Big Data

Dogs and big data: A mini case study

When you ask the right questions and focus on the right metrics, you can turn your data into useful information that optimizes the business. This success story offers a good example.

Loyalty, unconditional love, and companionship are a few of the reasons why dogs are considered man's best friend. And sometimes, a dog can be man's best friend in analytics, too.

Camp Bow Wow is a $100 million pet care franchise that decided to analyze 15 million transactions from 670,000 dogs so it could better understand what its customer "pet parents" wanted for their four-legged family members.

It used analytics to build a data-centric approach to its business.

"We found that Bella was the most popular dog name and that Biggie was more popular than Tupac, but what we really wanted to do was cut through that to leverage cuteness and find the right metrics to help us drive our business forward," said Damien D'Emic, vice president of R&D and analytics at Camp Bow Wow.

The company used Tableau to crunch its data, and the first task was gaining data access so the analytics could do its work.

"We had a lot of data since we owned our point-of-sales software," D'Emic said. "The access problem we needed to solve was how we could access the POS data in a way that could be meaningfully used by our franchise owners to grow their businesses, and we had to do that cost-effectively."

D'Emic said an initial challenge was developing a quick way to talk to the company's POS database.

"In the early days, we did this through interns and Microsoft Access, but as Tableau's data engine became slicker, it was easier to 'talk' directly to the POS database by using SQL," D'Emic said. "Once we achieved an easy way to get to the data, the Tableau interface let us get to the metrics that drive the business."

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With data access established, the next step was to drill down into the information in ways that would positively impact business results.

For Camp Bow Wow, there were two primary revenue streams that needed to be optimized: boarding and Dog Day Camp.

"These two revenue streams were driven by different base emotions in our customers, so it was important for us to understand that when we began to analyze our data for optimizing our business," D'Emic said.

In the case of boarding, revenues came in when customers out of necessity required boarding services for their dogs, so trying to find reasons beyond that necessity was a useless task for analytics.

"The only way to grow a boarding business is through customer acquisition," D'Emic said. "Once you realize that, any strategy to increase the number of boarding stays per customer or length of an individual stay becomes useless. For boarding we focus on customer acquisition metrics."

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In contrast, Dog Day Camp revenues are generated from different customer motivations.

"You send your dog to Day Camp because you want to, not because you need to," D'Emic said. "For Day Camp you want to get customers to use the service more frequently. You want to know how many customers you have who come at least once a week and how you can develop strategies to increase that number. It's harder than with 'normal' businesses because our end users—the dogs—can't talk and say how cool Day Camp was. Eventually, they let their pet parents know, but it takes a while for people to see the signs and the benefits in their pups' behavior."

D'Emic acknowledged that it was sometimes easy to get lost in all of the data. "It took us awhile to narrow and refine data and metrics," he said. "In the end, we focused primarily on customer acquisition and customer frequency."

D'Emic said that the three foremost analytics questions Camp Bow Wow asked were:

  • Where do Dog Camps thrive?
  • How do we sell more baths?
  • How do we convert boarding customers to Day Camp customers?

"To be clear, it wasn't just data that was responsible for our success, but the data was a part of it," D'Emic said. "The metric I am most proud of is that we have nearly doubled the annual sales for the average location since we have rolled out our analytics and focused on the right metrics."

"What recommendations does D'Emic have for others who want to optimize their business analytics?

1. Find the right metrics that move your business

Once you get it down to a few meaningful numbers, you win.

2. Keep it simple with business analytics tools

Bells and whistles are great, but sometimes "simple" resonates more.

3. Get involved in your vendor's community of users

"Fellow users are full of useful information" D'Emic said. "I feel I could have learned in a three-day conference what it took me six months to learn on my own."

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Your take

Has your company been successful at drilling down on data that has helped optimize your business? Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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