We all want the best for our four-legged friends – the dogs and cats that form a part of our family. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, SynergyLabs has been working for decades to bring higher standards to pet care products. Now the company is poised to begin a bold new chapter.
SynergyLabs founder and CEO Richard Ticktin boasts over thirty years of experience in pet care – well, a lifetime if you factor in that his passion for animals began with his own childhood pets.
He relates how, years ago, his Bull Mastiff dog suffered serious health problems. During Ticktin’s quest to treat the dog he discovered firsthand the dearth of quality pet products, as well as the high cost and poor quality of those available at the time. “I went to every vet in South Florida, and they were all able to sell me something that was very expensive, and yet nothing worked,” he recalls. “There were no pet products available to solve the problems.”
Believing that the pets that give us unconditional love deserve better, Ticktin and his team have built a company dedicated to researching and developing new pet products and processes, mostly medicinal and grooming products. Much of the R&D is performed by Ticktin himself. “My boat’s name is R&D,” he remarks (with a perfectly straight face). “Our whole business is about developing newer, better products and processes.”
The results are self-evident: SynergyLabs has enjoyed over twenty years of progress, with growth skyrocketing to recent high levels – at one point, the company grew 267 percent over a three-year period.
SynergyLabs’ continual growth is due in no small part to Ticktin’s own boundless energy, which radiates even through the phone. “I’m the kind of guy that needs a whole bunch of balls in the air at the same time, or I get bored,” he observes, “and this business is just perfect for me, because there is so much to learn.” But while he is proud of his company’s growth and success, his attitude is that SynergyLabs is just getting started. “There is so much we could be doing better to make our pets live longer, healthier, happier lives. SynergyLabs will never run out of new projects and new concepts.”
The company’s recent acceleration in growth, however, has a specific cause, according to Ticktin. Thanks to SynergyLabs’ longevity and steadiness, customers’ are finally coming round – in much larger numbers – to giving the company’s products a chance despite their high price. And that’s all it takes – one chance.
He recalls past sales pitches, explaining in vain to pet shops that there was in fact a market for SynergyLabs’ products. “We pet lovers will gladly pay as much for our pets as we pay for our own healthcare and grooming products,” he remembers telling prospective retailers. Ticktin still seems surprised and baffled that pet companies see the need to continually retail low-end products. Now, he remarks, consumers are seeing the worth in SynergyLabs’ products.
Quality over quantity
SynergyLabs has continuously focused on a level of formulation that’s intended to improve pets’ lives rather than produce high volume. This ‘quality over quantity’ approach has fostered an attitude of continuous innovation. “We were the first people to do so many things – some right, some wrong, but we were willing to try,” Ticktin says. Larger brands, by contrast, are still focused far more on volume and profitability over research and effectiveness and quality of life for pets.
Ticktin takes pride in this disruptive attitude and holds up SynergyLabs as an example for other pet-care entrepreneurs to follow. “We’re the guys that other people copy,” Ticktin explains. His long experience with animals has led to such innovations as using bag-on-valve technology in pet shampoos, which is much quieter than aerosol and doesn’t startle and scare pets.
Ticktin and his team see pets as primary members of a family akin to children, and believe consumer attitudes are changing to reflect this trend. Director of Domestic Sales Brent Stern calls it “humanization,” and relates how the company’s packaging and product lines have shifted to meet this trend. “A human being is going to walk into a pet store and this product is going to speak to them,” he says.
Underdogs with ideas
SynergyLabs’ team sees itself as the outsiders and underdogs, even after decades of history. Stern says this gives the company an edge in innovation and disruption. “We don’t follow the status quo. We don’t know how to do it.”
In fact, the growth generated by innovation and a quality-focused approach has opened up new opportunities for SynergyLabs to innovate and disrupt. Having run out of space in its Florida headquarters, the company will soon open a new facility in western North Carolina, where big things are planned. The new plant will provide Synergy the room it needs to embark on an exciting new chapter.
After years of proven success manufacturing high quality liquid medicinal and grooming products such as shampoos, SynergyLabs will now begin to manufacture pet food to the same industry-leading standards.
