A Singapore startup has developed an online-to-offline solution for pet owners blending products, advice, accessories and even vet care and grooming.
PerroMart, which started as a monthly mystery gift-box service responding to the rapid rise in pet ownership in Southeast Asia, has adopted a mission purpose to help strengthen the bond between pets and humans for a lifetime.
“We are running on pure passion,” founder Roy Lim told Inside Retail Asia. “We want to improve the wellness of pets and take the burden of pet care off people, because everyone is getting busier and busier these days, and we want to enable humans to spend more time creating memories [with their pets] while we take care of everything else.”
Asean’s pet-care market is estimated to be worth US$1.4 billion and is currently growing at around 12.7 per cent annually. Pet-ownership rates are rising across the region, in tandem with the growing income and spending power of consumers.
Lim started PerroMart in 2015 as PerroBox, a subscription box service for dogs. The concept was based on a mystery delivery once a month. When the box arrives, the owner and the dog get surprised by the treats inside.
Subscribers responded well, and they still post photos on social media of the boxes arriving and the dogs responding to the contents.
“PerroMart was really a natural progression from the PerroBox,” says Lim, recalling that customers who liked particular products in the boxes were asking about regular long-term supplies.
So in 2016 the company developed a full-scale online store selling goods for cats and dogs and their owners: dry food, wet food, treats, toys, accessories and cleaning products.
While selling pet supplies online is not unique – marketplaces and even physical pet stores are PerroMart’s main competitors – the company’s philosophy is its point of difference.
“Customer service is where we really stand out from online marketplaces or even pet shops with online stores,” says Lim. About three in 10 PerroMart customers want personal interaction with staff, seeking help choosing products or getting advice on pet care, for example – something hard to deliver online without specialists on tap. The store runs a telephone hotline from 10am to 6pm daily and allows customers to click and collect from their premises in Joo Seng Road.
The retailer currently stocks about 200 brands online and has “several thousand” active customers. Lim is reluctant to divulge too many more details at present as the company remains in growth mode, but he does say the venture is doubling its business year on year, something which has recently attracted the attention of multinational private equity company Sequoia Capital.
Sequoia, which has already backed more than 250 companies, including Asian juggernauts Gojek, Tokopedia and Carousell, runs a rapid-scale ‘bootcamp programme’ for startups across Southeast Asia and India called Surge. The programme is designed to equip early-stage startups with the expertise, knowledge and financial backing to hold an unfair advantage as they look to grow their business. Surge provides capital ranging from US$1 million to $2 million, company-building workshops, global immersion trips and support from a community of mentors and founders.
“We were introduced to Surge in the middle of last year by a friend,” explains Lim. “When we spoke to them they turned out to be great partners and investors. More than anything it is great to bounce ideas off them and to widen the way we think and what we can do … and to look at the business model from a different perspective.”
If repeat business is a measure of success, Lim and his team must be doing something right. “It takes a lot to keep customers happy and keep them coming back every month.”
Perhaps the company’s embrace of a mission is a key. “Our mission is really important to us. It is to enable the bond between a human [and a pet] for a lifetime. So this is … what drives us, how we develop products or where we work with partners in all the ways we develop services.”
Like PerroMart, other companies in Sequoia’s Surge program are focused on the online space.
“Southeast Asia is at a tipping point,” says Rajan Anandan, MD of Surge at Sequoia Capital India. “The rate of mobile internet adoption and the growth of daily active users is now at a massive scale, and that opens up all kinds of possibilities for startup founders with new insights and innovative ideas.
“There are so many gaps and white spaces in every country in the region – across virtually every sector. For mission-driven founders who want to build something new, make a difference and have a big impact on your economy – this is your time.”
While Asia offers massive opportunities in e-commerce, for now PerroMart is keeping its focus on Singapore and on developing the Malaysian market. But other Asian countries are on the long-term radar.