Small Business Saturday Blog

Getting the Dog’s Ball Rolling: Mrs Bishop’s Doggy Deli

Tuesday, February 24 at 09:50Inspiration

Back in 2010 we saw a market. My Sister-in-law had a rescue dog with a heart condition. No salt, no sugar, only healthy food. She would cook his main food but there was no suitable treats for sale from ordinary pet shops. My wife stepped in, as a great cook, and said she’d find out what dogs could eat and bake some little treats for her companion. She did and they were so popular by word-of-mouth, we did a lot more research into the industry.

Then my wife was made redundant.

It was a “what have we got to lose?” moment. Months of research had unearthed the massive market in dog treats in the US as well as the tons of legislation required to produce “complimentary pet foods”. Why so much red-tape? Well, vet bills are expensive and if you’re selling a treat to a stranger then the owner must be able to trust your product. Also, if you don’t comply to laws then your insurance is invalid!

Why did we carry on? Dedication and knowing what we did was right. We didn't assume it was easy money. There is no such thing. We saw a gap in the market - something different to offer the public, something fun and in demand. Consumers want to trust that what they buy is of the best affordable standard and this was what we aimed for.

We pooled all the redundancy pay, our savings and loans from relations and started out as we meant to go on. A dedicated kitchen to make our treats, registering a trade mark on our brand, setting up an online shop and months and months of selling at markets, events and dog shows. People questioned what we did, thinking it was “silly”. Standing in the freezing rain, early morning driving, late nights cooking and packaging ... was it worth it?

Yes. No external funding or loans has meant we’ve had to use what profit we make to advance the firm and meant we had to streamline our operations. Any spending we make is discussed, weighed on its merits, planned and only made when we see a clear return. We’ve little money to waste or gamble.

This said, we started in a recession and have survived it. In fact, we’ve grown despite the current economic climate.

So from our humble beginnings, where is Mrs Bishop’s Doggy Deli?

We have a high street “barkery” (a term from the US) and a thriving online business. We sell wholesale to carefully selected outlets. We’ve been finalists in two retail business awards (and aim to win next time!). This year, we’ve been contracted to produce dog cup-cakes for a major pet food retailer’s 10th birthday at Crufts. And we are contacted frequently for advice on setting up in the “barkery” retail industry; so often that I’m currently finishing a book on our experience and advice.

Top Tips:

• Research, research, research! Always assume there is a law concerning you business and find it.

• Be prepared for hard work. There is no such thing as easy money.

• Don’t copy another business - be inspired but find your own “take” on it.

• Have confidence in your product but be realistic.

• Spend your finances tactically. Think of what the return will be to your business.

• Take your work seriously; it’s not a hobby!

By Alan Cassady-Bishop, a Partner at Mrs Bishop's Doggy Deli

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