Interview: Fable's Sophie Bakalar on Reimagining a Popular Product Category
The co-founder of the DTC pet gear brands talks pandemic adoptions and marketing strategies.
Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with Margaret Wishingrad, the Co-Founder and CEO of Three Wishes, the DTC nutritious cereal brand.
In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Sophie Bakalar, the Co-Founder of Fable Pets, the DTC pet gear brand.
DTC Magazine: I'm curious about how Fable went from being a concept to an actual product. What was your a-ha moment?
Sophie Bakalar: Fable was inspired first and foremost to solve problems. We felt that pet gear hadn’t evolved to keep up with the customer in this category. As much as we all love our pets, they come with a lot of inherent pain points - cleanliness, separation anxiety, etc. - particularly in urban areas where there’s limited space and a culture of multitasking. We wanted to create products that directly address those problems through thoughtful, innovative designs.
We’ve experienced unprecedented growth this year with a 12x increase since 2019.
DTC: How has your business changed over the course of the past year?
SB: Due to a major spike in pet adoptions and families spending more time at home with their pets, we’ve experienced unprecedented growth this year with a 12x increase since 2019, surpassing projections by more than three times.
Maintaining inventory has been a challenge, particularly for best sellers including our crate that doubles as a side table and our walking system, the Magic Link, however we’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to troubleshoot logistics with our manufacturing partners to meet the sudden increase in demand and leverage the growth to our best advantage.
We’re really energized by solving concrete problems.
DTC: I have a mental image of a pet owner standing in an endless aisle of toys or leashes and just kind of reaching for whatever looks durable and isn't too ugly or expensive. How have you managed to convince that person to invest more time and money in the process?
SB: We’re really energized by solving concrete problems and want to continue to address the biggest pain points faced by pets and their humans - tracking dirt inside, excess fur around the home, high levels of anxiety - by completely rethinking products from the ground up.
We want to make it easier for every person to take care of a pet and hope in five years (or sooner!) every pet will be using at least one Fable product.
DTC: The pandemic has obviously turned pet ownership into an entirely different ball of fur. How have your messaging or plans changed, if at all?
SB: This isn’t a short term blip like some other products that have seen a boom during COVID (People don’t return their pets!) And we expect pet adoption rates to continue increasing as work from home and flexible work schedules become more normal.
Pet adoption rates increased both because of a need for emotional support and also just that the opportunity was there. It is a lot easier to have a pet when you’re not going into the office as much.
DTC: Are there a few other digital natives/DTCs/start-ups whose approach to product you admire?
SB: I’m a fan of Sixpenny, SET Active, Omsom, and BREAD beauty. I think they all have interesting brand stories and unique product offerings.
Unless you’re in a category that’s solely focused on gifting, it’s hard for me to think of a product where the person purchasing and the user shouldn’t both be taken into consideration.
DTC: What advice would you have for somebody who's interested in creating a product that's not for the consumers themselves?
SB: We absolutely think of our products as being for the consumer as well as their dog. The Magic Link sits around a human’s shoulder/waste/wrist and our crate/side table sits in a human’s home.
So we try to equally think about humans and pets when designing our gear, which makes it a little hard to answer. Unless you’re in a category that’s solely focused on gifting, it’s hard for me to think of a product where the person purchasing and the user shouldn’t both be taken into consideration. But ultimately, the end-user (in our case, the dog!) is the most important player.