Beyond “Corgi Flop” — Online Pet Culture is Bringing us back to Real Life
An interview with Kelly McLemore, Founder of Corgi Beach Day
Corgis are a cultural icon and internet phenomenon. They are one of the nation’s most beloved breeds and the rapid growth of online pet culture has solidified their place within the pantheon. It’s only natural that their virtual popularity would engender real life events. Instagram Stars and Youtube-famous pups aren’t just building a viral infrastructure. Many are committed to great social work and bringing people together.
Kelly McLemore is the founder of two viral Los Angeles institutions dedicated to bringing together Corgi enthusiasts, So Cal Corgi Nation and So Cal Corgi Beach Day. She is a very charismatic and caring pet owner. Her vision is based on a genuine desire to use online media to build an offline community. This definitely aligns with our values at Hommily. Her Corgi Mr. Pickles might be the most well-trained Corgi I have ever met; he sat at my feet during the entire interview, patiently waiting for a pet.
Kelly was gracious enough to tell Hommily about the history of Corgi Beach Day and how it has grown into a thriving social movement.
Founding Corgi Beach Day
James: How did you come up with the idea for Corgi Beach Day?
Kelly: Well, Mr. Pickles had some surgeries and there was this local Corgi Meetup that would happen every year. We missed it two years in a row because both times he busted his ACL playing Frisbee. It’s actually very common for dogs.
Mr. Pickles had all these Corgi friends on Facebook (with humans behind the profiles), so my husband and I decided to plan a little beach meet-up of our own so we could all meet face-to-face.
The idea was simple: make some friends and see some Corgis.
We held the first one in October 2012 and about 12 Corgis came out to Huntington Beach with their owners. We made PB&Js and just socialized on the beach. It was so much fun that we decided to do another about three months later. This time about 100 Corgis showed up because word had spread on social media. Corgi Beach Day just grew from there. We planned to do one every three months and every time it kept expanding; first it was 12, then 100, then 300, 700, 900.
James: From the first event to the second, when the meet-up jumped from 12 to 100 Corgis, was there a conscious effort to grow?
Kelly: Yeah, we were always thinking about the next event. For the first few, we kept things really simple; just hang out at the beach under a 10’ x 10’ canopy. Over time we added new activities, contests, etc. As far as branding, we started with stickers first and then t-shirts. Now it’s food trucks and sponsors! And a towel! We do a different towel every season.
James: When did you realize Corgi Beach Day had become “a thing”?
Kelly: Probably by the third event. It started getting really big and people kept asking if we were ever going to make t-shirts. We saw an opportunity to partner with a rescue because so many of our attendees were potential pet-owners. We knew Susan from Queen’s Best Stumpy Dog Rescue because she had been coming to the meet-ups. Her rescue was just starting out so it was a good fit.
We invited her to set up a canopy next to ours to collect donations and spread the word about Queen’s Best. That was the beginning of our partnership and the rescue has grown a lot since. Susan has been getting donations and media coverage, so it’s been really great for her too. The online Corgi phenomenon really draws people to QB since she specializes in Corgis and Corgi mixes.
James: So growth has been really organic. Can you tell me about the evolution of some of the events, like the costume contest?
Kelly: Yeah totally organic. My husband and I are always thinking about how we can make the next Corgi Beach Day bigger and better. In the very beginning we tried to do a hot dog eating contest. It was a big mess (laughs). Some of the Corgis didn’t know what they were doing and just let the hot dogs float around in the water. We did a race one time…but it didn’t work out too well (laughs).
There’s also a limbo contest. It’s probably the most popular activity. I mean, Corgis already have short legs, it’s perfect!
We do the costume contest at every Corgi Beach Day and usually have a theme. The next one will be a Patriotic theme for the Fourth. Corgis and human/Corgi duos are encouraged to enter!
This summer we’re going to do a county fair theme. Since it’s during Fourth of July Weekend, we want to make it Americana themed. There will be a pie eating contest for the Corgis and some other cool events.
James: Is Corgi Beach Day a local event or has it become national?
Kelly: I think it’s a national event. It’s really blown up; people are planning vacations around it, taking road trips and even driving cross country with their dogs because they don’t want to fly. People come from all over. Lots of people come from the East Coast, especially in the summer. Tons of people from Iowa and throughout the Midwest came to the last one.
