October 2006 - Dog's Best Friend

Cesar Millan discusses coming to the U.S. from his native Mexico, his rise to fame as the “Dog Whisperer” and the integration of DR into this hit series.

By Vitisia Paynich

On Monday and Friday nights, millions of dog owners throughout the U.S. tune into National Geographic Channel’s hit series, “The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan,” for a bit of canine counseling. Whether it’s an overzealous cocker spaniel or a ferocious pit bull, Cesar always uncovers the hidden angst that seems to be plaguing not only the troubled dog, but also the troubled human. “The Dog Whisperer” teaches owners that if they don’t want their pooch ruling the roost, they must become a pack leader.

What this self-taught dog psychologist brings to the table is empowerment and awareness for humans combined with the tools for establishing calm, assertive energy for dogs.

“The best thing that you can do for humans is to listen,” affirms Cesar Millan, host of the “Dog Whisperer” series and CEO of Cesar Millan Inc. (CMI) of Burbank, Calif. “And once you listen, they feel that they can trust you.”

Gaining people’s trust is what has garnered Cesar much success. With two full seasons completed, the “Dog Whisperer” and Cesar Millan have become a household name and not just among dog owners. In fact, one seminar he gave in Columbus, Ohio, attracted 1,700 people-one-third of which didn’t even own a dog.

With so much buzz about this high-profile dog trainer, it’s no wonder his DVDs, books and pet products are ideal for direct response. Electronic Retailer magazine met with Cesar and his wife Ilusion, president of CMI, to discuss his early beginnings, the success of the show and his entrance into the world of direct response.

As a child growing up on a farm in Mexico, he learned how to train dogs from watching both his father and grandfather. In fact, he spent so much time with canines that Cesar admits he preferred them to people.

“The reality was I didn’t trust humans as much as I trusted animals,” he says.

The young boy studied dogs closely, trying to get into their minds. Others also witnessed his innate gift and even dubbed him el Perrero, which means “dog boy” in Spanish.

His ambition was to become the best trainer in the world. So, at the ripe age of 21, he handed over his last $100 to a coyote and waited in a muddy hole filled with water for several hours until he could safely cross the border into California. His first destination: San Diego.

Cesar got his very first job in America working in a dog-grooming salon. At night, he would sleep in the office in the back. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles and found employment detailing limousines. This enabled him to operate a dog-psychology business from his car.

Two years later, he met and eventually married Ilusion. Born and raised in the U.S., she soon realized the man she married had definite trust and cultural issues.

At one point, Ilusion fell gravely ill, suffering from complications with her gallbladder. “During my recovery in the hospital, Cesar visited me one day for one hour,” she describes. And I was there for about three weeks.” He didn’t believe she was being truthful about her illness.

“That’s when I had to tell him, ‘You know what? This relationship is not working out,’” she says.

Ilusion then made the decision to take her infant son and leave the marriage, which, she says, struck a devastating blow to his “machismo.”

Cesar explains, “She said if you want to come back, you have to go to marriage counseling. The motivation was my son, and [the fact] that I didn’t want to see him being raised by somebody else.”

Thus, he conceded. Those therapy sessions actually became an epiphany for him and a major turning point that would help define his career as a dog psychologist.

What makes the couple’s marriage work today is that they truly balance each other. Ilusion has been his rock over the years, especially when Cesar was just beginning his dog psychology business. Ilusion says one barrier in the early days was the fact that he preferred to work with just the dogs, as opposed to working with both pet and owner.

“It was like he would show the owners what the dog had done, but he wouldn’t explain to them how to keep that going,” says Ilusion, “because his focus was on helping the dog and rehabilitating it.”

Cesar adds that in the concept of basic dog training, trainers don’t educate the humans as much. “[Trainers] just make sure dogs go, sit down, stay, come and they’re done. So, I was failing in that area, and then I felt [frustrated] because I was saying, ‘These people don’t know anything. They don’t have an understanding of energy. They don’t have an understanding of just walking the dog.’”

At that point, he began to realize the key to success was to not only rehabilitate dogs but to also train people-a credo echoed throughout every “Dog Whisperer” episode.

The next step was to think bigger. “I just knew that if Ilusion and I planned [a business] together, we would be unstoppable, because my instincts were good now, my teaching was good,” says Cesar. “I built the foundation and then she took it to the next level.”

What materialized was the Dog Psychology Center, which was converted from an auto-repair shop in South-Central Los Angeles. This was a big improvement from training dogs out of his car and home.

“As far as the business plan, we really needed to secure it,” says Ilusion. “So, I had to come in and get all the permits to do this. And I had to handle the business end.”

The business gradually took off, and Cesar’s reputation was spreading throughout the dog-owner community. This led to a Los Angeles Times article. “When that article came out, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. We were getting faxes from all these producers that wanted to pitch Cesar to the networks,” says Ilusion.

However, one producer, Sheila Possner Emery and her business partner, Kay Bachman Sumner, struck a chord with the couple. “When Sheila met with us the first time, I felt really comfortable with her. Cesar really liked her,” notes Ilusion. “We ended up going with her and she had pitched the show to Animal Planet.”

However, to the producer’s dismay, she discovered the network already had received 20 unauthorized pitches to Animal Planet without Cesar’s consent.

“Sheila ended up pitching it to the National Geographic Channel,” Ilusion adds. Although National Geographic wanted to commit to a series with Cesar, network executives said they didn’t have the credibility to do it on their own. Thus, Emery suggested partnering with a production company she had teamed with in the past, MPH Entertainment. With MPH Entertainment Inc. partners Jim Milio, Melissa Jo Peltier and Mark Hufnail on board as executive producers, along with Emery/Sumner Productions as producer, “The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan” debuted in September 2004.

