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By building meaningful relationships and creating memorable moments, Madison St. Gelais has turned her love of design into a successful pet accessory brand and brick-and-mortar store.

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Modern Companion, Chapin, SC

OWNER: Madison St. Gelais; WEBSITE: themoderncompanion.com; FOUNDED: 2019 brand, 2021 brick-and-mortar store; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 2 part-time, 2 interns; AREA: 1,400 square feet; FACEBOOK: themoderncompanion; INSTAGRAM: moderncompanion; TIKTOK: moderncompanion; TOP BRANDS: Modern Companion, Fluff & Tuff, Bocce Bakery, Skout’s Honor, Zippy Paws, Champion Pet Food, Fromm, Sassy Woof


WHEN MADISON ST. GELAIS started Modern Companion as an online pet accessory brand in 2019, she focused on developing a sense of community and family with her customers and followers. That family only grew when St. Gelais expanded the business into a Chapin, SC, brick-and-mortar storefront in 2021.

Today, the store attracts pet parents from even out of state, but she remains dedicated to building meaningful relationships and delivering service with a personal touch.

“I think our authenticity makes us successful,” St. Gelais says. “We’re keeping up with trends, we get to know our followers, and we have conversations with them. We’re always happy to give advice, recommendations and our own opinions. Our pets have tested every product at the store.”

Owner Madison St. Gelais

Owner Madison St. Gelais and Domino pose in front of the third anniversary balloons for Modern Companion.

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Modern Fashion Sense

St. Gelais was in her early twenties when she started the business because finding products that brought out the natural beauty of her Dalmatian proved difficult. “I wanted a modern style that could pair nicely with spots and not be too overpowering,” she says. St. Gelais also was frustrated by the fact that many pet accessories were too masculine or feminine, so she decided to create her own.

“I was 23 and had no idea how to sew, and I knew nothing about the pet industry. But I’m a creative person and a fast learner, so I bought my first sewing machine.” St. Gelais started crafting accessories, including bow ties and bandanas, for her dog, Domino, and then posted photos of him wearing them to his Instagram account. Friends quickly started asking for accessories for their pups, and she discovered that there was significant demand for her products.

When St. Gelais made the decision to launch Modern Companion, she was working full-time as a web designer. “I worked 9 to 5 at my day job, then worked on my business until 1 or 2 a.m., sometimes later. I decided to get my MBA because I wanted to turn this hobby into something more.” St. Gelais started a part-time entrepreneurship program for working professionals at Clemson University just before her business started to take off.

She began to work with independent illustrators in 2020. Those illustrators created one-of-a-kind patterns, and a small local team of stay-at-home moms handcrafted each accessory. Modern Companion was able to offer its unique, handcrafted products in more than 90 small-business retail stores nationwide by the end of that year.

The Modern Companion brand of pet accessories are a top seller at the store.

The Modern Companion brand of pet accessories are a top seller at the store.

Brick & Mortar

As enthusiasm for Modern Companion accessories grew, so did the brand’s social media following. “We realized how much of a splash we were making with our online community of over 30,000 followers through just our own products,” St. Gelais says.

She decided to open the brick-and-mortar store, curating a lineup of food, chews, treats, and health and wellness products for dogs and cats, as well as fun items for pet-loving people, such as T-shirts and home goods.

The aesthetic needed to have the same “warm and fuzzy feeling” customers get when interacting with Modern Companion online. “Our brand consists of a modern color tone of blues, purples and greens. Along with a few signature elements that match our dogs, you will see these colors in every corner of our store.”

She also made it a priority to offer a unique and memorable experience to customers every time they visit. That experience keeps the store competitive against online retailers.

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And it is a truly memorable one. The space is full of carefully selected visual elements, like a mini ice cream freezer wrapped and illustrated with dogs. Spotted wallpaper adds a modern and fun touch, while a wrapped cargo trailer helps the store to stand out at local events. The small staff makes for a friendly, personal shopping experience.