But our audience is international. Someone from England messaged me the other day and told me they’re hosting their own Corgi meet-up based on what we’ve done. We had someone come from Japan last year and a few from Canada.
After seeing the growth of So Cal Corgi Beach Day, many people in other states like South Carolina and up in Nor-Cal started their own local meet-ups.
James: Do you know who’s coming beforehand? Do you coordinate with specific people or just say, “Hey, everyone show up!”
Kelly: Well we have sponsors. Our main sponsor is Healthy Spot and they help a lot. We basically get the word out through social media. We have a Facebook event page and use it to gauge how many people are potentially coming through RSVPs.
James: Does the queen come?
Kelly: (laughs) No!
James: Corgi Beach Day is internet famous and now you’re getting a lot of news coverage. How fast has it grown?
Kelly: We had about 400 or 500 Corgis come to our event in winter of 2014 and then around 650 during spring of 2015. So it jumped a lot. The following summer was around 800 and that fall, we had almost 900 Corgis.
James: So growth has been pretty steady. How many do you expect for this July?
Kelly: Totally, it ticks up every time. We’re shooting for 1,000 Corgis in July. We keep a count of the Corgis as best we can. There will probably about 10,000 to 15,000 people.
James: Alright so 15,000 people and 1,000 Corgis, one Corgi to every fifteen people. There should be plenty of hands and pets to go around.
Kelly: (laughs) Exactly!
Creating an Engaged Community
James: What has been the biggest challenge of taking an online community offline?
Kelly: I think just keeping people engaged online. What makes Corgi Beach Day special is that everyone feels like they are part of something. We have a brand behind our events called So Cal Corgi Nation.
People do say “I am part of the So Cal Corgi Nation” which is cool, it’s like being part of a big family. It’s a phenomenon they feel ownership towards.
Our members are really loyal. For example, it rained during the last event but people and Corgis still flooded the beach. That’s amazing commitment.
So keeping people engaged and making them feel like they are part of something bigger. We don’t turn anyone away, everyone is welcome with or without a dog, a non-Corgi is an honorary Corgi for the day. Everyone is welcome!
James: Has Corgi Beach Day become a full-on industry?
Kelly: It gets very busy. Right now we’re in full swing planning the summer event on July 2nd. It takes a lot of time and it’s really just me, my husband and some volunteers helping us. We do all the merchandise too, which is a whole separate challenge. We work with a graphic designer to design a new logo for every Corgi Beach Day. Then we do new styles of t-shirts, hats, stickers and try to add special items like a towel. So the merch development alone is a lot of work.
Then we plan the event, get all the permits and the insurance…
James: You have to do all that too?
Kelly: We do… we used to do it under the radar (laughs). Spring of last year was when Corgi Beach Day really expanded. It was big before and there was this long 5 month break between winter and spring. When spring hit, everybody came to our Huntington Beach event. There was a huge turnout. News crews found out so we got a lot of media coverage.
The next day the city of Huntington Beach called and basically said everything before was fine but from then on we needed permits. The next event is in Long Beach so we are working with the city there as well.
It’s tough, permits aren’t cheap and we have to provide insurance in case anything happens. But we do it for the community.
James: Does it suck the organic fun out of the meet-up?
Kelly: It does a little but it actually lets us expand what we’re doing. Not being permitted kept our events a bit subdued. We were nervous about growing too fast, but now we can do lots more.
James: When did you get your first Corgi? What was it about Mr. Pickles that made you say “I gotta have him!”
Kelly: Mr. Pickles and definitely his smile! His little puppy picture was so amazing. We bought him from a breeder in Oklahoma because we didn’t know any rescues out here. That was about 9 years ago, back when finding dogs online wasn’t as easy as it is today. So we flew him out here and choose him based on his picture. He had a cute smile and that got us.
James: Did you look at different breeds or were you set on a Corgi?
Kelly: We wanted a Corgi; I wanted a Corgi! We did a lot of research to make sure he was a good fit. There used to be and still is a Corgi Meetup that happens once a year that we would go and just stalk the Corgis (laughs). This was a few years before we actually got Mr Pickles.
James: Corgis are an online phenomenon. There are all kinds of Corgi memes and videos like “Corgi Flop” are viral. Corgi Beach Day has definitely popularized the breed. What makes them so special?
