Lissa Wyman -- Casual Living, May 6, 2011
SHARON DEFELICE DOESN'T LIKE TO WASTE GOOD OPPORTUNITIES. WHEN SHE AND DEBBIE Whitehead noticed a void in the market for high-quality grill covers back in 2005, they partnered up and launched Two Dogs Designs a year later.
Now, opportunities are coming directly to them from their customers. It's been that way since the company began. De-Felice, the CEO, gets requests for new products from dealers all the time, illustrating how the market for protective covers is still largely underserved.
"A lot of what was and still is out there in the market is vinyl, which cracks in the cold and melts in hot weather," DeFelice said. "We are the ones who came out with the heavyweight polyester, PVC lining, and 8- to 10-inch Velcro attachments that you can really wrap around your grill or furniture."
DeFelice said Two Dogs was also one of the first companies to offer more design choices than just black. Their goal from the beginning was to stand out with quality and design and to package the product well enough to get noticed on a retail sales floor.
"The bottom line is we wanted to make grill covers a profit center rather than an afterthought," she said.
Color and design broke the ice. Scouts for an HGTV show saw the company's bright, flashy covers at the 2007 Casual Market and put them on the air. This and other media coverage got dealers' attention and drew orders. DeFelice said it didn't take long for dealers to start calling and e-mailing the Two Dogs office in Philadelphia with ideas of their own.
"People started asking for solids, so we added solid hunter green and chocolate brown covers that coordinated with our other designs," DeFelice said. "Then, of course, the recession hit and dealers told us they needed a lower priced line."
The company introduced its WeatherReady line last year, with price points that are about 20% less than Two Dogs Design covers. The line not only opened doors to new retail channels, DeFelice said existing Two Dogs customers carried WeatherReady as an alternative for more cost conscious consumers. As a result, Two Dogs finished 2010 with a whopping 135% sales increase over the previous year.
The dealer feedback keeps coming, and DeFelice keeps responding with new types of covers, colors and sizes. The current line of Two Dogs covers includes protection for everything from built-in grills to furniture to firepits to patio heaters. At the 2010 Casual Market, the company debuted fountain covers.
"We've even gotten requests for lawn mower covers and covers for bird cages," said DeFelice. "All we do is listen and see where there are openings in the marketplace or areas that are not being served correctly."
For now, that means a "no" for mower and bird-cage covers, but a "yes" for covers that protect air conditioning units.
"We've been getting those requests for a few years now, so we're finally listening to them," DeFelice said.
Even so, DeFelice said the company has cut the number of SKUs in its collection from 250 at its high several years ago to about 170. Much of that has to do with DeFelice's business savvy. She dropped bright colors and bold patterns to streamline the collection and appeal to the widest range of consumers possible.
WeatherReady are available in two solid covers, black and tan. Two Dogs covers come in two patterns - banana leaf and chili peppers - and two colors, hunter and chocolate. As always, that's subject to change.
"We have a design that's in the works and we're waiting to see how some colors take off this year," she said.
DeFelice is just as savvy behind the scenes, which is why the company's warehouse isn't in Philadelphia. It's all the way across the country in Seattle.
Two Dogs and Weather- Ready covers are produced in China and shipped to Seattle, where the product is then relayed to dealers. DeFelice said shipping containers to the West Coast saves "an enormous amount of time and dollars," which helps her manage the bottom line and fill orders faster.
"We can be in port and shipped to the East Coast faster and usually cheaper than bringing a boat all the way around to the East Coast," she said.
When DeFelice isn't on one of her quarterly visits to the warehouse, she is traveling with one of the company's 14 sales reps. She has noticed on those trips a consumer who is already motivated to protect his or her grill.
"If someone is buying a $500 grill, they're automatically looking for a cover because they want to protect their investment," she said. "You go into any big box store and you'll find covers displayed right next to grills. Consumers are aware of the importance of a good cover."
Protecting furniture, however, is another story.
Even though deep seating, dining sets and chat sets can cost just as much or more than a grill, consumers in general still don't consider covers. To help make that connection, Two Dogs has created a grid display that allows retailers to sell furniture covers alongside furniture. It also offers a point-of-purchase easel display with lifestyle photography and in-store signage.
But what really closes the sale, DeFelice said, is salesmanship. She has a simple but powerful message for retailers, who still consider covers an afterthought not worthy of the effort.
"[Covers] can add 15% to your bottom line if you sell them correctly," she said. "You have to assume it's part of the sale."
The cover category was an opportunity DeFelice knew was too good to pass up. Now her mission is convincing dealers of the same thing.
Sharon DeFelice launched Two Dogs Designs when she noticed a lack of highquality grill covers in the market. More than 11 years later, she is still fi nding new opportunities in the category.
The Two Dogs Designs fulfi lls orders of its China-made covers from its Seattle-based warehouse. The move saves both time and money versus importing the product to its Philadelphia headquarters.
One of Two Dogs’ most popular cover patterns is banana leaf, shown here in chocolate brown. The company continues to tweak its designs based on feedback from its dealers.