20 takeaways from the Business Of Pets conference 2024

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This week the Pet Industry Federation ran its second Business of Pets event, a two-day conference bringing together brands and experts.

It was a mix of expert talks, panel discussions, workshops, and pitches from nine pet brands for the Innovation Prize.

As CEO of PIF, Nigel Baker said in his opening address, it’s important to keep on learning when you run a business, and ‘every day’s a school day.’

Two days, endless notes and snaps later, my brain is still buzzing with the insights and strategies from the event.

Trying to whittle down the takeaways from 16 hours has been a challenge – there were so many.

In this post, I’m sharing my top 20, plus information on the business owners who featured in the Innovation Of The Year Award, and where you can find out more about them.

Listen in on the player link below or read as a blog.

These are my top 20 takeaways

  1. Get yourself a mentor! This was from Yvette Lamidey from Arc Angels who opened the conference talking about the difference between a mentor, a non-executive director and investor. She explained: “Everyone should have a mentor. When you run a business it can be a lonely place and you need someone you can offload to.” Your mentor doesn’t have to be paid or official, simply someone to offload to and a fresh pair of ears and eyes.
  2. You don’t have to be alone. A strong support network is vital as friends, family, and partners may not understand the unique challenges of entrepreneurship. Sarah Wright from Tom and Toto said: “Friends, family and partners don’t understand the challenges of running a business so it’s vital to find people who do because loneliness can hold you back.”
  3. Have a plan! This will help you grow faster and be more profitable. “Over three years, businesses with a business plan grow 33% bigger and faster.” Martin Spiller, entrepreneur, barrister, and Cranfield university lecturer.
  4. Know your numbers. If you want people to invest in you, it sounds obvious, but this is key. Understanding and managing financials is crucial, especially since 80% of UK investors are ex-accountants.
  5. Grab attention FAST. “You have between 10-30 seconds to grab an investor’s attention in a pitch. Be clear on your purpose, values, vision, and value proposition, and make sure this is consistent on your website and social media.” Martin Spiller.
  6. Avoid hiring clones of yourself. “When you’re looking for staff, identify gaps in your skill set and fill those gaps rather than looking to replicate yourself.” Lewis Stringer, Senior Manager at the British Business Bank.
  7. You’ll worry about change far more than anyone else! Sarah Wright said: “Thinking ‘let’s do what people want’ forever isn’t going to be good for your business. When we made changes I thought people would freak out and cancel but they didn’t, they were in it for the long haul.”
  8. Be YOU and tell your story over and over. Gemma Connolly from Scoff Paper, a Dragon’s Den Winner told how her story helped her command attention, stand out and connect and build a tribe of raving fans. Claire Gavin from Innovation for Pets said: “You want people to feel proud to be your customer. If your story is compelling, it builds value, trust and confidence in you and impact for your business.”
  9. Educate and reassure when you do something new. Chloe Smith, founder of Tuft, explained how when she launched her platform, people feared for their jobs. She pulled back on rolling it out fully at first and took time to reassure customers and help them feel comfortable with using the new system gradually, stressing the technology was just a tool, not a replacement for the human service.
  10. Think ‘What need am I meeting?’ Successful business ideas either address unmet needs or better meet existing needs. Take a big piece of paper and write down all the messages you want to put out there, and refine and refine for your content.
  11. Having a physical presence will boost your online sales. “Digital sales were 43% higher around areas where they had a physical store. People are going in, looking at items, experiencing the brand in person, and then making purchases online.” Chris Liddington, CACI.
  12. Customer confidence is growing, slowly. “Consumer confidence this time last year was minus 30, but this year it has improved to minus 19.” Hannah Lyford, Nielsen IQ.
  13. People are looking to save, but that doesn’t mean you have to be cheap. Demonstrating value for money is crucial, and it doesn’t necessarily mean going cheap but rather showing what makes you different and worth more.
  14. Most pet owners don’t have loads of money, but they love spending what they have on their pets. The highest proportion are in the ‘hard up households, cash strapped families and urban diversity’ demographic, so consider what you can do to cater for these owners.
  15. People will hand over their data for a personalised service. “76% of customers expect their needs and expectations to be met. They are willing to give personal data for a personalised experience, and they want speed, convenience, and delivery across store and online.” Megan Niven, CACI.

    These four takeaways are from the Building a Pet Brand in a Competitive Market session, where each speaker was asked to share three pieces of advice:

  16. “Be super focused, test and learn, and keep trying to do something that you love and find a problem that you care about solving.” Mikala Slov, Marleybones.
  17. “Learn to do everything yourself first, and then learn to delegate and look after yourself.” Gemma Connolly.
  18. “Research, be tenacious, and don’t give up. Don’t be lonely. Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with friends so when times get tough, you don’t get despondent.” Claire Gavin.
  19. “Be passionate, be realistic and surround yourself with good people,” Steve Driver.
  20. Invest in yourself. Being away from work for two days, staying in a hotel and paying for a ticket might feel like a big commitment but the people you meet, the ideas you gain and the insights you come away with are worth so much, and one snippet could transform how you work.

With Rebecca Salvatore, Byron Marr, Liz Stout and Rowan Williams for the Marketing Panel

Navigating the marketing maze

The final session at the event was all about navigating the marketing landscape for pet brands and these were some of the insights.

Leveraging social media influencers

Liz Stout from No Bull Agency talked about the power of social media influencers in boosting pet brands.

