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Giving the power to pets: Sergio Zimerman

Picture this: your beloved pooch, sitting in front of the computer screen and shopping for its very own toy. Sounds like a sci-fi flick or kids’ cartoon? Perhaps a glimpse into the distant future? Far from it, in fact – thanks to Petz, this is reality.

Sergio Zimerman, Founder and CEO of Petz

In 2019, the Brazilian pet store made headlines around the world when it launched a revolutionary new platform that allows dogs (not their owners!) to choose products from its website.

And no, this isn’t some gimmick or game – Pet-Commerce is the result of six months of research, science and incredible technological advancements. A world first, the award-winning program employs facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence to identify the expressions of dogs, noting which toys the pup is most excited by when presented with it on screen.

“Innovation is fundamental,” Petz CEO Sergio Zimerman tells The CEO Magazine. “To excel in any industry, you have to be at the forefront of new developments. The creation of the Pet-Commerce system is one of the most exciting things we’ve done since our inception 18 years ago, and I feel very proud to have been the industry leader, not just in Brazil but the entire world.”

This constant quest for innovation has stemmed from Sergio’s drive to provide the best possible shopping experience for buyers, at the same time as predicting the desires of pet owners before they are even aware of what those may be.

“First and foremost, our job has always been to really consider what the customer wants,” he says. “And Petz was ultimately born out of that question, because we realized that there was a gap in the market to fill. We’ve now created the largest physical store network of pet suppliers, as well as a fully integrated digital platform, allowing a service level that before now hadn’t existed in the market.”

Sergio Zimerman, Founder and CEO of Petz_2

In 2018, Forbes reported that people across the world spent US$119.5 billion on their pets in the preceding year, according to Euromonitor International. And with a whopping 132.4 million pets in Brazil, the country is the third largest market for pet products globally, only falling behind the US and UK.

“Over the years that I’ve been in this industry, I’ve witnessed the surge in demand for pets,” Sergio says. “It’s been intensifying every day and, in 2020, for many Brazilians, pets are crucial members of the family. I’m absolutely a pet lover. I have two dogs and a cat at my apartment in the city, and four more dogs in my cottage out in the countryside. They’re very important to me and bring me so much joy.”

While Sergio has remained firmly at the helm of the Petz brand since its inception in 2002, in 2013, US private equity firm Warburg Pincus invested in the company, a move that proved fruitful on all fronts. Today, Petz boasts 110 stores, and is looking to open more in additional locations, as well as expanding its offering to include specialized veterinary hospitals.

Sergio Zimerman, Founder and CEO of Petz_3

“I’ve been the CEO since day one,” Sergio says. “Since I’ve been so closely involved in every process, every step of the way, I’ve now learned exactly what our customer wants, and how to transform that into products and services.

“It’s a unique sector, because there’s such a strong emotional connection between the owner and the pet and, as a result, between ourselves, as the supplier and the customer. Having the opportunity to devise and offer solutions for these interactions really fascinates me.”

With further growth the evergreen goal for Petz, Sergio asserts that a major factor in achieving this objective is maintaining reciprocally beneficial relationships with their partners. “We have a very open and transparent dialogue with our suppliers,” he explains.

“We try to show that we are on the same side of the table in all negotiations since, ultimately, the common goal is to satisfy our consumer. This type of approach has resulted in great mutual trust and indispensable relationships that have been formed over the years.”

Sergio credits both his nearly two decades of experience, including the inevitable failures that accompany any climb to the top, with making him the successful businessman he is today. It’s not surprising then, that rather than producing a work environment where employees feel afraid to make errors, Sergio encourages his staff to embrace the odd slip-up, so that they can be transformed into opportunities for growth.

My philosophy is about building businesses that create value for society.

“I’ve learned so much through my mistakes,” he smiles. “But mostly, I’ve learned that it’s so important to trust in the capabilities of both leaders and employees. Give people the power of decisions and teach them to deal with the repercussions or mistakes that come from those decisions, and the entire organizational culture will be strengthened. In terms of leadership, my thinking is absolutely aligned with this concept, whereby the main role of a leader is to serve their employees – develop their skills and prepare them for new challenges.”

With one hugely successful program already under its belt, Petz is now looking to continue investing in innovation and research, so that soon enough it’ll be able to release yet another industry-first system. Combined with its plan for nationwide expansion, the sky really is the limit for this company set on (pet) world domination! “It’s exciting knowing that this is only the beginning,” Sergio says.

“We’re at the forefront of the Brazilian pet sector and have enormous potential to consolidate and expand our leadership throughout the Brazilian pet market so that in the near future we can be present in all national territories. My philosophy is about building businesses that create value for society, and there’s no denying that what we’re doing here at Petz is making lives brighter – for pets and their owners.”

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