Ilusion says during that first season, National Geographic did not really publicize the show. “They wouldn’t even air his commercials on the National Geographic Channel. The network was only promoting primetime shows, and we weren’t a primetime show. However, it slowly started gathering [momentum],” says Ilusion. “People started watching it and the ratings were going up slowly and steadily.”

Word eventually spread to Hollywood, attracting an A-list celebrity clientele that included Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Daisy Fuentes, Scarlett Johansson, Denise Richards and, of course, the queen of daytime, Oprah Winfrey.

When the first season of “The Dog Whisperer” ended in 2005, it was apparent that the National Geographic Channel had a full-fledged hit on its hands. Cesar Millan was becoming a brand name and fans of the show wanted more.

This inspired The Dog Whisperer team to develop products such as the “People Training for Dogs” DVD. So, how would this product be marketed? Ilusion says when CMI and MPH Entertainment negotiated the second season with the National Geographic Channel, they requested their contract include the right to run a 10-second spot at the end of each episode. The network agreed with their request. And soon “Dog Whisperer” episodes began featuring a spot right before the closing credits, which promoted Cesar’s DVD, along with a URL and phone number to order the product.

The response was incredible. “We had about 6,000 preorders months before the DVD was out,” notes Ilusion. While she says they were excited about the high level of interest in the product, it also spawned a new set of problems.

The thought of spending their weekends mailing out thousands of DVD orders didn’t appeal to Ilusion or her staff. “So we were thinking that we’re going to have to find a fulfillment house that will do it all for us,” she says.

The pressure was on to find a suitable company to handle the backend services. As Ilusion explains, “We all started looking for a company that would fulfill large, mass orders. We visualized our company growing quickly, so we wanted to make sure that the [fulfillment] company could uphold that kind of integrity.”

MPH Entertainment and CMI soon came across Moulton Logistics Management in Van Nuys, Calif. “They literally found us through a web search,” recalls Joel Crannell, vice president of sales for Moulton. While Crannell admits his company’s location was a plus, he says Moulton brought much more to the table.

Because DR wasn’t its area of expertise, MPH Entertainment, which Moulton dealt with initially, wanted a fulfillment company to do most of the “heavy lifting,” so to speak.

“We really grabbed them with our reporting system. That was the deciding factor of why they picked us. It wasn’t really price,” Crannell notes. He adds that MPH was attracted to Moulton’s services that included inventory controls and financial deposits. In addition, the company provided quick, active information that would allow MPH to easily monitor product sales.

In April 2005, Moulton officially became the fulfillment company for Cesar Millan products. Although product sales did well via the Internet, there was a definite increase in sales once the spots began airing at the end of “The Dog Whisperer” episodes. “The sales just launched from day one,” claims Crannell. “What we would call initially a small account moved into a large, volume product mover.”

What makes CMI and MPH Entertainment unique clients, continues Crannell, is the fact that “they already had a captured fan base. They are really building a brand behind Cesar vs. a product. It’s the loyalty towards all of these additional products that has just been phenomenal.”

Those other products include books, DVD box sets and accessories that have followed the highly successful “People Training for Dogs” DVD. What’s more, he says a hot seller is the Ilusion collar.

The Cesar Millan site offers fans dog training tips, episode schedules, products and even blogs.

Before CMI ventured into the world of DRTV, the company primarily relied on online and e-mail marketing. “We have over 125,000 newsletter subscribers, notes Ilusion, and that’s just all through tell a friend.”

“The Internet has probably been the bulk of the sales. Their site was built more for branding than product sales,” says Crannell. “So, there’s more information for fans to come back for all the time. I would say the web has been the motivating factor for the growth.”

The Cesar Millan Inc. website (www.cesarmillaninc.com) offers fans dog training tips, episode schedules, information about upcoming appearances and even blogs.

Visitors to the site also can purchase a myriad of products, including Cesar’s book, called Cesar’s Way - The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems, “The Dog Whisperer” Season One DVD box set, the newly released “Becoming a Pack Leader” DVD and the Ilusion collar.

Cesar Millan has become a national phenomenon, with television appearances on top-rated shows like “Oprah” and “Nightline,” and feature articles in publications like The New Yorker, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

What type of impact has Cesar’s TV appearances had on sales? Plenty, according to Crannell. “You’ll see a spike almost immediately with a week or two of stronger product sales. And that’s really over any appearances that he makes.”

The growing notoriety has prompted many different companies to come knocking on Cesar’s door to endorse various products. While Ilusion says Cesar does have endorsement deals in the works, she’s not at liberty to divulge any specifics. However, she says for Cesar to even consider attaching his name to any product, “It has to have strong integrity. It has to be consistent with Cesar’s message and ideas. And, it has to be empowering-and not just for the consumer-but for the pet as well.”

Cesar and Ilusion admit they are very fortunate to have the success that has come their way; however, they remain grounded and focused on their overall goals. “Of course as businesspeople, we are going to profit, but we are going to use that money to make a better world,” says Cesar.

In fact, the couple plans to start a nonprofit organization to fund projects toward animal awareness for elementary school children. “One big point that I want to tell people is that Cesar’s goal is to benefit and improve the welfare and care of the animals,” Ilusion confirms.

Cesar continues, “My goal has changed from the guy that first came to America to the guy that I am now. It’s more clear to me that what I’m creating is the ability to empower women and rehabilitate dogs. Eighty percent of my clientele are women. And I think the reason why is that women are more willing to work on relationships than men.

“I think if I’m capable of accomplishing those two things, I’m going to create an energy that is going to eventually overpower negative energy created by mankind.”

We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, please e-mail [email protected].


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment