WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, who built an unlikely car floor mat manufacturing empire in suburban Chicago, is launching his latest pet project: ergonomic dog and cat bowls.
Billed as a “revolutionary pet feeding system,” PetComfort features an elevated plastic stand and mat, two oblong stainless steel bowls and a lofty price tag: $90 to $150 each, depending on size.
Like he does with his floor mats, MacNeil is touting a “made in America” product — and the jobs that go with it. Unlike his floor mats, and most pet bowls, everything is certified as safe for human consumption.
“My thoughts are that if it’s not [safe] for human use, I don’t really want to feed my dog out of it,” said MacNeil, a longtime dog owner, whose golden retriever, Scout, is the featured model on the PetComfort website.
MacNeil was inspired to create the pet bowls after losing his last three dogs to cancer. He believes toxic materials in pet bowls contributed to their deaths. He pointed to a 2012 recall of imported Petco stainless steel bowls that contained radioactive Cobalt-60 as a catalyst for his new venture and a cautionary tale for pet owners.
“I’m offended by people who think they can get away with substandard materials or quality control for things to do with our pets,” MacNeil said.
Petco coordinated with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency on the recall, which was limited to pet bowls from two shipments. The agency issued a news release at the time assuring consumers that the contaminated bowls posed no immediate health risk.
Two years in development, the PetComfort feeding system includes NSF-certified stainless steel bowls, an antimicrobial mat, and a design that makes it easier to reach that last piece of kibble, especially for older animals, MacNeil said.
Manufactured at his suburban Chicago floor mat factory, there are eight sizes — based on pet height — and 11 colors to choose from. About 100 of his employees are dedicated to the pet bowl project, and he is hoping to hire more workers if demand ramps up.
While doubters likely abound, MacNeil’s entrepreneurial track record and some growing trends in the pet supplies industry indicate his ambition to change the way dogs and cats eat may not be that unrealistic.
“I think a few of my friends laughed at me when I said, ‘I’m selling black rubber floor mats,’ back in 1989,” MacNeil said.
He wouldn’t disclose annual sales but said privately held WeatherTech’s revenue is big enough to support a sprawling southwest suburban campus, 1,500 employees and an advertising budget that has included $5 million Super Bowl commercials for five years running. Whether pet owners will pay as much as $150 for the PetComfort product remains to be seen, since most elevated two-bowl feeding systems sell for between $20 and $40.
MacNeil is convinced his message — and his product — will resonate with pet owners.
“People absolutely love their pets, and they consider them family members,” MacNeil said. “To ensure that they’re being fed safely, I think is priceless.”