Olivia Canlas wouldn’t call herself – as she puts it – a "crazy" cat lady (she prefers animal lover), but it’s thanks to devoted cat people across North America that the 33-year-old is able to live her dream of being her own boss.
Canlas (Small Business Certificate ’11, Dental Assisting Technology ’12) is the founder of Meowbox, a Vancouver-based company that delivers boxes of treats and toys to cat owners across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.
“In almost every province and state there’s someone with a Meowbox,” Canlas says.
“I’ve had a dog and we have our family cat. You want to take care of them. You want to give them what makes them happy and that in turn makes you happy.”
Cat owners can subscribe for a monthly fee, or pre-pay for three months or six months for slight discounts. Shipping is included. Each Meowbox contains about six products ranging from food and treats to toys and accessories.
Canlas knew tapping into the cat industry was a purr-fect idea.
“I like to pick really good quality, unique items,” she says. “I like when I get feedback from customers and they say, ‘I never even thought about that’ or ‘I never knew that they made that for cats.’”
The concept of monthly product deliveries isn’t new. There’s BarkBox, which delivers treats and toys for dogs. Topbox gives beauty samples to make-up lovers. NatureBox covers healthy snack addicts. But when Canlas was researching her idea last year, no such service for cats existed.
With 37 per cent of Canadian households and 30 per cent of American households owning at least one cat, Canlas knew tapping into the cat industry was a purr-fect idea.
Since launching in November 2013, Canlas has seen a 900 per cent increase in monthly subscribers.
“We are on track to reach our goal of 3,000 monthly subscribers within the upcoming year,” she says.
That’s a lot of work for a company with only two official employees – Canlas and her web developer boyfriend Francois Deschenes. Meowbox is nearly all Canlas does full time now, aside from a one shift a week at WestJet as a customer service agent. In the days leading up to shipment, Canlas recruits her sister and mother to help assemble boxes in her home.
“It’s mayhem. Everything is in front of us; we try to have contests to motivate us to build quickly. We assemble, stamp, we take a lot of care,” she says. For a few days of the month she has walls piled high with Meowboxes.
“I will probably need to recruit more people.”
Canlas says she hasn’t done much paid advertising to promote her business. Instead, she invests time in social media platforms to help increase awareness and subscribers.
“I have over 680,000 followers on Instagram. For some reason, it just took off,” she says.
“I’ve also noticed how much I engage my social media followers is directly related to how many sales I have. For example, when I’m on vacation, I’m not really on social media, and you can see there are not as many new subscribers.”
Although her current gig is far from her dental assisting education, Canlas says going through the program helped her feel secure about starting her own business.
“A lot of people don’t want to take the leap. The Dental Assisting program gave me the security, knowing that if everything did hit the fan, I would still be OK because there are lots of dental assisting jobs.”
Moving forward, Canlas is looking into opportunities outside North America. “I want to expand by shipping to other countries but need to figure out how to do that without charging so much more for shipping.”
In the meantime, she knows there’s a lot of room for growth here at home. “With millions of cat owners in North America, I feel like I could reach a few more,” she says.