We’re the first company to use human-grade regulated food for pets. My business partner and I have been friends since childhood, as we were both brought up on the same farm in Yorkshire, and we’ve both had dogs for years. I was feeding mine premium food, but I could never understand why brown biscuits were being sold as ‘chicken’ when they look nothing like the actual thing.
I started to research exactly what animals are meant to eat in the wild, and predictably discovered that it’s mainly a raw diet - they kill animals to eat, forage for fruit and raw vegetables - nothing like the packaged pet food on the shelf. The dry food market is the biggest because it’s easy, so we came up with a concept that you can use high quality raw ingredients, and then dehydrate them (dry them out) in a way that means you can just add water when you prepare the food, and it will be ‘raw’ again. It’s about getting the quality of home cooked or raw diet for pets, but with the ease of packaging and shelf life.
We launched about two weeks ago now, and since then, we’ve been talking to pet owners, scouring the forums, and trying the get the best possible understanding of the market. The beauty of the internet and social media is that, with our limited budget, we’ve still attracted orders from Scotland to Somerset. We’ve even had a lot of retailers contact us directly to express an interest in stocking the food, which is very exciting.
This week was busy. On Monday we travelled down to Cambridge to meet Piers Smart, the owner of Scampers, which is one of the largest pet store chains. It stocks high-end natural pet foods, and Piers said he was amazed by our product because he had not seen anything similar in the UK. He wants to stock it, and to be honest, it was completely unexpected that any retailer would take the product on so early. After the meeting we had to work hard on being ‘retail ready’ - expanding the line to include bigger bags of food, negotiating prices, ensuring there’s enough capacity for large orders in our existing supply chain.
On Wednesday a regional newspaper came round and did a photoshoot and interview with us - we managed to secure an innovation grant from the local council to help us get started, so they did the ‘new local entrepreneurs’ piece for us. Then on Thursday, we went to an event that the council introduced us to for small businesses looking for management advice. One bit of experience we lack is supply chain management, and we met a consultant who gave us some free information on making sure that our margins are sensible and that there is room for the supply chain to fluctuate.
The latest is preparing to go and meet independent retailers direct. A lot of the bigger pet food manufacturers are foreign companies, so we think we’ve got a good case as a British firm to engage personally with the independents and try and get them to stock us. Even this morning I’m preparing a pack of customer testimonials to present to some potential new stockists.
The best thing about the job is that it’s something I enjoy, and I particularly like the variety. When it’s your own business, and whatever is there you’ve built yourself, you can be proud. The toughest thing for me is structuring my day: you can spend all day answering calls and emails and get very little done.
If I had to give some advice to other entrepreneurs, I would say make sure you’re doing it for more than money. It sounds like a cliché, but if you get into something for the wrong reasons, you’ll soon realise that the money isn’t enough to make it worth it. You have to enjoy it and want to do it.