint, a company that makes aerosol-spray pigment to fill the market gap in haute couture for hounds’ fur.
While the phenomenon of canine body art has been emerging at specialty grooming salons across the country, Geary hopes his line of stencils and pet-friendly paint will offer consumers a more accessible means to adorn their four-legged family members.
“Basically anybody can do it. I think it’s fun for the whole family,” Geary said. “If it’s Halloween, you can design your pumpkin, plan your costume, and now your dog can be involved, too.”
Geary invested two years and $240,000 in PetPaint’s preliminary research and development, focusing on creating a safe, high-quality product and marketing the brand directly to retailers — all while keeping his day job. His efforts landed him a spot on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” an entrepreneurial gauntlet in which a panel of investors hears a series of business pitches, choosing whether to invest in them or not.
While Geary did gain some marketing advice that he “went back and worked 110 percent on,” he passed up the show’s funding offer, which would have turned over a 60 percent equity stake in the company, to direct its development personally. He also wanted to keep the company’s headquarters in Camarillo, so he turned instead to the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County, which helped him develop a business plan and gave him a $125,000 loan.
“Everyone says [the show] is a great experience. Which is true, if you can get on there,” Geary said. “You don’t have to go to ‘Shark Tank.’ You can look in your own backyard. That’s a cool thing. A lot of people shoot for the stars and think if they don’t make it they can’t even get started.”
Geary impressed EDC-VC loan officer Marvin Boateng with his “hunger and desire” to dig his paws into the canine market. “He was offered a deal that was pretty crummy in my opinion, so it was nice to be able to give him a loan,” Boateng said. “I did a quick Google search on the business and I was surprised to see that there really isn’t a comparable product out there. It really opened my eyes that PetPaint is the first business in the market with this type of product.”
PetPaint’s veterinarian-approved spray comes in eight colors, from Basset Black to Whippet White, and dries in 20 seconds. Geary said he hopes it will “bring color for dogs to the everyday person,” allowing them to bedeck their pet when rooting for their favorite team, at festive events such as birthday parties, or simply to add variety to their pooch’s style.
Plus, the product’s benefits are more than fur-deep: It has been picked up by many dog shelters, where colorful designs are used to attract attention to older residents, who often get overshadowed by puppies and newer rescues.
Geary said that, in fact, working through the loan process with EDC-VC helped PetPaint far more than did 15 minutes of fame on national television. Approaching a product-centric venture with service-based experience, Geary needed to learn “how to service numerous clients for a little money rather than one for a lot,” so he teamed up with Dave Powell, an adviser at EDC-VC’s Small Business Development Center, to develop a meticulous business plan.
“We built a lot, but he brought a lot,” Powell said. “Abe has a successful business. He started this just because he’s passionate about dogs. He knew, for example, what his key business components looked like: cost structure, profit margins, distribution channels and where opportunities would lie.”
Boateng, the loan officer, said by the time he met with Geary, the PetPaint founder was already testing market demand with independent dog groomers and PetSmart salons. The loan will be used to build the company’s sales team and expand inventory, which will support growth as PetPaint hits the shelves and salons at 1,300 PetSmart locations across the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 23.
“PetSmart has been behind us since the beginning,” Geary said of the deal. “They recognized that nothing like it has ever been out on the market.”
The company is next looking to add a professional line for groomers and moving to patent some of PetPaint’s ingredients. Geary recognizes that it’s only a matter of time until similar products surface to take a cut of the market, but he said that won’t necessarily make for a dog-eat-dog environment.
“Competition isn’t always bad; sometimes competition brings more customers to the marketplace,” Geary said. “I can’t stop everyone in the world from making color for dogs, but I can be the best in the business.”