Our guest is Brock Weatherup. Brock is a founder, mentor, C-suite executive and passionate leader of high growth consumer businesses.

He’s currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Metamorphosis Partners, a company focused on creating extraordinary value for the consumer and the pet industry through innovation.

Brock was most recently EVP and Chief Innovation Officer and Digital Experience at Petco. Previously he was CEO and Co-Founder of PetCoach, which was later acquired by Petco.

Join us as we explore subscription models and digital disruption within the pet industry, the evolving needs of American pet guardians, and the future of telemedicine for pets.

Episode 48 of RETHINK Retail was recorded on November 8, 2019

 


Hosted by Julia Raymond
Researched, written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond:
Hi everyone. Today’s episode of RETHINK Retail features my guest, Brock Weatherup.

Julia Raymond:
Brock Weatherup is a founder, mentor, c-suite executive and passionate leader of high growth consumer businesses. He’s currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Metamorphosis Partners, a company focused on creating extraordinary value for the consumer and the pet industry through innovation. He was most recently EVP and Chief Innovation Officer and Digital Experience at Petco. Previously he was CEO and Co-Founder of PetCoach, which was later acquired by Petco.

Julia Raymond:
Brock, thanks for joining me today.

Brock Weatherup:
Excited to be here.

Julia Raymond:
Excited to have you. I wanted to know if you could kick us off by telling us a little bit about your background. Really exciting stuff that your company was acquired by Petco and then you actually went on to be their Chief Innovation Officer and what you’re doing today with Metamorphosis Partners.

Brock Weatherup:
I’ve been really excited to be involved in the pet industry for the last almost 11 years. My background has been entirely focused on how to use, sell a product or service to a consumer. I love the dynamics of that interaction, the ability to test, trial, figure out and use digital tools to figure out what consumers love has been just a passion of mine since as long as I’ve been in the working world.

Brock Weatherup:
Spent a bit of time building a business that was called Fathead that was in the sports’ arena. Built a business called ReserveAmerica that was in the outdoor recreation space. If you tie those all together, they’re basically the things that I love in my life. My best day would be going for a long hike with my dog and then sitting at home at the end of the day watching a football game. That would be my perfect day so I’ve been lucky enough to make my career about it

Julia Raymond:
Certainly. I was going to ask you if you had a pet because you must right, being in the industry. I think I even saw on your LinkedIn, you have an English…

Brock Weatherup:
Retriever.

Julia Raymond:
English Retriever.

Brock Weatherup:
Whose name is Boulder. Named after my Alma mater, University of Colorado at Boulder. He represents pretty well.

Julia Raymond:
That’s great. Probably the perfect family dog, right? I have a retriever as well.

Brock Weatherup:
He’s an awesome dog with one very unique quirk about him, which he is terrified of water, including the water that’s inside his water bowl.

Julia Raymond:
What?

Brock Weatherup:
It’s not the typical retriever that’s scared of water.

Julia Raymond:
Oh, that’s too funny. Oh my gosh. His own water in his bowl. That’s hilarious.

Brock Weatherup:
Yeah. There’s a really classic picture that I use all the time that has me carrying him across a stream on a trail in upstate New York. By the way, my feet aren’t getting wet because it’s that small of a stream, but he wouldn’t cross it while we were hiking. It’s kind of become a bit of his lore.

Julia Raymond:
Wow, that’s too funny. Oh my gosh. Also I love that you brought up Fathead because that is such a well known brand. I’d love if you could just talk a little bit about… What was that like?

Brock Weatherup:
It’s fun to build, in that case, the great thing was we got to build our brand Fathead on the back of what are incredible brands like the NFL, NBA, MLB and all the players that were around it. It was a very fun exercise on how do you build a great brand and how do you activate consumers by being very focused on who they are. What’s always been a fundamental background for me is around how do you use content and personalization to drive sales. In the case of a Fathead, it was very much like the easiest way to sell a Dallas Cowboys fan on buying a Fathead was by telling them how New York Giants fans were better than they were because they Fatheads in their man-cave.

