Yes, those new lockable kennels outside the grocery store really are meant for your dog. And the startup that provides them knows you’re going to be skeptical. But it’s betting that its technology will win you over.
“Yes, it has A/C and air holes,” reads the message on the side. “No, they don’t use it as a bathroom. Yes it locks. No they don’t freak out. Yes, we’re serious.”
DogSpot brought its high-tech dog houses to Seattle this week, starting with a total of seven at QFC stores around the region. It’s a key milestone in the New York-based startup’s national rollout, and an important test for its business model, given the popularity of dog ownership in the region. Seattle was recently ranked the top city in the country for dogs in a study commissioned by dog-sitting company Rover and real estate company Redfin.
“Ever since we had the idea and it first launched, people have been telling us … you’ve got to get out Pacific Northwest, you’ve got to go to Seattle and Portland,” said DogSpot CEO Chelsea Brownridge, who flew in for the launch event at the QFC in Seattle’s University Village.
Would you leave your dog in a locker outside the grocery store? @DogSpot is betting its high-tech kennels will overcome your skepticism. The service just debuted @QFCGrocery stores in Seattle, @jamescthorne reports: https://t.co/dTS4yd6wvd pic.twitter.com/GuvMRMNCBi
— GeekWire (@geekwire) June 1, 2019
DogSpot plans to expand to grocery stores in Portland in June.
The dog houses, which can be rented through a mobile app, are meant to help owners with “doggy logistics,” she said. DogSpot’s app includes a map showing where dog houses are available to be rented. Dog owners can reserve a house ahead of time and unlock it upon arrival. Normally, the rental rate is 30 cents per minute, but QFC will offer the houses for free to shoppers for the first 90 days with the code QFC90.
Dog Spot has raised $6.5 million to date and has 60 houses across 14 states, with many located at rest stops along freeways in New York and Connecticut. In Seattle, the company is starting with grocery stores but plans to expand to other places such as bars and restaurants where pets aren’t welcome inside. In addition to Seattle, DogSpot is also making a push into Washington, D.C. The company initially launched as Dog Parker, but rebranded last year as it geared up for the national expansion.
Klaudina Pasko, a dog owner who works at the King County Library System, said she was thrilled by the new dog houses. “This is the only way that I would leave my dog,” she said. Pasko’s dog, Fenrir, is a white shepherd that works as a search and rescue dog searching for people who have gone missing. Pasko said Fenrir is too valuable — both as a companion and a highly trained person-finder — to leave unguarded. Fenrir also moonlights as a social media influencer under the handle @troubleon4paws.
The marriage of dogs and tech is a popular one in a pet industry that continues to grow. In Seattle, pet-sitting marketplace Rover is a market leader and has expanded yearly since launching in 2011. Earlier this year, Tesla launched “dog mode” for its cars, which controls the cabin temperature and tells passersby not to worry about the dog. And online pet store Chewy filed for an IPO earlier this month and is seeking to raise $100 million.
The houses give owners the chance to check in on their dogs throughout the stay through a “puppy cam” that they can access through the mobile app. Pet owners can also play music or talk to their dog remotely via the app. Dog owners can book a house up to 15 minutes in advance or on arrival. The houses are big enough to fit a Great Dane. The service runs on Microsoft Azure.
Other features include:
- Heated floors in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, plus a real-time temperature monitor.
- UVC lights, which sanitize the house in between uses.
- Tinted windows for privacy.
- An emergency release system that can be activated by phone in the event anything goes wrong with the app.
- A monitoring team that can notify an owner if their pup appears to be in distress.
Brownridge insists that dogs won’t go to the bathroom while in the dog houses, which are cleaned manually each day.
Since going online in Seattle on Friday, each of the new dog houses in the region saw at least one customer, Brownridge said. New models, which are larger and come with a touchscreen interface, are coming later this summer.
DogSpot launched in New York City in 2016, but abruptly removed all 50 of their dog houses last year following conflicts with the city. The company said that new legislation, which will enable the company to return to its hometown, should pass later this year.
In general, DogSpot is avoiding zoning problems by leasing the houses to local businesses, which will keep them on private property.
QFC President Suzy Monford said the grocery chain sees the DogSpot partnership as another way to bring technology and convenience to shoppers. Across Lake Washington in nearby Redmond, QFC is partnering with Microsoft for a pilot program where smart shelves and handheld devices are being implemented to bring greater efficiency to grocery shopping, pricing, stocking and in-store advertising. QFC, owned by Kroger, has also tested its “Scan, Bag, Go” tech at local stores.