Kelly: I think it’s because they are unique looking. That’s what got me; they’re like big dogs with tiny legs. They’re smart and can be really talented. Mr. Pickles is a Frisbee dog. He’s older now so he isn’t as nimble as he used to be, but we started teaching him to catch when he was just 10 weeks old. He’s really good at it.
James: I’ve heard they can be difficult to train if you don’t start them early.
Kelly: They are because they are so smart. Corgis are active so if you don’t keep them engaged, they get into trouble. They can be really stubborn too. We’ve spent countless hours training Mr. Pickles. People often say, “Oh he’s so good you’re so lucky” but the reality is we spent a lot of time training him to be well-behaved. Over 9 years and still training every day! We’re trying to teach him some new stuff but he’s a little over it (laughs). He just wants us to toss his Frisbee and he’s happy.
Online Pet Culture
James: Have others tried to get famous through Corgi Beach Day?
Kelly: Not really. There are a lot of people with Instagram accounts for their dogs so the event is good for them; it helps build their fan base. We’re friends with everyone, there’s no beef or anything at all. We encourage people to use the event for those kinds of things.
Winston the White Corgi’s owners are super talented and make amazing videos of every Corgi Beach Day. Big thanks to them. If you have a chance check out on their Youtube channel, the videos are super professional. Super Corgi Jojo is a surfing Corgi. His owner, Josephine, is super nice and she comes to all our events.
James: Speaking of famous pets, what‘s your take on viral pet culture?
Kelly: I think it has its good and bad points. There are some people out there who don’t like Corgi Beach Day. A few hardcore rescue fanatics think the event has over-popularized the breed. They’re afraid people come to CBD and then run out to get a puppy without really knowing anything about them.
But I think we’ve done a lot of good for the breed. We’ve raised money for Queen’s Best and awareness for rescues. We help educate people about the importance of rescuing instead just adopting.
Corgi Beach Day is a great way to socialize. Lots of people make friends at the event and online through Facebook and Instagram. There’s a great sense of community too; people help each other out. We’ve had situations where someone had a sick Corgi and couldn’t pay the medical bills. Other Corgi owners from the So Cal Corgi Nation came together to donate and help raise money. So I think we’ve done a lot of positive things for the breed.
James: I’m just thinking about all the buzz around animal videos. Keyboard Cat and Corgi Flop are famous, but I doubt their owners posted those videos with the intention of getting famous.
Now there are people deliberately trying to make their pets famous through social media. It’s a little weird for me. Do you think this culture helps owners bond with their pets or is it a bit much?
Kelly: I think it’s cool, it’s funny (laughs). Sometimes people go a little overboard but it’s all in good fun. If someone can make some money from their dog by promoting a good cause with Instagram or Youtube, why not? It’s fine as long as they aren’t exploiting the dog.
I see what you mean, but the people I know who have hundreds of thousands of followers online treat their dogs really well. There isn’t any sort of exploitation; they just love their dog a lot. I am sure there are some who adopt a bulldog with the intention of teaching them to skateboard and maybe getting famous. Fortunately, I don’t know any Corgi people like that.
Outreach and Advice to Pet Owners
James: Along with Queen’s Best, what other kinds of charity outreach have you done and what’s in the works for the future?
Kelly: Right now we only work with Queen’s Best and want to focus on helping them grow. I know one of their big goals this year is getting a facility. We just want to support them and bring as much awareness as we can. We were on KTLA right before the last Corgi Beach Day and we had Queen’s Best with us to help spread the word. They are a great rescue and Susan [the owner] cares a lot about the dogs.
We wouldn’t do Corgi Beach Day without supporting a good cause because we want to help people. Teaching people about pet ownership is another big part of what we do. We don’t want people coming to CBD and getting a puppy without researching it. The dog will end up needing another home.
James: Any advice for prospective Corgi owners?
Kelly: Do your research. We do our best to educate everyone and I’m very honest with anyone who’s interested. Be sure you want an active dog. If you live in an apartment, make sure you are able to take them out on long walks. Obviously a yard is ideal. Corgis aren’t lap dogs, they really are big dogs in little packages. They’re smart so you have to keep them engaged. Make sure you can spend time with them.
Just really make sure a Corgi fits your lifestyle.
James: Thank you so much for your time Kelly, Mr. Pickles is an amazing dog. He’s been calmly sitting at my feet this whole time.