Over half, 55% of dog owners, have bought products endorsed by influencers, and 69% of dog owners trust influencers.

Yet 59% of brands still don’t have an influencer programme. Liz explained how to get started with influencer marketing, how you can do it for FREE and the pros and cons of working with nano versus mega-influencers.

Maximising paid social strategies

Byron Marr from Profitspring spoke about optimising paid social media.

He’s worked with brands like Barking Bags making sure there are no drop off points during the buying process, scrutinising the website and entire customer experience.

He says the ‘best targeting is no targeting’ – so allow the platforms to find the right audience rather than who you think they might be.

Byron also said to focus on sales campaigns on Meta (Facebook and Instagram) for paid social and exclude website visitors so all the leads you get are new to you.

Effective SEO for pet businesses

Rebecca Salvatore from The Write Rebecca made search engine optimisation (SEO) for pet businesses simple and FUN.

She talked about the new Search Generative Experience (SGE) changes at Google, and focusing on EEAT – experience, expertise, authority and trust to stand out in a sea of dreadful AI content.

While SEO can be overwhelming the message from Rebecca is if you’re listening to your customers, checking your website is up to date and easy to navigate, and providing helpful content for humans, you’ll keep Google happy.

Essential images for pet brands

Rowan Williams, from Pooch and Pineapple photography, shared the essential images needed to grow a pet brand.

She explained the different stages of the customer journey as different ‘dog personalities’ from the ‘Worried Whippet’ the ‘Sniffy Spaniel’ and the ‘Ready Retreiver’ and the photos people want to see at each stage.

It’s a mix of your own snaps, professional images, user-generated content, and you can use stock pics, but avoid the Jack Russell that EVERYONE uses.

Please DO invest in your photography if you want to land press coverage though, and I can vouch that Rowan is fantastic to work with, will put you at ease and capture brilliant images.

The event saw pitches from nine fascinating brands for the Innovation Award. 

Jo Arbon from Holistic Hound was the winner for ‘Don’t Bug Me’ and this is an overview of each brand.

Rachel Down from Boil and Broth

Rachel shared how she overcame her own health challenges and lost six stone by making her own bone broth, then realised it would be used for dogs too. She now ships all over the world and has created an amazing new dehydrated bone broth.

Dave Hartington from Hemp Heros

Dave launched a range of CBD-infused treats and dental sticks, aimed at helping anxious dogs feel calm. He talked the impact of his products on rescue dogs in Ireland, and shared data on how they’re enabling dogs to feel more settled.

Jo Arbon from Holistic Hound

Jo, a holistic vet, presented her ‘Don’t Bug Me’ treatment for fleas and ticks, focusing on the environmental benefits of her herbal products compared to traditional treatments. Her pitch was supported by data on the impact of conventional treatments on pets and the environment.

Rory Hanna and Archie WIlson from Pawd Drinks

Pals Rory and Archie created their drink supplements to replace the pain of trying to give pets tablets and they showed two ranges designed to tackle anxiety and support joint health. Plus how thier own dogs,  Scrumpy the Terrier and Pickle the Spaniel, set them off on their mission.

Steve Driver from Wonderful World of Treats

Steve’s ‘Willie Wonka for dogs’ brand offers a range of affordable and healthy treats in fun flavours like burger, pizza, cake, and sushi. These are beautifully branded and packaged and are going to be at a £1.99 price point and will launch this summer. 

Harry Chapman from DotDotPet

Lots of dogs hate bathtime and Harry developed a shampoo that taps into a dog’s sense of smell, using a smell that they like, so a wash doesn’t set off Zoomies and creating a calmer bath time experience and reduce stress for pets during grooming, plus a drying range too. 

Ry Webster from MorePaws

Ry has created an online community of dog lovers to support one another and promote pet mental health and wellbeing. His free pet care platform has started in Manchester, and aims to reduce the number of dogs being rehomed by fostering a supportive network for pet owners.

Hazel Patterson from QuickClawz

Hazel, a former podiatrist, has invented a grooming tool that allows pet professionals to practice clipping claws on a device as they do their training, rather than on dogs meaning they can learn one of the most stressful parts of the grooming process without risking injury to the pet.

Tom Salter from Pettle Pets

Tom has created a grooming brush, perfect for doodles and curly-coated dogs with a built-in atomizer, allowing pet owners to detangle and make their dogs smell nice during the grooming process, and meaning their coat stays sleeker between trips to the groomers.

Be first to know of any future Pet Industry Federation events

I can’t stress how valuable it is to attend events like this and meet like-minded people, if nothing else to realise that you’re not on your own in experiencing challenges.

Going out and seeing other entrepreneurs will leave you feeling inspired, and you learn loads of things you can implement in your pet business.

To find out more, visit: https://petfederation.co.uk/

Are you looking for support in your pet business?

Finally, mentoring and coaching came up so many times and if you’re reading this and you’re looking to work with a qualified and accredited coach or mentor, hi, I’m here to help.

I have the ILM Level 5 Accreditation in Coaching and Mentoring and am currently studying for ILM Level 7 certification in coaching executive and senior leaders.

You can work with me one-to-one and I also run a VERY affordable membership, Pets Get Visible, where you can join two, one-hour, group coaching calls each month.

This is just £30 a month and you can get 50% off your first month.

Further reading

Why I trained as an accredited coach and what this means for your pet business

Is my Pets Get Visible pet business membership right for you?

How to choose the right pet business membership

The NatWest Accelerator and how it can help your pet business

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