Brock Weatherup:
Pressing on that is a really big part of it and frankly that whole concept of activating through content and personalization has been frankly the key driver of what drove my entry into the pet industry with a company called Pet360. It’s also then what drove PetCoach, it was what at the core of everything I did at Petco and then frankly is at the center of what I’m building right now in Metamorphosis Partners. Where we’re doing the exact same thing of how do you build content, digital content that’s education, engaging and action oriented all with the ability to then take action on that and do something about it and then buy products or engage with services that solve that. It’s been at the core of basically everything I’ve done in my whole career. At the end of the day I guess it’s worked out.

Julia Raymond:
Yeah, I would say so. You had a lot of success with Fathead and then moving on just all the companies that you’ve built and actually what you’re doing today because the pet industry is being disrupted by a lot of players. Its seen tremendous growth. I was looking at a few reports and the global pet care market is expected to nearly double between now and 2025, I believe. From 90 billion last year to over 200 billion. There’s a lot of growth and some have even said that it’s in some ways’ recession proof. I was wondering, do you agree and what do you think are some of these cultural factors driving this growth in your industry?

Brock Weatherup:
I’ve not seen the number that said it’s going to grow or double, I should say in the next five years. It is very consistently grown every year typically in low to mid single digits. I think the fact of the matter is that animals are great companions for people, and they bring joy, happiness, and love. Whether that’s a cat curling up on your lap or being able to go on a hike with your dog. I think they bring incredible joy to our lives, and I think a lot of cultural elements of it are that people are looking for that.

Brock Weatherup:
The other really big factor around the cultural dynamic is around millennials. The millennial consumer who today is the largest pet owning group in the industry. It used to be the boomer, empty nester group was that largest group. They’re no longer that. The boomer, empty nest group is the largest spender today, but they’re not the largest number of pets. The largest number of pets is in the millennial group.

Brock Weatherup:
There’s a couple things that are pretty fascinating to me around that. One is a lot of people are having pets come into their lives as in essence their first serious relationship. A lot of times then what happens is they maybe enter into a spousal relationship with somebody. They get pets to kind of test out being parents.

Julia Raymond:
Right.

Brock Weatherup:
Before they have kids, right? What used to be a fairly consistent, very stereotypical down the middle was graduated, you then met someone, you got married, you then had kids, and then you had a pet. Kids where demanding the pet and that whole dynamic is actually flipped a bit on its head with the millennial generation.

Brock Weatherup:
Underneath that also is just they’re digitally native, right? They’ve grown up with technology. Their expectations about what they want to do, how they want to do it, how they want to engage, how they want to interact with brands, all that sort of stuff that’s broader in the broader economy of what their impact is, is having a dramatic impact on the pet industry. I think it’s only going to be that much more dramatic over the next four to five years because that consumer group is starting to come into a lot more economic power. They’re getting later in their careers, they’re earning more money and thus they’re spending more. A lot of it goes towards their pets.

Julia Raymond:
Totally. I see that my own personal life, among my friends. I could definitely agree with that. But you’re saying that the boomers are still the largest spending group, although the market is larger for millennials because they own the most pets, especially dogs. Within five years as millennials get more economically stable and grow in their careers, they will probably overtake that portion of the market.

Brock Weatherup:
Definitively.

Julia Raymond:
Very cool. I saw another stat, and I don’t know if you’ve heard this one, but it was nearly one in five retail sales, at least in the U.S for pet products, last year were made online. I don’t know if you agree, but I would say that’s a huge difference than 10 years ago. The pet product market, maybe was a bit slower than other retail segments to come online. What’s going on in your world right now? What kind of digital disruption are you saying?

Brock Weatherup:
I think the consumer again, and a lot of this goes to that millennial group and a lot of it’s just the macro, the Amazon factor for almost everything. The pet industry is historically a slow to follow human trends. It’s always been what used to be in the, call it 5 to 10 years behind human trends and now it’s a bit more in that shorter cycle. Most of that has to do with just technology and the kind of couple of years.

Brock Weatherup:
Obviously Chewy is the biggest story because of the volume of money that they’ve spent in marketing and how aggressive they got over the last many years and how they spent so much money on communicating to the consumer that you could buy pet food online. Just added to them the generic growth of Amazon.

