The times, they are a-changin'...
The internet has been a technologic revolution. It has transformed every aspect of our lives with a speed that has no real precedent in human history. In the past decade alone, all aspects of the world we live in have been affected by the growth of the world wide web.
No aspect of today's world, including the cat fancy, has remained untouched.
From cat-related businesses, to cat registration, to cat shows, to selling kittens... the landscape of the cat fancy has been changed forever by the internet - and will need to change even more if it is to remain viable in the contemporary world.
The Advantages of the Digital Age
Computers, the internet, automated and online services, ecommerce, online payment options, bulk email marketing... all mean business can take place faster, easier, inexpensively and with greater accuracy and less man hours than ever before.
Email and websites are economical ways of reaching an unlimited audience around the globe, providing information and advertising and unlimited possibility for growth for the people who see its potential.
The Response of the Cat Fancy
With some exceptions, the cat fancy in general has been slow to recognize and embrace the advantages of the internet.
This is perhaps a reflection of the demographics of the people involved in the cat fancy. Most people in the cat fancy - breeders, judges, cat registry staff and officers - are middle-aged. Typically, the older a person is, the more reluctant they accept changes, especially new technology. Similarly, woman tend to be less attracted to new technologies than men - and the cat fancy is predominantly female.
Whatever the reason, the cat fancy as a group has not stepped forward to take full advantage of the many benefits and conveniences the internet allows.
Businesses Providing Cat-Related Products
Major businesses providing products for cat owners were quick to utilize the internet to expand their customer base and fatten their bottom line. Companies like Petsmart, Revival, Iams, and their competitors all took their products online early in the internet boom. Cat owners could see products, comparison price shop, order online, pay with a credit card and have everything delivered to their doorstep - all from the convenience of a home computer!
Future Possibilities: The trend of cat-related businesses deriving a significant portion of their income from online transactions will continue to increase as more consumers become comfortable with shopping on the internet. Smaller vendors especially are presented with new opportunities as the internet enables them to market world-wide from a home based business.
The next generation of cat fanciers will have been raised with the internet.
They will not remember a time when email didn't exist.
While businesses selling cat products quickly realized the potential of the internet and online customer service, the cat registries have sadly lagged well behind in using the internet, websites and email to market and run their business services.
In fact, to see a well designed animal registry website, we must look outside the cat fancy - to the website of the American Kennel Club site at http://www.akc.org
The AKC presents a clean, modern design, completely integrated with online business transactions including online registration of both litters and individual dogs. Although the AKC website is more than 14,000 pages in size (many times larger than even the largest cat registry website), the navigation is clear and simple to use. A large breeder referral list provides easy search options for buyers looking for a puppy while producing significant income for AKC. Coupled with less than 24 hour response time to all inquires, bulk email marketing practices, and detailed, up-to-date information available on shows, agility and obedience trials, and it is easy to see why the AKC is so successful.
If the cat registries are going to thrive in the future, they are going to need to re-vamp and re-prioritize their budgets and business practices. The cat registries cannot continue to be run on an amateur basis with old-fashioned infra-structure and attitudes. Personnel will be key to a modern business plan and should include a dedicated web designer, script programmer, and expert in online business practices.
To be viable in the future, each cat registry will need:
- A Professional, Comprehensive Website: An easy to navigate, attractive, professionally designed website featuring informative articles and quality photos of cats. Next to a phone number, a website and email is the most important asset to a modern business.
- Online Services including registering litters, individuals, pedigree searches, etc.
- Ecommerce features including launching a breeder referral service equivalent to the best paid service on the web.
- Marketing based on electronic not print media to reduce costs while increasing the target market.
- Electronic Reporting: Timely (one day to one week depending on material) reporting of show counts, show results, board meetings, etc.
- Databases to minimize data-entry and work load.
- Maintaining a Complete Historical Record: Archiving of all information, articles, meetings, yearly standings, etc.
Gone are the days of placing "kitten for sale" classified ads in local papers, or having to advertise in a yearbook to promote your cattery name and accomplishments. Many catteries market their kittens exclusively through their own personal cattery websites. Pet buyers often routinely begin the search for their perfect kitten on the internet and discriminating buyers no longer demand or even expect to purchase a kitten locally.
