Southeast Asia’s pet market is positioned for continuous growth. Even if you go by Bangkok’s urban landscape, it’s easy to notice a plethora of new dog cafes, dog parks and even restaurants that facilitate a new breed of pet owners. You know what we mean, the active working professionals who meet and socialize on the weekends with friends and bring their pets out for coffee on Sunday.
We sat down with Chloe Ma, the founder of Bangkok based PetFetch, a freshly launched ecommerce marketplace for pets to discuss Thailand’s rising pet market landscape, why people are generally seeking out more high quality goods for their four legged friends and the challenges of starting a business in Bangkok.
The key categories of SEA pet care market are economy, mid-priced and premium products. Even back in 2016, Thailand was the largest market in terms of size with 43.6% market share and has been contributing to healthy growth in the region.
The pet care industry has seen rapid growth, as owners have developed a behavior of family members towards the pet, particularly accelerated during the pandemic.
“The idea for PetFetch began from a personal pain point,” says Chloe. “I moved to Bangkok with my pug, and ended up staying longer because of Covid-19.”
It’s interesting how many entrepreneurs start businesses linked to personal pain points, and often cite the pandemic as the key launchpad for innovation.
“When I moved here, I started looking for products that my pug could use, but a lot of things were either overpriced or not of high quality. So, I ended up ordering from some ecommerce stores in the US and shipped them over.”
The Pet Business
PetFetch was founded with the aim of bringing accessible, high quality pet goods and accessories to the Southeast Asian market, starting with Thailand. By focusing on competitive pricing and a wide array of SKUs, PetFetch is determined to capture the growing trend of spending and caring for your pets.
When she was living in New York, Chloe ordered supplies from Chewy.co for her pug, which allows customers to sign up for subscriptions or just shop one off items.
“With Chewy, you get constant discounts and promotions as well as flexible delivery options. It makes being a hands on pet owner very easy,” she says.
Side note: Chewy went public on the NYSE in 2019, and prior to that, it was acquired by PetSmart in 2017 for US$3.35 billion, the largest ever acquisition of an e-commerce business at the time.
“It was really easy for me, just a couple of clicks and I was done. When I moved to Thailand though, I didn’t know where to go online and the shops on Lazada and Shopee were all in Thai, I couldn’t verify the quality,” says Chloe.
This was how PetFetch was born. The business acts as a verified marketplace that sells imported pet products that Chloe herself carefully selects from multiple markets, such as the US. With competitive pricing and only a couple of days wait for delivery, she is bringing the curated pet ecommerce experience to Thai customers.
Optimizing Digital is The Only Way
The Pet ecommerce landscape in Thailand is small, although market size is growing. Over the past few years, there have been a handful of pet centric platforms that launched and quietly disappeared.
“Some of the businesses here offered a subscription, which may not necessarily suit the Thai market. It’s a process of finding out which strategy appeals to each market, and doing a lot of market research,” says Chloe.
Before launching PetFetch, Chloe sent out hundreds of questionnaires to her friends and network to gauge what it is that pet owners and shoppers really look for.
The result is a sleek branded marketplace with a handful of pet care products, accessories and pet pharmacy items.
Aside from its own ecommerce marketplace, PetFetch will also be launching on Shopee Thailand in the future, to expand their presence and reach a larger number of potential customers who have not been exposed to the brand.
“Shopee will hopefully widen our exposure, and we can increase awareness, as well as lead people to our official store,” says Chloe.
“Instagram should be every brand’s top three priorities. It’s crucial to establish a strong presence on the platform because people spend a lot of time online and browsing through Instagram shops, particularly in Southeast Asia.”
Online engagement is tangible, and oftentimes, consumers are spending more time on their phones as opposed to observing outdoor surroundings.
“When I launched my other business in Shanghai, I spent a lot of money on a billboard, but I felt like no one looked up from their phones to notice, the billboard wasn’t successful” says Chloe.
It’s safe to say that the new generation of business owners have to be digitally savvy, and brands often have to be digitally native, particularly if they are doing commerce.
Putting Customer Service At The Center
“My target customer for PeFetch is any pet owner who shops online. In order to capture this market, I carved out key differentiators that set us apart from competitors,” says Chloe.
PetFetch built a team of dedicated customer support with deep knowledge of pet products, who are able to help select products and consult on what is best for your pet.
Another differentiator is a competitive price policy, where PetFetch will match any competitor’s online price for in-stock, identical products in Thailand. Users will also earn points and get 10% off with every 1,500 baht they spend.
“We will also be implementing personalized services. For example, if you no longer have the pet that you ordered the accessory for, we will happily provide a refund and take back the item you ordered,” says Chloe.
Logistics for PetFetch is currently carried out in house, with a short delivery span of two days for Bangkok. As a very hands-on founder, Chloe currently oversees the packing and distribution of each product to ensure quality.
“I want to be as hands on as I can in this stage, before the business grows and scales.”
The Challenges of Running a Bangkok Based Business
When asked about the challenges of being a non-Thai national who started a business in Bangkok, Chloe cited the slow process of things to be the biggest barrier.
“Things move at a different pace than I am used to in New York and Shanghai,” she says, “I’m still getting used to it, but it can be frustrating especially because I don’t speak the language.
Fortunately, PetFetch now has two other Thai employees who can help navigate through the process. Much of Thailand’s inefficiency can be linked to the multi step approval process of doing business, particularly with the public sector.
“I read The Entrepreneur by Minor Group founder Bill Heinecke, which actually helped clarify a lot of things for me,I definitely recommend any aspiring business owner who wants to start a company in Thailand to read it,” says Chloe.
Aside from navigating through uncharted waters, another challenge for Chloe is simply about understanding the culture in Thailand and how that reflects in shopping preference.
“Thais are becoming very invested in their pets, and there has been an uptick in pet spending since the pandemic. I am learning about how Thai culture fits into the larger consumer behavior,” she says.
What’s Next For PetFetch?
Chloe’s goal for PetFetch is to eventually expand across Southeast Asia, with the next steps likely being Vietnam and Indonesia due to its rapidly emerging middle class, disposable income and growing pet market.
Aside from growing the business here in Bangkok and expanding to other markets, Chloe also hopes to launch PetFetch’s own products in the future.
“Beyond being an all rounded marketplace, I plan to develop in-house, high quality products for customers in the future.”
And when she’s not busy running and scaling up the business, you can find Chloe with her pug at Kimpton Malai on the weekends.
“Sometimes, my dogs will be sporting the newest accessories, and people will come up to me and ask where I bought it from, there is a real community here for pet owners.”
When the pandemic subsides, PetFetch will also explore hosting meetups and events to create a real life community for customers, and a chance for proud owners to display their newest purchase. Excuse us, we need to hop online to make sure our dogs dress the part.