Want to know what it takes to build a sustainable and profitable pet product business?
Listen in to this episode with Debbie Humphreys from Redhound for Dogs who has 12 years experience in the pet industry.
Starting out designing outfits for her whippet to writing a book on Dogs In Jumpers to surviving and thriving in the pandemic and raising thousands for charity.
Debbie has tested out so many things when it comes to growing her business and shares so much wisdom in this episode.
It’s a must listen whether you’ve an established business or are at the beginning of your journey.
Listen in on the player link or carry on reading the key points as a blog post.
Hi Debbie, can you tell me about what you did before joining the pet industry?
“We’ve had Redhound for Dogs for 12 years and before that, I had a little gifts shop in Devon, and before that I had a wedding dress shop for 17 years with a friend of mine, Andrea, who I’d met whilst working at Jenny Packham’s designer clothes in the early 90s.
“In the 1980s, I worked with a designer Gina Fratini who trained me and I actually started sewing at the age of 10, I’d watch my mum on her sewing machine and I’d make things and sell them to my school friends.
“It got to the stage where I didn’t want to do it anymore and then I got my little puppy Bruno, and that led to the dog wear.
Tell me about how he inspired you!
“I got my late Whippet Bruno in 2003, it became very apparent that he had alopecia, so he felt the cold and hated the rain.
“At the time the internet wasn’t what it is now for the pet industry, and the pet shop coats weren’t shaped for a Whippet. So I started knitting him jumpers.
“He hated the rain and the cold and having wasted so much money on things that didn’t fit him, I decided I needed to have a go at making a coat myself.
“I’d made wedding dresses, I could make a dog coat. At the time, we had a shop in Totnes in Devon and were already selling dog beds and collars.
“I found a knitwear company in Torquay at the time when I was already hand making jumpers and we developed a fabulous jumper for dogs.
“We started small. Bruno loved his jumpers and other dog owners in the town would see him and want one too, so eventually I bought my own knitting machine, which David my husband learnt to use.
“When his mother passed away we got access to vintage patterns so we knitted loads of designs and it was great because they were different.
“We got them into lots of independent pet shops and sold them online and even got them into the White Stuff.”
So fast forward to where you are now?
“We’ve niched to whippets, and we do clothing for all types of weather and ages of whippets. Like our Whippet Away Mac, which is our most popular style, it’s a raincoat for whippets.
“We also have our fleece jumpers and a range of whippet items such as T-shirts. I try to do things that are stylish yet useful, so it has to be functional and stylish.
“I always think, ‘what does the dog need it for?’”
Can you give us an insight into the volume of Whippet products you’re producing?
Before lockdown we were in our old barn which was a bit small, with two machinists, two cutters, and a packer, and I do a bit of the cutting and making as well.
From October 2019 to January 2020 we hadn’t coped well, and knew we needed a bigger premises and were on the list for a bigger place.
Then lockdown happened. Everything went online, I did lots of knitting tutorials on Instagram, gave away free pattens as people needed something to do.
I made scrubs for the NHS and things went absolutely mad when we sent out our Christmas catalogue. I had 400 items to make from the first week!
Now, it’s around 150 parcels a week, at Christmas we could have seven sacks a day of parcels, so we can get through a lot.
What kind of marketing activity do you do to reach that level?
“I spent many years building a really wonderful community on Instagram, we’re inches away from 20,000 followers now.
“I’ve been on it for over 10 years, it takes time and it’s all organic but you have to spend time there, be passionate about what you do and genuinely get into conversations with people.
“I love my customers’ dogs, it’s not difficult for me to converse with them. You have to take them on your journey, show them behind the scenes, and share your story.
“I’ve also invested money in a professional to help with Pinterest, she’s been worth her weight in gold. I would say to anyone don’t underestimate Pinterest because it works.
“I also have a Facebook Group and I do a live update weekly, and take people behind the scenes and show them the stock.”
Do you have any advice for product businesses with big aspirations?
“Be prepared to put in the hours. Don’t expect to be an overnight success. Whatever you might see on social media, it’s not true.
“Be prepared to do small dog shows in wet fields to get your name out there, get your product out there, get people talking about it, you’ve just got to be prepared to put in the legwork.
“Keep an eye on the money, spend wisely, don’t borrow for something that will that won’t progress your business.
“I’d say be prepared to sacrifice and work harder than you’ve ever worked because it takes usually about five to six years to break even.”
What keeps you going through the wins and the wobbles?
“I think it’s important to consider what you’re doing, why are you doing it and who’s it for.
“Your business has to have purpose, it has to mean something. For us, it was a shivering Whippet that started everything.
“There wasn’t much on the market at the time, you couldn’t buy a coat that fitted so there was a real need.
“I believed in it because I had that shivering Whippet, I lived my customers life. And I do think that that that really helps too.
“And if you’re passionate about what you do, it will carry you through thick and thin.”
Links mentioned in this episode:
Listen to Debbie’s interview about how to deal with copycats: https://rachelspencer.co.uk/debbie-humphreys-copycats
Find out more about Debbie’s work: https://www.redhoundfordogs.com/
Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/redhoundfordogs/
Join the Redhounders Facebook Community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2912568292301801
Learn more about copying and protecting your business on the Anti Copying in Design Website: https://www.acid.uk.com/
Debbie also recommends the Make it British community: https://makeitbritish.co.uk/