As a pet owner, Hector Ocasio well knew how small businesses that cater to all creatures great, small and in between were often mom ’n pop concerns that were owned by people who lack technical knowledge.
As a tech entrepreneur, Ocasio knew that he had a way to help those dog groomers, trainers and kennel owners in the $103.6 billion U.S. pet care industry, which is growing at the rate of 11.6% per year, according to Spots.com that was to start what he called “The world’s first digital management system for the pet care industry.”
That was the genesis of Pet Connect Business, a member of the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s Maryland Innovation Center. Its objective is simple: “We make it easy and affordable,” he said, “to manage turnkey digital solutions, which can include custom-branded mobile apps, responsive websites, mobile payments, push notifications and digital video sharing,”
Funded in part by the Builder Fund of Columbia-based TEDCO, twice, for a total of $110,000; and the Maryland Department of Commerce with a $250,000 from the Maryland Equity Participation Investment Fund, Ocasio said, the core value of PCB “is not that we can provide our customers with an app for a website. It’s that our platform enables them to easily and affordably implement and manage digital solutions.”
PCB allows any service provider with little-to-no digital experience to easily implement a fully functional digital system in less than two hours; they can also update their solution in less than a minute with no developers and no coding. It’s also affordable, with packages that start as low at $99 per month.
“We sell two packages,” he said. “One is for the single module and the other for the full suite for $149; both are discounted with an annual subscription. There are no extra fees to enable any feature.”
Chris Elias is one of PCB’s larger customers. The owner of The Ruff Life Mobile Grooming, the Long Island-based company operates 13 vans and employs 16 groomers. He just renewed his app-only subscription for the second time.
“We do everything today by apps,” said Elias, “but I knew that I couldn’t build one, partially because I was concerned about the expense.
“Hector wouldn’t tell me what his cost, but we did a Zoom and within 15 minutes I was sold on the technology,” he said. “Only then did he tell me that an annual mobile app package averages $99 per month. And I thought, ‘That’s all?” That’s chump change for a business. Even if I was a single operator, it would still be a no-brainer. It’s plug and play. And I don’t know of anyone else in the pet industry that is doing this.”
Similar observations were offered by Sandi Cox, owner of Bark ’n Bubbles, in Leesburg, Va. “I’m not a tech person. I’m old school, so I still called people. I hate texting,” she said, “but I know that today most people want to use an app.”
Then she allowed Ocasio to use her business as a beta site. “That made texting easier,” she said. “Then I found that the app became a big-time saver and made my business run easier, better and smarter.”
That wasn’t the only surprise. “It’s really enhanced my interactions with customers, who like the convenience, too,” said Cox. “Now, I actually talk to them more now than I did before.”
Ocasio thinks part of his early success is due to the demographic of pet owners. “Today in the U.S., two-thirds of all pet parents are millennials or Gen Z, according to various sources like IBIS Industry Reports. They were born and raised on digital experiences.”
But the big win here, he said, “is that 99 percent of service providers in the pet care industry don’t provide a mobile app and half don’t even have a basic website.”
So today, Ocasio, is continuing his effort to change the landscape. “We’re not like Rover.com, since we don’t collect a service fee from the users,” he said. “We’re simply a business-to-business application that found a need and filled it.”