They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Bloomfield Hills resident Michelle Winowich is showing pet owners around the country how to teach their four-legged companions how to speak in a brand new way.
"People are already talking for their pets in photo captions and in person. We are just taking it a step further," Winowich said about the collar-size speakers designed to give pets a voice of your own.
Named the G.O.A.T. Pet Speaker (G.O.A.T. standing for Greatest of All Time), the small Bluetooth speakers attach to a pet's collar and connect with their owner's phone through a Bluetooth connection. The G.O.A.T. app then allows the owner to type or record phrases that can be saved and played back through the pet's speaker.
"Some guys think it's a great way to pick up chicks," Winowich joked about the various scenarios in which the G.O.A.T. Pet Speaker can be used. "We use it at home, and our kids use it all the time. It also can be more practical, like if someone has a service dog and uses it to remind people not to pet them. With the voice, it can be like putting a tutu on a pitbull with the voice. We even know a stroke victim who uses it to communicate with her family."
In addition to giving pets a voice, the speaker can stream music from the user's phone, allowing them to listen to music on walks without wearing earphones that block out sound.
The speakers, which are intended to be used as another way to play with your pet, and not interact with the pet when you're not home, have been a hit since Winowich launched G.O.A.T. Pet Products in 2016. She recently completed an exclusive contract with PetSmart.
In January, the company got another boost when Winowich had a successful appearance on ABC's reality show Shark Tank. The show allows first- and second-stage entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to celebrity business owners who they are asking to invest in their businesses. Celebrities include Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and others.
"Basically, you get seven-and-a-half minutes to pitch in front of eight million people," Winowich said, who accepted an investment offer on the show from businessman and investor Robert Herjavec for $499,999 for a one-third stake in the business. "It could be the worst commercial of your life, or it could be the best. The sharks can be a little rough. They got rough with me too, but thankfully I was able to overcome it."
While Winowich has an extensive background in pet product marketing, she knew landing a spot on the show would depend on her ability to help drive ratings. Also knowing the show's connection with Sony Studios and Disney, she decided to dress as Snow White on the show and give her canine companion a "magical" ability to talk by using the G.O.A.T. speaker.
The blend of serious business skills and humor showed through even in her application to the show, in which she listed one of her skills as "docking a ship during a storm while hooking a great white shark."
"I was standing there as a 42-year-old princess and had a service dog with me, and I have a talking dog product," she said, laughing about the appearance. "It's all about entertainment. I would have dressed as a clown if I had to... it's up to you as to how you stand out."
Photo: Laurie Tennent