From Dog Lover to BARK: How Manish Joneja Puts His Canine (and Human) Customers First

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When it comes to retail, BARK (NYSE: BARK) CEO Manish Joneja knows it’s important to put customers first. And at BARK, those customers aren’t just pet owners, but their dogs, too.

His love of dogs is one of the reasons Joneja took the helm in October 2020. He helped BARK,most commonly known for BarkBox, its themed monthly box of toys and treats, go public in June 2021 through a merger with Northern Star Acquisition Corp. Joneja has helped BARK build on partnerships with big box and online retailers from Target to Costco to Lowes to Amazon to provide consumers with dog products spanning home, health, food, and fun, in addition to growing its subscription services BarkBox, SuperChewer, BARK Bright Dental and BARK Eats.

In a recent Town Hall, Joneja shared what makes BARK’s subscription service stand out, and how the company makes sure it puts its human and canine customers first.

The below is excerpted from Manish Joneja’s Public Town Hall, which can be viewed in full here.

Be personal and flexible with your customers.

“Personalization and being flexible to the changing needs of our customers is what has given us such high customer retention,” Joneja told retail investors.

As a subscription-based service, customer retention is one of the key components to BARK’s business model.

“We proactively engage over 250,000 customers per month; we collect their feedback on products their dog enjoyed (and didn’t enjoy), and we leverage that data to optimize our product ecosystem. For us, customer service (what we call the Happy Team), isn’t a cost center, it’s part of the customer experience of building life-long relationships with dogs and their parents. Our ~60% margin profile enables us to offer this level of customer touch, which is something most companies cannot offer.”

It seems to be working. Many members who chatted with Joneja mentioned they subscribed to BarkBox and how much they loved it, with cat lovers asking if BARK plans to offer a MEOW box for cats. To which Joneja replied: “Much of our brand value is how authentically dog-obsessed our team is. Never say never, but not at this time.“

When it comes to products, finding the right design is key.

BARK spends a lot of time designing its boxes, with each theme being planned out well in advance.

“We take design seriously – from ideation to the first sketch to the final product – every shape, sound, style and story is meticulously considered and data-driven,” Joneja said.

BARK has a large creative and design team with employees who have joined from companies like LEGO and Disney.

“Our products are designed and created by us and we have deep customer relationships as well as an enormous amount of data that we leverage from our customers, which informs product design and development decisions. It also enables us to offer highly personalized offerings for an individual dog.”

This integration of design, customer data and personalization has helped the company reach over 59% of gross margins and partner with brands like Budweiser and the WWE.

Find opportunities to collaborate and work with other retailers.

While BARK is a retail company, it doesn’t downplay the importance of working with other retailers and marketplaces. BARK partners with many other retail partners, including Target, Costco, Lowes, Petco, Petsmart and Amazon, among others.

“Different channels offer a different platform for us to reach new customers and further raise brand awareness which is accretive to our [direct to consumer] business. Our mission is to make all dogs happy and these partnerships allow us to serve more dogs and their parents,” Joneja said.

Identity your challenges and find a strategic solution.

Like many companies, BARK has faced challenges due to the pandemic, with the key one being freight costs and congestion, Joneja shared. These challenges impacted BARK’s margin profile but the company has found ways to respond.

“First, by accelerating investment in self-managed fulfillment assets and further diversification. Second, we are actively managing our network of shippers, being more selective about “who focuses where” to take advantage of our economies of scale. And third, by more effectively managing the timing of certain shipments to optimize costs,” Joneja said.