Perhaps most memorable are the on-site events. “Our store is more than just a place to put products on shelves,” St. Gelais says. “We built it to be a gathering spot for pets and their humans, too.” Modern Companion teams up with other local pet businesses and rescues to host multiple events throughout the year. These include a “Barking Lot Pawty,” “Fall Fido Fest” and “New Year’s Eve Pawty.”

During last year’s New Year’s Eve Pawty, customers age 21 and older were encouraged to dress themselves and their pets to impress. They paid a cover charge of $25 per pet in advance, and their admission included a New Year’s Eve box complete with a bow tie, CBD treats and a New Year’s Eve hat. The “Bark Cart” was stocked with alcoholic beverages and food for humans, and there was dog wine, too. The party even featured a 2022 photo booth and prizes for the best-dressed duo.

All of the above helped St. Gelais see 130% revenue growth across both of her businesses in 2021, 60% of that from Modern Companion brand products sold wholesale and in her own brick-and-mortar and online stores. She’s looking at another impressive year with 2022.

The Modern Companion brand aesthetic extends to the trailer the team takes to outdoor events.

The Modern Companion brand aesthetic extends to the trailer the team takes to outdoor events.

To the Future

The Modern Companion team has remained a tight-knit group. “Our seamstresses are family. They attend our events and even helped to paint our store when we opened,” St. Gelais says. Her staff of six includes two paid interns, and she describes the team as “super small but very mighty.” Staff wear many hats, from helping to run the store to packing online orders.

Having experienced the challenge of growing a new brand and getting products into brick-and-mortar stores, St. Gelais now uses the Modern Companion storefront to help other pet brands get their start. The store continuously sells products from new and small pet businesses, among them Good Sniffs and Company, Contigo Dogs and Cola Stacks.

Modern Companion has a corner for cats and the humans who serve them.

Modern Companion has a corner for cats and the humans who serve them.

“We’ve reached out to makers on Etsy, put their products out to our customers, and have given them advice on how they can improve,” she says. “We’re wholesaling, not doing consignment. We truly believe in them. You can’t find these products anywhere else because this is the first time you’re seeing them in a retail setting.”

As for the social media accounts that gave Modern Companion its roots? They’re stronger than ever. “We have over 30,000 followers on Instagram alone and are constantly engaging, sharing stories, going live and getting to know our customers. We leverage the power of social media each and every day. We believe building an experience in our store and getting customers to engage with us means giving them an experience they can’t forget.”

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Five More Cool Things About Modern Companion

1. CONGRATS!: Early funding for the business came in the form of $15,000 that St. Gelais won while earning her MBA. She entered the business model for Modern Companion in a capstone project competition, impressed the judges and scored first place. It was a good sign!

2. PUP MANAGER ON DUTY: Modern Companion isn’t just staffed by humans. Since there’s often just one person working the store at a time, staff are encouraged to bring along their pets. A “Pup Manager on Duty” sign identifies the four-legged staff member on shift each day. “Our customers love seeing them, and sometimes they come in just to see the pup managers,” says St. Gelais, who regularly brings in her own pups, Domino, fellow Dalmatian Blaze and German-Shorthaired Pointer CiCi.

3. GOING VIRAL: The store’s account on TikTok has more than 26,000 followers. St. Gelais says, “Not only do we create fun trending posts, but we have managed to go viral several times, accumulating over 5 million views. How did we do it? We just featured products that our pets love and the response was incredible. We received hundreds of orders and sold out every time. Even the manufacturer was selling out!”

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4. ‘ADOPT A PET’ TREE: Rather than a traditional Christmas tree, Modern Companion created an “Adopt a Pet” tree last Christmas. Customers could donate gift baskets for local animal shelters, and staff felt like Santa Claus when they got to make deliveries.

5. PUP CUPS: Pup cups, complete with whipped cream, a treat and sprinkles, are offered free with any purchase. They make for a fantastic Instagram opportunity.

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

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