UK: Cosipet - Dog days and after. (4 of 4)

UK: Cosipet - Dog days and after. (4 of 4) - The equestrian market was not chosen at random, however. Legg is an accomplished horsewoman, and owns a string of nearly a dozen Arabs which she trains herself on the farm, and rides at sponsored meetings all

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The equestrian market was not chosen at random, however. Legg is an accomplished horsewoman, and owns a string of nearly a dozen Arabs which she trains herself on the farm, and rides at sponsored meetings all over the country. Worthington, who normally wears spectacles and has a cascade of brown hair after the style of Rossetti, and has a pack of cigarettes always ready to hand, is less obviously the athletic sort, but she too was brought up among horses. She describes herself as "the assistant trainer". Cosipet's horse rugs therefore boast certain novel practical features. For other - marketing - reasons they are manufactured in deliberately bright colours.

The need to exercise horses on public roads in winter led to a further significant addition to the product range: reflective safety wear for riders. This suggests another possible avenue for development. The principle has already been extended to pedestrians, and - inevitably - to dogs. For it is human indulgence of the canine species which is what largely underpins Cosipet's future. This is a subject which Worthington knows something about. A corner of her big room above the factory is occupied by a huge dog bed, beyond which protrudes a gigantic but somnolent Irish Wolfhound called Connor, which she jokingly introduces as "our chief tester".

Other dog and cat products are stacked on a table along one wall. But the full range, numbering upwards of 2,000 items, is far too numerous to display. Beds and bags come in a variety of shapes, materials, dimensions and colours. There are 22 types of dog coat, most of which are made in 12 sizes and three colours. The best-selling line is a waterproof coat called the Barkour, which amused J Barbour and Sons (maker of countrymen's coats By Appointment) not at all. There are also trouser suits for dogs, and jogging suits and pyjamas. Some sell to people who show Afghans at Crufts, others to whimsical American or Italian dog lovers.

It is the fanciful streak in Cosipet, rather than the slickness of the operation, which is the company's main strength. "It would not have been right for Bunzl to close it down," says Legg looking back. "It definitely had a future."

Whether or not it continues to have a future now depends on how quickly and securely it can get back on to a profitable track. The owners do not seem particularly alarmed on that score. Exports are said to be rising strongly and, with further help from the long cold snap at home, the early part of the year was over budget. The principal creditor also appears relaxed about last year's loss. "My expectation is that, with an improving UK economy and further orders from overseas, a recovery will be seen in the current year," says Bill Hiscocks, 3i's man in Exeter.

Hiscocks has found a new chairman for Cosipet, in former British Road Services top manager Ron Irons, who has been helping the joint managing directors to formulate a strategy for the future. "In five years we should have made it a really profitable company," believes Legg. "That's a long way off," she adds.

What happens then - ie. what kind of corporate animal might want to buy a company of Cosipet's peculiar characteristics - is another question. However, a purchaser might not be too difficult to find. The UK pets' accessories market is worth a surprising £200 million-plus at retail prices, according to Thomas's figures. It is also highly fragmented, with lots of tiny Cosipet lookalikes. Somebody could choose to tidy it up.

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