Modern breeders are no longer limited by the constraints of their local kitten markets. With an attractive cattery website, quality kittens and a willingness to develop some marketing skills, any breeder can attract homes for their kittens from the best potential buyers across the country - or around the world.
Cattery Listing Services
As more kitten buyers search the web to find a breeder, paid cattery listing services bloomed. The oldest and largest paid advertising service is the Fanciers Breeder Referral List. Founded and operated by Somali breeder, Barbara French in November 1994, the site currently includes over 2,400 listings in over 20 countries. Barb was perhaps the first person in the cat fancy to really embrace the new technology and parlay her skills and interest into a flourishing commercial enterprise.
The financial success of a well designed and automated breeder listing service will continue to expand. Using the profile as a cat registering organization, a registry such as CFA or TICA should be able to garner a significant share of the market.
Publications & Promotional Material
In the past, print publications were the primary source of distributing information of interest to cat fanciers. The drawbacks of print publication include the rising cost of printing, collating of pages, postage and handling. A long lead time often means ads have to be submitted months ahead of time, errors are not correctable once printed, and by publication date, the information may be months out of date.
Compare this to the same publications presented on the internet - the entire publication can be printed in full color with no limitation as to number of photographs or pages, immediate updates and corrections are possible, all information can be permanently archived for future readers... and all at a fraction of the cost of producing a print publication.
While most people are comfortable reading on their computer, individuals can still easily print out a hard copy of any page if the design is printer friendly.
Once again, taking a page from the AKC marketing success, instead of spending valuable dollars on expensive printed promotional materials, email marketing can be used for promotions. For instance, when you register a dog with AKC, you receive an email newsletter once a month, a very efficient marketing strategy. This is an inexpensive way to reach the public with a monthly reminder of the advantages of owning an AKC pedigreed dog.
As the cat fancy becomes increasingly comfortable with everything online, so should current publishers of all print material convert to advertising in an electronic format - saving thousands of dollars yearly, and reaching a steadily growing new clientele.
- Full color, online publications should replace print publications.
- The Yearbook can be produced as a CD or DVD... or online!
- Email marketing is one of the most powerful marketing tools available for today's small organizations and should be replacing the more costly and less effective print mail advertisements.
It often seems it is human nature to resist change...
Because the average age of a cat breeder is closer to 50 than 25,
the cat fancy has been slow to embrace the changing times.
While on the surface cat shows may seem to not have changed much over the past decade, changes have occurred behind the scenes with the advent of the internet.
- Online Show Flyers & Websites: While some cat clubs still hand out paper flyers at shows, the modern clubs have an online flyer and often a club website including additional information. Links to flyers from Regional websites/show calendars make it easier than ever for exhibitors to plan their show schedule. Besides being less expensive and time consuming than producing and distributing paper show flyers, online show flyers are easily updated to include judging changes, correction of misinformation, travel or weather alerts.
- Online Entries: In the same way that mailing entries gave way to faxing entries, the progressive way of entering cat shows is now with an online entry form. Besides being quicker and more foolproof than mailed entries, because it is type-written, it is easier for entry clerks to read. Computer savvy entry clerks send automated confirmations, reducing their work load while minimizing the response time.
- Closing Dates: Digital processing, printing of catalogues and judges books have allowed modern clubs to be able to shorten their closing dates to just a few days before the show - maximizing their opportunity to attract entries even at the last minute.
- Online Payment: Because most clubs prefer early payment for entries in order to subsidize cost of the show, modern clubs arrange for instant, online payment - made easier with the growth and acceptance of PayPal and equivalent services.
- Entry Clerking: No longer do entry clerks have to do everything by hand. For example, the entry clerking program, EntryMax, allows the easy import of CFA cat and exhibitor data, corrections and printing.
- Benching: Even benching can be more easily and quickly planned using a simple spreadsheet.
As show-producing cat clubs become more familiar and expert with computer software and online options that can be applied to streamline all aspects of producing a cat show, the work and expense of putting on a show should be able to be kept in check.