Brock Weatherup:
Probably the biggest factor that I think is having the largest impact over the next several years is actually the power of Walmart and Walmart.com, especially because of their buy online and pickup in store growth. Again, the big thing in the pet industry is you’ve got a 30 pound bag of dog food or you’ve got a 20 pound bag of clay litter, right? Those things are difficult to make money through the mail system. With somebody like Walmart being able to share those products and be able to sell those products and have you come and pick them up, it’s highly valuable and they can be frankly far more price competitive. I expect Walmart to change their position and how much of the pet market they’re doing over the next little while.

Julia Raymond:
Sure. It doesn’t seem very economical, especially because of the sheer size of pet food to have that on big shipments and trucks and everything. Do you think Amazon is really a huge threat in the future considering Walmart’s [inaudible 00:11:01] program and also the fact that there’s some distrust when it comes to ordering a pet food products online from Amazon?

Brock Weatherup:
I’m not sure I share the perspective of the distrust of ordering the products on Amazon. I think there’s always the factor of are you buying things from third party sellers, but when you’re buying Merrick dog food or Blue Buffalo dog food or Orijen or you’re getting your Frontline Flea & Tick medicine, it’s coming from a great spot and I think they’re continuing to sell out.

Brock Weatherup:
I think that the biggest thing that Amazon is doing that I think will always continue to drive their growth and is what’s creating the biggest disruption is because they are selling so many things to you, their ability to visit your house at least once a week. I know their stated goal is to visit your house once a day, but the reality is they’re visiting many, many, many households once a week. That once a week is plenty of time to add all of the incremental products that you have with it as they get a little bit stronger and start to figure out how does Amazon leverage their whole foods acquisition and how do they get further into the… What their defining as their Amazon Fresh and those sorts of things. They’ve just got so much scale that their economic capability to bring anything to your house with some level of economy is better than anybody else.

Brock Weatherup:
Walmart on the other hand has a great perspective because people are driving to their store to pick up that stuff. In essence the consumer is paying for their own delivery by doing it themselves. That’s a cost structure that Walmart then can compete more with much greater advantage on some of the pricing elements over time. I think at the end of the day those two are kind of neck and neck on driving whole industry, in my opinion.

Julia Raymond:
Sure. It makes sense because sometimes pet food is a time sensitive purchase because you ran out of food and maybe you’re not already on a subscription model like Chewy or through any of the other providers. You do run to PetSmart or other stores to grab the bag of food. Do you see a future where everyone is pretty much on a subscription model for pet food?

Brock Weatherup:
I think everyone is always difficult, but I think that is definitively the driver in the whole pet industry. Whether you’re Petco and being very successful with their buy online pickup in store and their subscription business or your Chewy or your Amazon with their subscribe and save. The whole industry of consumers getting more and more comfortable with monthly delivery, monthly subscriptions. I think it’s just becoming a much stronger element to it.

Brock Weatherup:
There’s no better product, in my opinion, that is better suited to that then people’s pet food or litter because that way people don’t switch those. Once I’m feeding Orijen Red to Boulder, that product can show up every month. It’s not hard to be, okay is it “Do I really need a bag every 30 days or is it every 35 days?” Who cares, the difference at the end of the day isn’t really a whole lot. It’s easy because I’m never going into a store or going on to Amazon or Chewy and making the decisions should I switch from [inaudible 00:14:33] to something else? I just want to buy it. I want it to arrive and I might be excited about wanting to figure out what’s the toy I want to get for him or what’s the thing that I want to add to it, but I’m not switching my food and doing it typically online. It’s a perfect model for subscriptions.

Julia Raymond:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s a really great point about people not switching and how that is a perfect setup for a subscription model. I wanted to ask you about PetCoach because you were the brains behind this app and Petco acquired it and I just want to know, I heard it was a subscription model for vet care. How does it work and how did you come up with the idea?

Brock Weatherup:
This has got two different aspects of it. There was PetCoach, it was basically a telemedicine, Q&A platform for consumers. It was a product that was originally built by a guy of the name of David Martin and his partner Alvaro Jimenez. They started it and then I got involved with it and we helped take it to the next level.

