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I’ve seen my fair share of dog collars and leads in my time, but when I discovered Squeaker Dogs earlier this year I knew they were something special.
Their innovative light up pet safety collars and leads are seriously a life saving pet product (to read more about that you can see our full Squeaker Dog Collar Review).
Every night when I take Soda for her walk I feel that extra bit safe with her LED Squeaker Poochlight lead glowing beside me. Truly.
So of course I wanted to know all the secrets behind the inspiration and success of Squeaker Dogs.
Founder Chris Forcucci was kind enough to allow a sneak peek into their hip Melbourne offices (dog friendly of course) and to pick his brain on all things pet tech…
Name: Christopher Forcucci
Title & Company: Top Dog – Squeaker
Location: Melbourne, Australia and Los Angeles, California
Squeaker is possibly one of the hottest items in pet products for 2014. Where did the idea come from?
Thank you so much for the props and that’s a question I get asked a lot!
Working back late I would often ride my bike home in darkness along the bike path that’s shared with pedestrians walking their dogs. I had a pretty serious bike light on it and even with that on and 20/20 vision it’s still hard to see anything walking in front of you.
One night I failed to see a dog attached to one of those extendable dog leads until the very last minute. I swerved to avoid it and missed, however I ended up in a river. After that I thought to myself wow, I really could have messed up that dog, it’s owner and myself just then, wouldn’t it be cool if dog leads could light up? One year later here we are!
What was your professional background prior to Squeaker?
I’m actually one of those university dropouts. I attempted industrial design at RMIT for a while then realized there was no work in Australia. Worked in a warehouse, got a gig doing packaging and product design in-between packing containers. Tried to get a job in an ad agency, got nowhere which led to me starting up my own in my early 20’s. I worked the business for 12 years doing agency stuff. Ironically I managed to land industrial design projects all the way through till today. I have designed products from automotive accessories to Mattresses.
There was nothing dog related about it except for the fact we always had our family dogs at the studio. At first I was a bit nervous of how clients would react to having animals in the workplace. As it turns out it was one of the best things we ever did. It was great for morale and kept everyone chilled especially when the pressure was on. Staff would have some time out, take the dogs for a walk or just lie around and have a cuddle and a pat. It did wonders for stress levels. I think everyone should bring their dogs to work!
Tell us about the dogs behind the inspiration of your brand…
Chico and Buddy aka Cheeks and Chicken (don’t ask) most definitely are the driving force and inspiration behind the brand.
One night I was sitting around the house pondering the branding and the ethos of the company. I knew I wanted something honest and not something contrived and cliché. I asked myself “What is it about dogs that connects us? How will the public connect with the brand and vice versa?” As a company you could stand for a lot of things, people call us Pet Tech, Innovative even Fashion Technology! But more than that I wanted something that ran deep something others could relate to.
At that moment I took a look at Buddy and he was sitting on the couch in a human like position, paw on his groin with his jowls all sloppy, he looked like a sad old man sitting there. All of a sudden he turned his head ever so slowly and stared at me. I started laughing out loud. I actually laughed to the point that it began to hurt. In that instant I was able to define what I had been trying to articulate… Happy… That’s it.. Dogs make you happy.
It’s not a revelation but it’s so beautiful in it’s simplicity that I wanted everyone to feel that way when they think about anything to do with Squeaker, we aim to achieve that with our products all the way through to the language we use on our website and our social media posts. Squeaker should never be negative and it should always be smiling.
When they were born I totally fell in love with dogs again. I think I had been in denial for so many years after I lost my first dog that I forgot how much I really loved having a dogs around. Now Buddy comes to every single business meeting. I deck him out in Squeaker top to tail with a bow tie and he meets the retailers and even sits in the board room during meetings. He and Chiko (Cheeks) are the official product testers. Buddy is a 30kg Aussie Bulldog and Cheeks is a 60kg American Akita. If those two big boys can’t break our products then no dog will.
Squeaker’s use of advanced technology sets it apart from regular dog collars and leads. What went into the design and testing process?
First of all we researched the market and purchased every single brand of illuminating collar and leash we could find. In this process 90% of them either broke too easily, weren’t practical, looked daggy or simply weren’t bright. In the end I was like, we can do this better.
We knew what we wanted and basically set out to overcome all of the above mentioned points. One of the hardest things to do was to eliminate light absorption. By this we mean as light travels down the optical fiber strip it gradually dims. The darker the fabric the more light is absorbed into it and that’s when discoloration occurs. We combated this by using four custom made LED’s instead of the usual one found on other strip light collars. This was harder to achieve than you think especially using multiple LED’s and maintaining durability.
It took us almost one year and at least 8-9 prototypes to get the product up to the standard that you see today. Put it this way in the 11th hour we redesigned part of the button so it would make a ‘click’ sound when you pressed down on it so you would have that tactile response and quality ‘feel’.
The Poochlight collars and leads are all about safety. What are your top 3 tips for keeping your pets safe when out and about?
Listen… Keep your ears open and listen to what’s going on around you. More often than not you will hear a bike or a car before you can see it. Especially when people are driving and riding around with no lights on. (Yes.. it happens)
Don’t let them out of your sight. You’re not all Cesar Milan even though we all think we are. Dogs will want to challenge your authority at the worst possible time. Keep an eye on them and don’t let them run off too far.
In my own opinion, what should you do? Buy a Poochlight, seriously. It’s so easy to blame others for running into your dog, you simply cannot rely on others to be responsible for your pets safety. It might sound harsh but at the end of the day prevention is better than cure and your pet is your responsibility.
At first the Poochlight may come across as a novelty gadget but once you start using one you’re going to wonder what you did without it and soon you will be judging non-Poochlight owners as irresponsible! Remember, four eyes on your pet are better than two.
