Elvis, ‘Star Trek’ pet projects inspire marketing duo
When they started A Crowded Coop in 2010, Mary Olson and Brandy Tanner resolved to work only on brand marketing projects they would enjoy. The outcome has been whopping growth for their Monroe business.
Seattle Times business reporter
A Crowded Coop
Maker of “Star Trek,” Elvis and Dickies pet products.
Founders: Mary Olson and Brandy Tanner
Revenue growth 2011-2013: 2,263 percent
Goal for 2020: $50 million
Employees: 16, or 17 counting Hunter, Olson’s golden retriever
Manufacturing: 80 percent in China, 20 percent domestic
Quote: “ ... when Elvis calls, you better listen.” — Mary Olson
Source: Company founders
In the headquarters of A Crowded Coop, in Monroe, small plush animals are falling out of vintage lockers, a cardboard Spock lurks in the corner and a prison-striped Elvis Presley peers longingly at the pool table.
Hunter, a 16-year-old golden retriever who doubles as the company’s “manager of human resources,” saunters into Mary Olson’s office looking for his midmorning head rub. She does it without even noticing while hollering to her business partner through the small open window connecting their offices.
Olson, 51, and Brandy Tanner, 31, went into business together in 2010, forming A Crowded Coop, a company that creates consumer products, such as backpacks, phone cases and dog leashes, with licensed brand names, photos and characters.
They resolved to work only on projects they enjoy — animals, cartoons, video games, “Star Trek” and the king of rock ’n’ roll. The team has been successful, with quadruple-digit growth over three years, most of which can be attributed to their work in pet products. They declined to disclose the company’s current revenue.
The duo knows the consumer market inside and out, having previously worked together at Bensussen Deutsch & Associates (BDA), a large Woodinville company that makes consumer products for brands like Hershey’s and “Star Wars.”
Tanner, who graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2003, understands the creative side of the consumer market, while Olson has a history in sales and knows how to pitch and sell to companies.
Once their noncompete agreements with BDA expired in 2011, they started snatching up licenses to make and sell branded products, starting with the rapidly growing Kirkland gaming company Valve Software.
The pet line for Dickies, a U.S. company that historically made uniforms and workwear, came next and was followed quickly by pet lines for “Star Trek” and Elvis.
“Pets are becoming part of the family,” Tanner said just as Hunter walked into the office. “And, the products are an expression of the owner’s style and what t hey are into.”
Tanner and Olson both have dogs and wanted to launch a pet line since before they left BDA. They thought Dickies was a good brand to start with, and the company agreed.
“They understand our brand heritage — quality, durability and workmanship — and how to incorporate it into Dickies-branded pet products,” said Dickies licensing director Chris Hegerfeld.
The women received the license to make Dickies collars, leashes, beds, dog workwear coats and jackets and toys in 2012. Products are available through Kmart, Sears and Amazon.com as well as Independent Pet Supply in Snohomish.
Although most of A Crowded Coop’s pet products appeal to women’s impulse buying, Tanner said the Dickies line with its custom-made hardware, and history with male workwear, is more approachable for men, especially online.
“Women pet consumers interact in a more emotional way when they are in store,” she said. “But online, the people buying our products are more of an even split between men and women.”
The next big license Olson and Tanner wanted was “Star Trek,” and the final papers were signed last March.
Tanner grew up watching “The Next Generation” series, and in her office she has a cardboard cutout of “Bones” from the movie.
But the pet line is for the original series, which Olson knew better. “I actually had to watch all the episodes for research,” said Tanner.
The “Star Trek” pet line, licensed through CBS Consumer Products, was released in December. It includes everything from Kirk and Spock uniform shirts for dogs, to USS Enterprise Warp Speed chew toys, uniform collars and leashes, a captain’s chair dog bed, and a communicator, which is a bag dispenser that says, “To boldly go.”
That line has done so well since its launch over the holidays that this summer A Crowded Coop is rolling out a nonpet “Star Trek” line, including backpacks, wallets, totes and luggage tags.
Another big win for the duo was the license to produce an Elvis pet line. After the “Star Trek” pet line came out, the women had decided not to accept any other licenses and to focus on the ones they already had.
“But when Elvis calls, you better listen,” Olson said.
The creative team is finalizing the Elvis line, which will be launched in early summer.
The designs include a blue-suede-shoe chew toy, a “Jailhouse Rock” ball-and-chain knotted rope, and classic Elvis outfits from “Viva Las Vegas” and “Blue Hawaii.” There is, of course, a poop-bag dispenser for the Elvis line. It is in the shape of an old microphone and says “TCB,” for Takin’ Care of Business — a catchphrase Elvis took on shortly before he died.
“Anytime you can weave in a poop joke, I consider it a win,” Tanner said laughing.
The company also holds pet-product licenses for Justin Boots and “Adventure Time,” as well as other nonpet pop-culture licenses for “Halo 4” and “Bravest Warriors.”
They have turned down many other licensing opportunities to keep their business at a manageable size. When the Marilyn Monroe people contacted them, the duo decided against it.
“There is a certain point where you lose touch with yourself and the company, and we left that,” Tanner said.
However, they may revisit that idea next year after the “Star Trek” and Elvis lines have been out for a while.
“We are aiming for no bigger than a $50 million company at this point,” Olson said. “We have it penciled out ... we’ll get there in the next six years.”
Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @coralgarnick