September 26, 2013

A Word with the Boss: Planet Dog co-CEO sees a mission to give back

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Colleen McCracken recently joined Planet Dog, the Westbrook-based maker of dog toys and treats, as co-chief executive officer, along with Stephanie Volo. Prior to joining Planet Dog, McCracken held financial positions at G.H. Bass and Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers. Planet Dog makes pet toys and treats, including its best-selling Orbee-Tuff Orbee Ball. The company is part of the $55.3 billion pet products and services industry -- up from $17 billion 20 years ago -- and has 27 employees and about 5,000 wholesale customers. A portion of all sales is donated to the Planet Dog Foundation, which supports training dogs for people in need.

click image to enlarge

Colleen McCracken, the new co-chief executive officer of Planet Dog, is shown at the headquarters in Westbrook.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Q: You've gone from a shoe company to a wood furniture maker to a dog toy company. That's quite a variety.

A: The process of making molded dog toys is very similar to the process of making shoes. While the products are very, very different, both companies are great brands and both are built on a very strong belief on what the brand needs to represent. For Planet Dog, it's wonderfully designed dog toys, but it's also the mission to give back.

The Planet Dog Foundation is part of the mission of the company -- it primarily funds service dogs for people in need. We have our retail store and one of the major things that we do in the store is sponsor adoption days for local agencies that are trying to help get dogs adopted. I hear all the time from customers that they just love Planet Dog because they love the products, but they also love that we give back. These days, those kinds of things are very important values for consumers and it's actually part of our mission. We love the life that we live with our four-legged friends and we strongly believe in giving back -- we just passed the $1 million mark in cash grants and product donations and it's something that we've very proud of.

Q: Why did you go to Planet Dog?

A: I was at the point of feeling a need to make a change and I think these things happen that are very synergistic. I ended up having a chance discussion with Alex (Fisher, the company's founder) and I think there was a reason for that. It was just a great time and those things happen for all of the right reasons. In my entire career, that's how it's been and I think for a lot of leaders, you're not looking for the next opportunity, but it comes your way.

Q: What's it like being a co-CEO?

A: It's great. I'll tell people I'm a co-CEO and you get a lot of looks, like, how does that work? Stephanie and I get along well -- Stephanie was here since it was founded and Stephanie's background is retail expansion -- she's a brand person and my strength is around the finances and operations. So we have complementary skill sets. This sort of is the best opportunity for the company -- for people with diverse skill sets to work collaboratively to better a company. We work extremely well together and I think women, in particular, have an ability to seize those opportunities. We see it as two smart people are better than one.

Q: You believe that women can work together better than men?

A: My experience is that, although the world is changing, I do believe that women tend to surround themselves with really smart people and I'm used to making sure that I have a team of really bright people. Being a CEO means maximizing the talent of your team and I think maybe women see that better than men.

I feel a CEO is really an orchestrator and, at the end of the day, they're only as successful as the team they have in place and the great thing about Steph is that she recognizes that as well. And we have the opportunity to learn from each other as well -- having two people with different experiences really weigh in with their thoughts really helps us make better decisions.

Q: What's the path forward for Planet Dog?

A: The marketplace remains competitive, so the challenge the company has is to differentiate itself. The company has done a great job of developing interactive toys, to stimulate the dog's brain to do puzzles and things like that and I thinks that's a huge opportunity for the company. There are so many opportunities that the question is: How do we focus the company from here? I'm a believer in growing from the core and that's where we'll focus our energy and our efforts.

Q: Do you have a dog yourself?

A: Yes, and his name is Tasker. Tasker is an eight-pound Yorkie that has lots of energy and he's great.

Q: How did he get his name?

A: We bought a house on Tasker Avenue and when we got the dog, we were having a really hard time deciding what to name him and we said, 'Why not Tasker?' And it really stuck. People ask me, what came first -- Tasker's name or the street name?

Q: When and why did you get Tasker?

A: We had a golden retriever, Max, who unfortunately passed away in 2011 and it was a sad time to part with him. Max was an amazing family dog. He grew up with my kids and I didn't know if I really wanted to get another dog, but I realized that the house was a lonely place without a four-legged friend.

Q: Planet Dog is known as a dog-friendly -- almost dog-required -- workplace. Does Tasker go to work with you?

A: Tasker goes to work with me three days a week. When I have a busy day planned, he goes to doggy day care. Dogs add so much value to the workplace. They're product testers and we don't have to go far to find out if a new product will work well. Before I got there, they didn't have many small dogs, so Tasker has been the small dog product tester.

Tasker, being sort of a high-energy-level dog, at first I was a little nervous about bringing him to work, but he really learned about office behavior from the other dogs. There's that first 20 minutes when they can all see each other and romp and then they learn to settle down to work.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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