Renée Ryan helped launch big fragrance brands for cosmetics giants like Estee Lauder, but when it
came to creating her own beauty products line, it all went to the dogs.
Eager to do something different, the pet lover decided to create Sexy Beast, an upscale line of grooming
products for the cool canine set. "I kept walking away from it thinking, 'Is this just crazy? A beauty line
for dogs?' But then I started writing a business plan," said Ryan, 36, a 12-year beauty industry veteran
who lives in SoHo.
Pitching $65 perfume for pooches got her more than a few blank stares, especially when she approached
heavyweights like fragrance maker Givaudan, which has created scents for leading designers such as Tom
Ford, Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs.
"I'd go to them and I'd say I want to create a fragrance for a dog, and the whole room was completely silent,"
Ryan said. "But then the meeting would go on for another hour, and people would be talking about their pets."
High-end doggie cosmetics didn't seem so outlandish, Ryan figured, given what pet owners were shelling out
to keep their pals pampered. These days, if their owners have the bucks and desire, four-legged friends can
wear an $88 Coach dog collar, sleep on a $195 Juicy Couture bed, wear a $225 Burberry trench coat and,
for the truly privileged, be toted around by their master or mistress in a $1,770 Louis Vuitton pet carrier.
"There were a lot of high-end accessories," Ryan said, "and there was just nothing following in grooming/beauty."
Pet owners will spend about $41 billion on their animals this year, nearly double the amount of a decade ago,
according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. A few large beauty brands have taken notice -
Origins, Kiehl's and Paul Mitchell now offer doggie shampoos and conditioners.
Ryan's idea was to make products that could keep a dog smelling fresh between groomings. But making formulas
for especially hairy consumers wasn't easy, particularly since she wanted to make them completely plant-based
and free of chemical preservatives. She worked with a chemist for a year to get them how she wanted them,
trying out different formulas after ensuring they were safe on her rescued 7-year-old boxer, Austin - and
Finding financing was another challenge. When she got the brush-off from venture capital firms, she went
to family and friends, collecting $750,000 for stakes in her company, Project Rover. Her consulting
business, Ryan Basics, helps pay the bills. Still, she had to take out a $200,000 business loan.
The line now sells in high-end pet boutiques and specialty beauty stores in New York and California. Ryan is
hoping Sexy Beast will soon hit mainstream shops.
To promote her product, a public relations firm Ryan hired suggested renting a truck wrapped with the
Sexy Beast logo and taking it on the road in the form of a mobile dog spa.
She loved the idea, but balked at the price - $120,000 for two two-week periods. Instead, she went on
the Internet and bought a used, 36-foot motor home. It cost only $60,000 to buy and fully renovate what
she now calls "The Beast."
She installed grooming counters, a sink for bathing, a retail counter to display Sexy Beast products, a
pink velvet couch and a flat-screen TV. The Beast has been making the rounds of major shopping areas
and special events around the city, and will likely be out and about on summer weekends.
Ryan, who expects her business to hit $1 million in sales this year, is happy to be working with customers
who drool and shed.
"It's more fun to work with pets than people most of the time," Ryan said. "They never complain. But I
haven't gotten bitten yet."