Brown’s, the manufacturer of several popular brands of companion pet and wild bird brands including Tropical Carnival, Encore, Extreme, Garden Chic and Bird Lover’s Blend, is committed to supporting its authorized distribution channel partners and protecting its brands in today’s rapidly evolving, increasingly e-commerce driven retail environment.
Brown’s is a sixth-generation, family owned and operated pet food manufacturer from Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. To build upon their longstanding history in the pet industry and maintain their positive relationships with customers and authorized resellers, Brown’s has developed and implemented programs designed to protect their brands both in stores and online for the long-term.
The rise of e-commerce has presented both new opportunities and new challenges for Brown’s. Online marketplaces, especially Amazon, provide a powerful platform for reaching new consumers and growing brand awareness. But online marketplaces also provide a means for unauthorized sellers to harm consumers and damage brand value through anonymous sales that fail to uphold the quality and customer service standards that consumers have come to expect from the Brown’s brands. Like many other manufacturers in the pet food industry, Brown’s soon felt the disruption caused by these unauthorized sellers as consumers posted negative product reviews complaining about quality issues and distributors and retailers became less interested in carrying Brown’s products, especially the flagship Tropical Carnival brand.
Responding to these market dynamics, Brown’s decided to take control of how its brands were represented online by implementing several brand protection initiatives.
First, Brown’s implemented an Authorized Seller Program that formalized its quality control and customer service expectations for all of its authorized distribution channel partners. The Authorized Seller Program also included rules regarding how Brown’s products may be sold online, allowing Brown’s to execute a new e-commerce strategy designed to protect brand value and harness the power of e-commerce platforms to grow their brands.
Brown’s also took steps to protect its premium Tropical Carnival line, including implementing a MAP Policy and engaging a single business partner with expertise in growing brands on online marketplaces to represent Tropical Carnival on Amazon and other online marketplaces. Finally, Brown’s engaged attorneys and other advisors to help the company take action against unauthorized sellers who were infringing on the company’s intellectual property rights and damaging the Brown’s brands.
The results of these initiatives have been dramatic and steady. By taking action to achieve greater control over their brands, Brown’s has preserved their brand equity and increased demand for their products.
In order to meet this demand and build upon their valued distribution channel relationships while still maintaining the necessary control over their brands, Brown’s developed a unique solution: they produced an extensive e-commerce catalog containing over 250 products from the Encore, Extreme, Song Blend, Bird Lover’s Blend, and Garden Chic brands. This catalog allows Brown’s to continue fulfilling demand for their products from e-commerce retailers while maintaining their strategy of limited distribution for the Tropical Carnival brand. Brown’s relies on distributors to supply e-commerce customers, and the e-commerce catalog provides many successful brands for distributors to focus on with their e-commerce partners.
What sparked the need for a program to address unauthorized sales? How did Brown’s determine that these initiatives were the right actions for their business? The letter below from Sue Brown, Senior V.P. of Sales & Marketing and 6th generation Brown, outlines her journey and highlights a few of her key findings along the way:
“A few years ago, we noticed that our distributors and brick-and-mortar retailers were struggling with the effects of unauthorized sellers on Amazon and other e-commerce sites who were not investing in our product lines or providing the customer service and support that we expect authorized sellers to provide. The products our channel partners were most concerned about were those in our Tropical Carnival line, which is our gourmet, high-end pet specialty line of pet bird and small animal food and treats. Protecting our brand quality and equity is very important to us as is maintaining the longstanding relationships we have with our valued distribution channel partners. While I understood the dilemma, I didn’t know what to do at the time.
"I discovered other companies had employed Authorized Seller Programs, MAP policies, and other brand protection programs to address these issues. I felt under a great deal of pressure to launch such a program or policy, but I didn’t believe it would address the entire issue if we didn’t find a way to make sure it was effective.
"At trade shows, I spoke to various organizations who served to identify unauthorized sellers and MAP policy violators, but that was the end of their responsibilities. They did not provide help in implementing or enforcing these programs. I realized that without a comprehensive strategy, these tools were not going to address our concerns.
"We discovered that in order to have an effective program and policy, it’s important to have the support of attorneys and other advisors that are knowledgeable regarding these types of programs and policies and experienced in helping manufacturers develop the comprehensive brand protection strategies needed to succeed in the digital age.
"With this strategy, I am happy to report that our Tropical Carnival brand equity is stronger than ever, and our distributors, resellers and retailers have been extremely satisfied with the impact of our program on the brand demand.
"I’m proud to say that we are a 6th generation family owned and operated corporation which means we don’t have to answer to public shareholders who are only interested in increasing sales. We can make intelligent long-term decisions that we know will impact the future of our brands.
"As a team, we decided to institute these brand protection initiatives, understanding that sales could very well be impacted in the short term, but knowing that these initiatives would fuel the long-term growth and sustainability of our brands. We could have ignored the issues, but we stood strong so that our next generation would have a solid brand foundation to stand on.”
Implementing and enforcing a comprehensive brand protection program requires a great deal of time and resources, but it is time well spent for Brown’s. The growth of e-commerce has made it more important than ever for manufacturers to protect their brands, and Brown’s strives to remain a leader in the pet food industry by implementing essential programs to drive the business into the future.