Bark, the parent company of BarkBox, the subscription service for dogs, is prepared to go public in as soon as six months, co-founder and CEO Matt Meeker told CNBC. It would also consider a potential sale.
The company has met with banks in recent weeks to discuss both options, sources familiar with the situation said. Bark confirmed the meetings, saying they are typical for a company at its stage to build relationships and gauge the market and opportunities, far in advance of any process.
If it does go public — a move that will be market dependent — Bark will welcome labeling itself in conversations with investors as a subscription box company. That identification would come despite the recent industry aversion to the label.
Ask a handful of businesses whether their service that allows the option of subscribing to boxes of goods is a "subscription box service," several will likely explain why they are not. Stitch Fix eschewed the label when marketing its public offering to investors, sources have told CNBC. (Stitch Fix offers customers the chance to buy without a subscription or change the frequency of their subscription.) Amazon similarly contends its Amazon prime wardrobe service is not a subscription box service.
Blue Apron's spectacular fall from grace has left investors skittish of such companies' ability to balance marketing costs and sales. Meanwhile, other companies like Techstyle, the owner of Kate Hudson's Fabletics brand, and Birchbox have tried to sell themselves, only to be met with similar concerns.
Birchbox declined to comment on acquisition rumors, but said it achieved profitability earlier this year.
But Bark believes, if built upon slowly and profitably, the business model helps a company anticipate sales and creates a direct line to its consumers.
"There are consumer subscription companies that have different dynamics," said Meeker.
"Costco is the gold standard of that. … Let's be upfront about it: Here is our annual retention rate, here is our cash. Because they are good, so let's just tell everybody it."
Bark expects to top $150 million revenue by the end of this year and reach $250 million in revenue by the end of next year. It has 500,000 subscribers and a 95 percent retention rate, which it attributes in part to extensive dog pampering. It became profitable the first quarter of this year.
It raised $60 million last May, in a round led by August Capital, bringing total funding to a relatively modest $77 million.
As to the inevitable Amazon question, Meeker says Bark views the retail juggernaut as "both a threat and potential partner." He said pet food — rather than Bark's treats and toys — is a more natural opportunity for Amazon, given its strengths and the larger size of that market.
"IPO investors will be interested in a company that has that growth and is profitable," said Kathleen Smith, a principal at Renaissance Capital, which manages IPO-focused exchange-traded funds.
Should Bark take the M&A route, it would do so into an industry that — like all in retail — is going through rapid disruption. The $69 billion pet industry is supported by passionate "pet parents" who, it seems, will always spend on their dogs. As marriage rates among millennials decline, pet ownership is increasing.
These pet parents, though, are more willing to do their shopping online than industry stalwarts had expected.
Many traditional pet food or pet product companies are looking for ways to reach their shoppers beyond their stores, as they hope to fend off the ever-looming Amazon threat.
PetSmart's roughly $3 billion acquisition of Chewy.com earlier this year announced the industry's potential embrace of e-commerce. Though as a private company, Petsmart had more leeway to make such a gamble than many of its publicly traded peers.