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Pet Industry Marketing: Doggie Fountain’s Road to Success

Why a Dog Water Fountain?

On a 102° day Tony Lytle’s daughter, Ginnie Marie came home to check on her dog to find him laying down. At first, Ginnie Marie thought he was dead, but when she got close enough to him and saw his eyes look up at her. He was on the verge of heatstroke and almost too dehydrated to move.

Ginnie Marie got him inside where there was air conditioning, gave him water, and cooled him down. Later, she asked Tony if he could do anything to make sure that her dog would never run out of water again.

Tony told her, “just get a big tub and fill it up with water.”

Ginnie Marie tried that, but the water got hot, got dirty, the dog played it in, the birds played it in, and it was no longer sanitary. Also, stagnant water can lead to diseases like parvovirus and canine influenza.

“I went to a local hardware store a couple of days later to get some nuts and bolts and whatever for my shop and I went to the restroom, came out, and got a drink of water from their water fountain,” Tony said. “I stepped on the paddle on the floor, got a drink, and started walking away. As I walked away a couple of steps, I turned around and thought maybe if I can make a dog water fountain similar to that but much smaller… and that’s how that all came about.”

 

The Doggie Fountain: Easy, but Effective

The result was the Doggie Fountain, a paw-activated outdoor dog water fountain that provides cool water anytime on warm weather days. The Doggie Fountain requires no filters, no batteries, and no necessary parts to replace. Like with a sprinkler, all you need to install the Doggie Fountain is a garden hose.

“It’s a thousand times better than a water bowl,” Tony said. “(The Doggie Fountain) never gets slime, mildew or bugs and birds in it. It’s fresh, it’s clean, and it’s cool all the time.” Tony also offers a tutorial with a trick to keep your garden hose cool on the Doggie Fountain’s website.

“I made a dog water fountain for my daughter with some materials that I had laying around in my shop. She took it and trained her dog within a day or two and then takes a video of it and gave it to me. I played it and thought it was pretty cool,” Tony said. “I thought it would’ve taken him weeks to learn how to use it, but she said he learned in like a day, so I said, ‘ok, that’s great, I solved your problem. That’s that.’”

When Ginnie Marie showed the video to friends and future in-laws, they thought it was as cool as she did. They suggested that he make more dog water fountains.

“The first thing I did was look on the internet, and then the pet stores, and then the hardware stores and Sears and K-Mart… there was nothing like this out there,” Tony said. “So, then I did a patent search, and they couldn’t find anything like it, so then I filed for a Utility Patent in 2007 and received my patent in 2010. In between 2007 and 2010, I started making these. They started selling like hot cakes.”

dog water fountain

The Dog Water Fountain’s Difficult Road

Unfortunately, the Doggie Fountain had a challenging road ahead.

“I’ve been in five different contracts and four different companies. They all fell in love with my product, but due to circumstances, the first four of them didn’t work out,” Tony explained.

The first company was InventionHome.com, a “very reputable company that I trusted and they were okay.” They helped Tony find Premiere Pet Products, a company that was interested in the Doggie Fountain but said that prototypes and development would take about 18 months. Tony agreed and signed a non-compete so Tony couldn’t make any more products. 14 months later, in 2008, the economy crashed, and the company dropped out.

In December 2008, Tony sought out API, a company in Chicago that became interested in the Doggie Fountain. It took six months before a contract was signed. Before Tony signed a non-compete, he did an audition with Shark Tank but didn’t hear back from them. Three weeks after Tony signed his contract with API, an employee from Shark Tank reached out to him. Unfortunately, API wasn’t interested in an opportunity with Shark Tank.

About a year later, API took the Doggie Fountain to a Las Vegas hardware show in 2010, where it won best new product in its category. However, the products were faulty and defective, and Tony watched his royalty checks diminish from $4000 to $15 over the course of the next two years. Tony and API shortly went their separate ways.

Tony then teamed up with Quirky in 2013. In Christmas of 2014, 500 units of the Doggie Fountain hit the market and sold out instantly. In March 2015, 500 more units sold out in four days. A month later, 1000 units sold out again. Things were looking up for Tony and the Doggie Fountain.

 

Pet Industry Marketing: Another Bump in the Road

Then Tony heard nothing.

Quirky wouldn’t return Tony’s e-mails or calls. Tony heard a rumor on a forum that Quirky might go bankrupt. Quirky admitted to Tony that these rumors were true and offered to give him his patent rights back. Tony did immediately, and Quirky went bankrupt a few months later.

Tony then went to his fourth company, EdisonNation.com. “They fell in love with the product, just like everyone else,” Tony said. They wanted to do a dog water fountain.

About a year later, complications led to a company Edison Nation helped work with Tony pulled out.

“Every time I was making and selling them, I was doing really well. Every time I was in a contract with people, I couldn’t sell them,” Tony grimaced.

While Tony was working with Edison Nation, Quirky found investors and was taken out of bankruptcy. They called him and wanted to work with Tony and the Doggie Fountain again. “When Edison Nation dropped me, I called Quirky again, and they said, ‘We’d still love to do your dog fountain.’ We signed a contract, and now I’m signed with Quirky and another company called Viatek. It’s been up and down, and up and down… five times,” Tony said, still managing to keep a smile on his face. “I’ve been working on this for twelve years… It’s been a journey.”

Despite his hard journey, the product has kept him going.

“The product itself is amazing, and I get that from everybody who sees it. It’s not just me, it’s my friends, my family, my neighbors, and complete strangers!”

Going Viral

The Doggie Fountain’s great success is often realized when one of their videos goes viral. The YouTube celebrity Crazy Russian Hacker’s video on the Doggie Fountain to date has just under 1.5 million views, while Bored Panda’s dog compilation is well over 1 million.

“It’s pretty amazing. You get kind of beside yourself. You look at it one day—by the time I saw—and it already had a hundred thousand hits. Then the day after Bored Panda sent it to me it had over three hundred thousand…” That’s when Tony really starts selling units like crazy.

Tony also has advice for other inventors. “Get away from it,” Tony said, laughing. “Run away as fast as you can. You can be on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and just ready to cry. The amount of money I’ve spent—and it kind of worked out with me because I have my own shop—but if I couldn’t make prototypes it could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Tony has tried his dog water fountain at Shark Tank auditions twice, traveled across state lines, and even auditioned for David Letterman’s ‘Stupid Pet Tricks’ once. His funny recollection of that story can be found at the 48:25 mark of the video interview.

 

In Conclusion

“I’ve missed a couple of big opportunities—some my fault, some not my fault—but as far as what I would tell another inventor: have lots and lots of money, and lots of lot of patience, perseverance, and a good wife or partner. You spend lots and time and money on this. You’ve got to have a product that millions of people can use. Unless you’ve got somebody possibly backing you or someone with deep pockets, it could bankrupt you if you’re not careful.”

With any luck, the fifth time on Tony’s long adventure will become his dog water fountain, the Doggie Fountain’s, lucky charm.

If you have an idea for an invention or a funny story about your time as a show, share with us at LA NDPT.

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Onega Ulanova

Onega co-founded LA NPDT because of her love to innovation, brand development, and people. She is passionate about making the world around her a better place and gives back through volunteering.

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