Brock Weatherup:
The PetCoach platform itself, I got really excited about it because my sister happens to be a veterinarian, and I had gone hiking, I was in upstate New York where my family was. I came back, and my dog around lunch came back and all of a sudden one of his legs was like covered in blood.

Brock Weatherup:
I’ve been around the pet industry, I’m dangerously knowledgeable about pet care. The place where we were was about an hour to the nearest veterinarian, it’s way in the woods. I kind of looked at it, I washed it off, and I saw that it looked like he was probably running through the woods and a stick scraped it or something like that, but it split open his skin. I was like, okay. I turned around, I snapped a couple pictures of it, texted it to my sister, and she looked at. She’s a small animal specialty, emergency room surgeon for pets. She looked at it and she’s like, well it’s not that big of a deal. She’s like, do this, this and this, right? Wrap it up and then this evening, take it off, send me another picture. Do this and this and then in the morning do this and then we’ll see where we are.

Brock Weatherup:
Fact of the matter was by the next morning he was basically on his way to healing. In 48 hours he was back to full tilt on everything else. I was like, okay, most people don’t have a sister that they could call and do that. I was like, how could you translate this? In that case, it saved me many hours and what was probably hundreds of dollars of going in, getting stitches, then having to get the stitches removed and all this other stuff.

Brock Weatherup:
It’s not that you should use telemedicine for everything. There’s some dangers to that for sure because there is something really important for people to see what’s going on and touch and feel the animal to figure out what really is happening. It also made me realize there’s a whole lot of things that could be technically delivered to the consumer that way. Hence, my excitement about what had been started with the PetCoach team and how do we really make that something a whole lot bigger.

Brock Weatherup:
The big learning that we had out of it, it was that the actual telemedicine side of it was less than we expected. Meaning people wanting to call and talk or video conference around a subject. Most of it was more of a longer term or issues that had been going on for longer. My dog’s been scratching a lot.

Julia Raymond:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) allergies, yeah.

Brock Weatherup:
My cat was peeing in the litter box but now isn’t, and that’s really unusual, is that for the last like three days… Versus my dog’s bleeding and on the floor, well, get off your computer and take them to the emergency room, right. The tech space sort of thing where we connected people with veterinarians to answer those questions and do that kind of back and forth, which were less urgent was actually really positive. We got an enormous amount of customer engagement with it. It was something that became very successful.

Julia Raymond:
That’s excellent. It’s also something, because you mentioned earlier that the pet market is 5 to 10 years behind human trends. But I would argue with this, it was either right on track if not ahead of times because tele-doctors for humans are something that’s not as widely used just yet.

Brock Weatherup:
Yeah. The one thing I will say is the legal elements of telemedicine for pets is unbelievably way behind human telemedicine on that front.

Julia Raymond:
Right, lower barriers of entry.

Brock Weatherup:
There’s this whole thing of the VCPR, which is vet client patient relationship. If you don’t touch an animal, like a lot of the States are all very different, but the majority of it is if you don’t have your hands physically on the animal once a year, you cannot engage in telemedicine.

Julia Raymond:
Okay.

Brock Weatherup:
Our business was very much around providing advice, right? Because we couldn’t prescribe anything, we couldn’t define what we’re doing as pure medical care because it wasn’t at the end of the day because it couldn’t be in that sort of scenario. Now, if you go into a vet and then they carry out schedules afterwards, but I think a lot of that is changing. Especially impactful to the pet industry because a lot of the argument is, well, pets can’t talk and how could you have a vet deliver care? It’s like, well, the number one area for telemedicine for humans is pediatric, right? A one-year-old can’t talk either, but yet somehow the legal system has figured out how to let humans have that conversation. But you can’t do that for your dog or cat. We’ll see. I think those laws are changing, but there’s still a lot more to come.

Julia Raymond:
I would say that those are some really good points, especially because I didn’t know about the vet client patient relationship rules. I do know some people who have used tele-doctor, but it was more for things like a sinus infection and getting antibiotics and things like that.