A former sock factory on 22 acres of land, the new plant will offer seven levels of storage space. Hiring has already begun, including highly experienced employees of the building’s former occupant. “They are incredibly excited about our plans for the building and having a quality employer in the area,” Stern says.
SynergyLabs’ products promise to deliver a far more nutritious diet than traditional dried kibble, which (although cheaper) does not give pets, particularly dogs, the nutrients they need to live longer lives. Ticktin tells it plainly: “The dog food on the market today is junk.”
Dry food disaster
Dogs live longer and better when given raw food diets and plenty of exercise. Modern dog food, Ticktin says, hasn’t changed a great deal since World War II – an era during which our understanding of nutrition was limited.
It was then that manufacturers introduced dried pet food, or kibbles, which is still the most popular food today. Although convenient for consumers, and often cheap, it is decidedly not the best option for pets’ health. As Ticktin explains, “The food that we’re feeding our pets today is very much akin to forcing your child to eat McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day.”
Yet despite SynergyLabs’ track record of quality products, only now is the company entering the pet food market. Why the delay? Ticktin attributes this to his and other small entrepreneurs’ fears of competing with larger distributors such as IAMS and Purina. “I was under this bad thought process that we little guys can’t do that, and I was completely wrong. And I apologize to pet owners all over the world that might have benefited by having longer-living pets if we had started this fifteen years ago.”
So at last, spreading its wings in its spacious new facility, SynergyLabs is ready to bring innovation to this market. Ticktin takes aim: “Real, good nutrition that will make our pets live longer, healthier, happier lives is needed, and it’s not being fulfilled.”
While formulating its new dog food, SynergyLabs studied official resources from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a private advisory agency offering recommendations on pet food nutritional requirements.
Although it is technically not a government agency, AAFCO provides a list of nutrients that companies must include in their pet food in order to claim it is part of a ‘nutritionally balanced diet.’ Consulting this list, Ticktin and his team realized its food was deficient in selenium, an essential ingredient in dogs’ diets. But instead of ordering powdered selenium (as many other companies do) and adding it in that form, they discovered that oysters are naturally rich in selenium.
“We can use oysters instead of synthetic selenium, and we still comply with AAFCO guidelines, but we’re not using artificial vitamin boosters,” Ticktin says. In a similar vein, the company will obtain its calcium from eggshells or bivalve shells rather than artificial powders. “Our approach is, the nutrients come from a farm – not from a factory.”
While SynergyLabs is naturally excited about rolling out this new line, its leadership understands it must navigate these new developmental headwaters carefully. It must continue to grow responsibly in order to keep up with demands, but also not overextend itself. Stern uses a slightly more lurid metaphor: “You can kill a company either by starvation or indigestion,” he remarks, believing that reckless growth can be just as harmful as declining profits. “It is a delicate balance.”
Ticktin also believes manufacturing quotas have increased in recent years. “If you made 8,000 to 10,000 bottles per line per day, that was fine. It’s not fine now.” To meet its growing demands, SynergyLabs is now working more closely than ever with suppliers to help facilitate steady and responsible growth, and also hiring the qualified and passionate staff necessary to take SynergyLabs into the future.
As the company moves into this new development, SynergyLabs’ mission remains unchanged. “For me personally, and I think for others,” Ticktin says, “it makes us feel good – to know that we’re able to do something good while making a living.” Stern agrees: “We want to do better. I think that we, as consumers, generally want better.”
Ultimately, SynergyLabs is a destination for total animal health. “We don’t believe in the band-aid theory, providing a temporary fix. We believe in a more holistic approach by viewing and taking care of our pets’ health the way we do our own bodies: find the root cause of the issue and address that not just the symptoms with a long-term solution.”
As consumers’ attitudes focus increasingly on improving their pets’ lives, Ticktin believes that the market is fully coming round to SynergyLabs insistent belief in innovation and quality in products for the pets we love. “We finally have been given the chance to prove that consumers want high-quality products for their pets.”