Pets United goes after new animal

First it was dogs and horses. Then it was fish and ferrets. Now Pets United is setting its sights on sites outside the pet industry by acquiring URLs in categories from gardening and solar power to farming and biking.

In the past 12 months, Pets United has purchased several non-pet related URLs including Wind.com and Solar.com this year, and Farm.com, Garden.com, and Bike.com in 2006.

The Hazleton, PA-based Pets United formed a new holding company for the Garden.com, Wind.com and Solar.com acquisitions, UnrealEstate.com, says chairman/CEO Alex Tabibi. With the exception of Garden.com — which launched in September with 12,000 products — the URLs are under development.

“We’re trying to capture the best name for commerce, community and content,” Tabibi says. “Now that we have a scalable operation, it doesn’t make a difference what we sell.” When you consider merchandising, marketing, purchasing, fulfillment, customer service, “all these are very similar for almost any widget,” he says.

With the new categories, the company aims to use the same strategy it did with Pets United: aggregating sites to create a one-stop destination of related URLs.

In addition to its Websites, which include Ferret.com, Fish.com, and Bird.com, the company mails nearly 15 million copies annually of its three print catalogs: Country Supply, specializing in equine products; Dog.com; and Petstockroom, which sells bird supplies. Pets United in April acquired State Line Tack, a cataloger of English and Western riding accessories, from PetSmart.

Tabibi, who started Pets United with his brother Carlo two years ago, projects sales this year will reach $87 million and increase to $130 million in 2008. Although he would not provide such specifics on the company’s profitability, Tabibi says it will be “EBITDA positive” this year.

Why is it expanding its pet products empire to include such disparate categories? “We’re trying to acquire URLs that we have a bit of passion around,” Tabibi says. “You know, product extensions.”

That explains the July acquisition of Fountain.com for $95,000 at a URL auction. “It’s a perfect complement to go with our Garden.com Website,” Tabibi says. Pets United bought the Garden.com URL last year from garden cataloger W. Atlee Burpee for $1 million. And Farm.com was a fit with the horse products business, he notes.

What’s more, “we have a personal interest in everything we enter into,” Tabibi says. “I have a cocker spaniel named J.P., so that was part of why we went after Dog.com. We are starting Garden.com because my mom is an active gardener, and we will be adding Wind.com and Solar.com as a source for alternative energy products because we are environmentalists.”

So why did it acquire Bike.com? It was available, Tabibi says.

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