Brock Weatherup:
Correct.

Julia Raymond:
I wanted to ask you a little bit about your work with Metamorphosis Partners, the company that you founded. You said you focus a lot on innovation for the consumer in the pet industry. What are some of the biggest things that excite you right now? Or what are some of the challenges that you guys are working on? Solving?

Brock Weatherup:
What we’re diving into, and obviously through a lot of a lot of experience, some successes and some not so much in the pet world, but the real dynamic of what we’re trying to do is how do we create a highly involved data and education and content platform. Through that platform, how can we help direct consumers to the right products and services that are most advantageous for them.

Brock Weatherup:
One of the big issues that I’ve always had around the pet industry is that pet industry is pretty terrible about personalization. What I mean by personalization is I have a eight year old retriever named Boulder. I live in San Diego and that’s great. I have a certain set of things that I need for him. The pet industry typically, highest level, talks to me as a pet owner and then they talk to me as a dog owner and then they kind of say, “Oh, Brock’s a dog owner. Let’s market to him as a dog owner.” But the fact of the matter is that you could take 50 dog owners or take 5 dog owners and line them up next to one another, and their dog owning relationships are very different. It could even be large sized dogs.

Brock Weatherup:
I have a Border Collie and I think that’s the thing that I really want to be doing. My activity with my Border Collie is I go jogging every day with that animal but what food they need, what products they need, what supplements are best for them are very different than the same thing for my dog. Much less, if you go obviously much further on that spectrum. If somebody has a one-year-old Chihuahua, right? Or a 12 year old Mastiff, right? Or a three year old Bulldog, those are all dogs, but they’re very, very different dog owning experiences. The pet industry has not been particularly good in my opinion, on being able to talk to the individual about their pet.

Julia Raymond:
Or what kind of extracurricular things they do. Are they hiking with their dog or is it a show dog, those types of things.

Brock Weatherup:
Very active, not very active. Are you a person who feeds product out of the bag and doesn’t give anything else. Are you a person who is very active about quote unquote dropping things off the counter? Right?

Julia Raymond:
Is your dog also a vacuum?

Brock Weatherup:
Those things make pet owning very different. Behind what we’re doing is we’re creating that platform and we want to build another kind of engagement area for that with a lot of education at the forefront and personalization. A few different areas that we’re going into, but one key area that we’re going into with a brand that we haven’t totally launched yet but it’s called The Anxious Pet. That is focused on the customer confusion about the supplements, treats and what fast growing CBD for pets [inaudible 00:24:27] is.

Brock Weatherup:
What we want to do is help consumers navigate that by doing and giving your animal the right supplements in the right situation, in the right time and the right life stage. You can really help and improve the health of your animal and us, hopefully over time have a greater impact on their quality of life and hopefully the length with which you get to love and enjoy your furry friend in your household.

Brock Weatherup:
That’s a big business part that we’re kind of getting behind. We’re building some unique products, some unique formulations and all with that personalized and top end of it to make that a category that right now is very confusing to the consumer and make it far more understandable and valuable.

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. It sounds like serving as a trusted advisor as well because you can look up a lot of content online, but you have to look at the sources when you’re investigating new products, right? For your pet?

Brock Weatherup:
Very much so.

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. Well I wanted to ask you, you said you’re a big football fan, obviously, founder of Fathead. What’s your favorite football team?

Brock Weatherup:
My favorite football team is the Green Bay Packers. I got kind of caught into them because my brother-in-law’s born and raised in Wisconsin. When you’re born and raised in Wisconsin, you’re a super passionate fan.

Julia Raymond:
The most arguably, right?

Brock Weatherup:
Through that, you do enough holidays around a super passionate fan like that and you get pulled into it. My biggest team that I support though is the New York Rangers. I’m a big hockey fan and unfortunately they’re not particularly good this year. We’ll see how that goes.

Julia Raymond:
We’ll stick it out with them I guess, right? Maybe next year.

Brock Weatherup:
You bet.

Julia Raymond:
That’s great. Well, Brock, it was a pleasure to have you on the show today and I hope to chat with you again in the future.

Brock Weatherup:
Sounds perfect.