You have quite the unique name and logo for your brand – where did they originate?
Thanks so much for bringing that up, it’s something I lost many nights of sleep over.
It all started with the logo. I wanted something easily identifiable at a glance. It had to be minimal and unique and most of all it had to embody the ethos of what we are about as a company. One night in the studio, we had a client that was shooting balloon animals for their campaign, sitting there across from me was a blue balloon dog, then it hit me.
The Balloon dog appealed to me on so many levels, because it embodies the core of what we stand for in our attitude and with our products. First up it’s iconic, everyone can identify the shape of the balloon dog in an instant. Secondly the Poodle (aside from the Dalmatian) is one of the first dogs you identify with as a kid and they are unique, like us! Most importantly the feeling of fascination and excitement that you had as a child when someone would make a balloon dog at a party, if you watch kids they walk away fixated on these little pieces of art. It’s absolute wonder and perplexing, that’s exactly how we want our customers to feel when they lay eyes on a Squeaker product, you should feel like a kid again except this time you get to share that gift with your best friend, your dog.
The name? Well what noise does a balloon dog and a puppy make? A squeak!
We want to be a brand people choose for their pets for life from puppyhood to Old Yella they are all little Squeakers to us and how can you forget a name like Squeaker?
For many budding entrepreneurs, they have the BIG IDEA, but are unsure of how to make it a reality. How did you go about finding the right experts to work with to create your line?
Research, research, research. You have to do your research. Don’t go into something unprepared or with a half baked product. (Unless of course your reading this and want to start a competing brand then don’t read this paragraph). Honestly the last thing you want is to fast track something and end up with a living room full of returns.
Plus it’s all about relationships, we went through a number of suppliers before we settled on ‘The One’. In fact half way through our first order I took a complete leap of faith and switched manufacturers simply because these new guys understood my needs and were a lot easier to deal with and they truly believed in the idea. Turns out it was the best move I ever made. Rely on your instincts, it should be an organic process, if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.
Once you find a good supplier, communicate with them. Tell them your plans and give them feedback. Every time there is a review or something happening. I tell them about it and they see us putting larger and larger orders in. You need to keep them motivated too. You’re a small operator you need an edge to keep them interested. Your 100 unit order is nothing compared to a major retailer who is ordering tens of thousands of units from them. Show them that you’re for real.
Commit everything to it. When everyone is going on holidays, you stay home and save that money to put into the business. Need a new car? Move back in with Mum and Dad to get it off the ground. Do it! Who cares? Just set a date, set attainable goals and knock them off one-by-one. You’re on a mission!
Do you have a pet friendly workplace?
It’s more dog friendly than human friendly. If you don’t like the boys then sorry you have to go!
It’s a 300sq studio space, double story with a glass roof so it feels like you’re outside most of the time. The dogs are very low maintenance, they basically sleep most of the day and we take them to the park at lunchtime for a run around. Yeah, they like it.
Your collars and leads are available in 7 awesome colours. What’s the story behind their flamboyant names?
I was so tired of doggy daggy. I wanted something to pop off and make safely fun and I just let the names come to me. Customers always refer to the names when they tell me about the products. My Monster Mash or My Sunset Orange, etc. It’s all part of the fun and I think they suit. They all have their own little identity and story.
Squeaker is currently available in the Australian and US markets – both big pet loving nations! What made you choose these regions to launch in?
I thought it best to start off locally that way it would be able to keep control of things easier and then I just started getting a lot of enquiries from USA and Canada so I thought, hey why not? It just so happened we had a base in LA and we just went with it.
It was probably the best move we made because New Yorkers, Californians and Vancouverites just cant get enough. We keep selling out!
We have just launched in Europe and Asia now with countries like the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and France really getting behind us. It’s so awesome to think we have our products keeping pets safe all over the world now. I get a real kick out of that.
What has been the highlight for Squeaker to date?
So many I don’t know where to start. Having Dr Chris Brown endorse us on National TV was pretty amazing. Especially when the crowd response was so positive. That night we cleared the shelves! That was when we were only a few months old. That gave me the confidence to say, ok. People see the value in this product.
Our Instagram getting the traction it has is also encouraging, I love seeing our 14,000+ fans and customers interact with the quirky posts we put, but my all time favorite is when I received a letter in the mail from a customer. When I opened it up there were some kid’s drawings inside of Buddy wearing the Green Gremlin along with some awesome suggested product features. Attached to the drawings was a letter from the kids mother and it said “Christian said to me today, when I grow up I want to be like Chris, because he gets to make cool things for dogs to keep them safe.” It’s my screen saver on my phone. I also have framed it in my office as a reminder every day to keep it real and to never lose focus on Squeaker’s mission. Being an inspiration to a kid put everything in perspective for me.
How do you see the pet industry evolving in the coming years?
Definitely utilizing and taking advantage of new technologies. Pet food / nutrition, training, public facilities and of course safety and security. Pets and inner city dewellers is such a huge and expanding market across the world and growing every day in Australia. People are busy and pet ownership is a massive responsibility. If we can use our resources and technology to help us manage life with our pets I think it’s a good way moving forward.
What does the future hold for Squeaker?
We have so many cool things coming up, all will be revealed in 2015, just keep following us on social media or sign up to our mailing list for updates.
What I can say is that we will be launching our harness range early next year for XS and S sized dogs to begin with. We have our product testers putting them through their paces as we speak so stay tuned for that.
If you had to choose one celebrity ambassador for Squeaker products who would you choose and why?
That’s a tricky question. I like to think we are funny, intelligent and a bit off the wall. We’re also practical and attractive so maybe like a combination of Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais, both funny intelligent guys with a passion for animals.