The Show Photographer: Before the digital revolution, show photographers would photograph a cat at the show, return home, send the film to their lab for development, print out 3" x 5" uncropped proofs of the session, then snail mail them to the client, at which point the client might choose some photos for enlargement, mail an order form back to the photographer with a check, the photographer would then print out the order, mail it back to the client... a process from beginning to end that took months.
The modern show photographer in 2007 uses a digital camera. The photos from the camera can be immediately viewed by the client on a laptop computer. The client can choose which photos they like best. The photographer can email digital images at a resolution suitable for use on the client's website. The client can order larger resolutions of the preferred poses for print out or print advertising. Not only is the proofing immediate and the whole process faster and easier, the photographer has eliminated the cost of film, processing, lab costs, time making print photos, mailing costs and more!
The Breeder Photographer: The digital camera is also the camera of choice for the cat breeder at home for taking good quality kitten photos to send to kitten buyers and to place on cattery websites. The breeder can take a photo, and immediately see whether they have the shot they need - or if they need to take another ;-)). No more waiting to have a film developed just to discover that all the photos are bad. Gone is the cost of film or development. The ease of use of digital cameras also allows the enthusiast to easily take photos of cats at the show, in the judging ring... or wherever...
Digital photography will continue to improve along with software to facilitate its use.
The growth of the internet has allowed individuals, breed clubs, breed councils and others to inform, educate and promote their breeds to a world-wide audience. The cost of maintaining a website is minimal and the effects far-reaching. Perhaps the most significant contribution these websites make is the preservation of breed history, photographs, pedigrees and information for posterity, with access for future generations of cat lovers guaranteed.
Just a few examples of well done informational websites include:
- PandEcats.com: An award-winning online magazine devoted to Persian and Exotic Shorthair cats
- ShowCatsOnline.com: An online magazine devoted to all breeds of pedigreed cats
- CatPedigrees.com: A collection of online searchable pedigree databases of various breeds donated by a wide range of linechasers.
- HimalayanCatsOnline.com: The website devoted exclusively to the Himalayan Cat - containing articles, photos, pedigrees, history, and more!
- National Siamese Cat Club: The website of the National Siamese Cat Club promoting the breeding of Siamese, breed history, show reports, over 200 photos of cats in the Siamese gallery and much more.
- Somali Breed Council: The website Of the CFA Somali Breed Council providing information about the Somali in CFA including awards, history, and breed council winners.
The number of individuals, cat clubs and organizations that launch informational websites about their breed of choice will increase, allowing more people to easily learn about cat breeds, showing and breeding.
The impact of the internet has been a great boon to the efforts of cat rescuers across the country. Email notification allows rescuers to be made quickly aware of cats in need. Cat email lists allow a call for help to be heard across the country within minutes and facilitates co-ordination of efforts. Appeals for donations are made available instantly and easily through services such as PayPal.
As the internet increases in sophisticated options, it will continue to allow limited resources to be stretched to the maximum to save the lives of cats in peril.
Clearly, the internet has had a huge impact on the cat fancy.
In the next decade, electronic and digital technologies will continue to advance and flourish. Individuals, businesses and organizations that persist in holding on to the inefficient and more expensive (although familiar) methods of doing things will falter and fail.
We in the cat fancy, from the most humble breeder to the largest cat registry, must embrace the new technologies and business strategies if we are to prosper. Open-minded flexibility is necessary for survival in a ever evolving world. Refuse to move with the times, and we are destined to be left behind as the rest of the world moves toward a richer future.
- Bachiochi, D., et al. "Usability Studies and Designing Navigational Aids for the World Wide Web." Sixth International World Wide Web Conference. April 1997. http://proceedings.www6conf.org/
- Nielsen, Jakob. "Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design." May 1996. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/
- From an article entitled "Automation Keeps Them a Step Ahead" by Ellis Booker, Internet World (formerly Web Week), April 1996, p. 17. Also see CNETs article on how they do it at How CNET.
- Gerald M. O'Connell, from "A New Pitch" Internet World, May 1994 p. 56.