How Tails.com is disrupting the pet food market

NDA is running a series of interviews with leaders at some of the most innovative DTC brands exploring how they are building their brands, ahead of an upcoming report on the DTC market in association with Control v Exposed (CvE).

James Davidson, co-Founder and CEO tails.com

What are the biggest opportunities for your brand in 2020?

If you had asked me earlier this year, I would have said that top of the list were growth in the UK and expansion across Europe.  Whilst that is still the case right now, we have also adjusted to make sure that we can navigate the uncharted territory we now find ourselves in with Coronavirus.

Our priorities at tails.com are first to protect our people, supporting them to continue to deliver essential dog food supplies to our customers, and then to work as a responsible business, contributing as best we can to ease the impact of the wider pandemic.

What are your biggest challenges in customer acquisition and retention?

Some of the challenges in acquisition are in helping our customers and potential customers understand exactly what we do at tails.com. Creating a different recipe for every individual dog, one which is tailored for their specific nutritional needs and will change over time as they age is something that many people struggle to get their heads around. 

Especially when it costs no more than ‘normal’ dog food. 

It is a level of personalisation we are not used to seeing in human food let alone pet food but, once people have tried tails.com, they can see the benefits in terms of enjoying happy, healthy dogs.

What digital channels are most effective for you and how do you see this changing this year?

We invest heavily in digital channels, particularly Facebook and Google. They allow us to have a direct relationship with our customer which provides quick feedback and an ability for us to adapt fast to changing needs. 

Things are changing at a lightning pace right now but, something I feel is that the current duopoly of Facebook and Google only works if they are truly offering value to smaller businesses and society in general.

If they fail to do that, then those businesses like us will look to diversify further to other platforms who can and do.

How important is brand marketing versus direct response for you?

Direct response has been vital to grow our business but, as we continue to expand, our brand values are increasingly important to share.

We have always had a strong vision about how we will change the world of pet food for good and it is important we use our brand to represent that faithfully.

How important is traditional media like TV and print?

TV is very important to us. It is our channel for reaching mass audiences and it has worked well over the past couple of years for us.

As for print, I would be really interested in making work for us but we haven’t quite found the ideal way to do that yet. 

Are physical retail experiences, including popups, in your planned strategy?

We know that face-to-face conversations work really well for us. We already have a team who understand the product inside out and have been running pop ups for us in shopping centres across the nation talking to people about tails.com and the benefits of truly personalised nutrition. 

So I’m sure that some sort of physical retail experience will continue to be a key part of our strategy.

Do you plan to build relationships with traditional distributors and retailers in addition to the DTC channel?

I think we’re currently at a point where our brand has been successful enough that it could work to open doors to new partnerships.

However, the proposition is unique and we would have to make sure that any new approach we take be aligned to that and fully support our highly personalised offering.

What are the biggest lessons that established brands in your sector can learn from DTC brands?

It depends what you mean by our sector! We are a DTC pet food retailer, yes, but also a manufacturer and a technology company: we cross many boundaries.

The biggest lesson for established brands to learn from DTC is power of true, and continuous, real-time customer understanding. 

We try never to assume we know what the customer most needs or values. Instead we always test, develop new hypotheses and test and then test again to provide the right service and products to meet their needs.

How easy is it to find and retain the talent you need to build your business?


Having grown very rapidly we’re always looking for talented people and indeed, without them we would not have achieved the success we have.  When hiring what we look for above everything else are people’s values: we want game-changing, team-spirited, customer-led people who will make each day count.

Experience and skills we can give to people; values are what makes our team a Pack.  

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