In the spotlight with Jo Milnes from Distinctive Pets

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If you’ve got a pet product business you’ll love this episode with Jo Milnes where she’s sharing the marketing activities that have worked for Distinctive Pets.

Including what goes on behind the scenes of her awareness day, Muddy Dog Day, inspired by her dogs Muppet, Molly and Rosie, which is happening on October 29th.

Jo has three pet businesses, a horse stud, a dog friendly holiday cottage and she set up Distinctive Pets, selling products for pets, pet parents and the home in 2016.

In that time she’s tried all kinds of things, starting with a self built website, then getting her products in front of people at shows.

She’s progressed to a Shopify site, won awards, had tonnes of publicity, used her skills to find three stolen Spaniels, launched a newsletter and a product range for her day.

You’ll learn loads on the reality of growing your business in this straight talking chat with Jo.

Listen in on the player link below or carry on reading the key points covered as a blog post.

Jo, tell us about your business Distinctive Pets

I sell gifts for pets and their owners, both online and at events. It started when my daughter was going off to university.

I’d spent years taking her to horse events and I had quite a lot of time on my hands and I thought, ’I need to do something.’

So I decided to sell pet products at craft fairs. I was trying to find treats you couldn’t find on the high street and also were healthy. 

I’d joined Slimming World to lose weight and it made me realise I didn’t want to feed my dogs a load of rubbish, so I started looking round and it developed into a business.

What kind of things do you sell?

Healthy treats, biscuits, gluten free and natural ones, products for dogs, so things like Ruff and Tumble drying coats and treats and gifts for the pet lover.

Things like mugs, clocks, coasters, cards, at the moment I have Christmas decorations, and we’ve just created a range of tops and hoodies.

When you started with an online business, what was that like for you? 

I think I went into it very naively, I put products on a ecommerce site, I have no idea about search engine optimisation, or anything else. 

I guess I expected people to come to it and I’ve learned an awful lot since then. My initial website was very basic. 

Since then I’ve invested in some really good photography. I’ve also had my website updated by Rosie at Wuf Design and it’s become a much more professional place. 

It was very amateur to start and I didn’t get many sales, but now, it looks the part, the SEO is much better and I’m proud to show it off.

It’s been 12 months since the upgrade, and my sales are probably double they what they were this time last year. The investment has brought the rewards.

Can you tell us about how the in person shows and the online business work together?

Yes, I love the shows, because I get to speak directly to people. You’re able to build rapport with people and make connections.

It’s a lot of work, a lot of energy, but it pays off.

You also meet other pet businesses and make contacts. I’ve found really supportive people I’ve met at shows who have helped hugely with my business.

Just chatting to people is what I love. Recently I had a substantial order from a gentleman I’d met at York Racecourse.

He’d bought some items at the show, then called the next week to order again, and I know it’s because we’d met so it’s really worthwhile. 

What other marketing activities have worked for you? 

I think one of the revelations I’ve had recently is putting out a regular newsletter which helps direct people to social media and the website.

I’ve been putting more of ‘me’ into it and life with my three dogs and getting people to register for it at the shows so it all links together. 

I think people need to know the person behind the business because there’s so many out there doing similar and the newsletter is a way to connect.

I’ve had quite a lot of press coverage as well which leads to social media followers, newsletter subscribers and credibility and those people then have the opportunity to become customers too. 

It’s no one thing but lots of different things that feed into each other, isn’t it?

Yes, definitely, you’ve got to keep leading people to you, your social media, your website.

Every customer at a show gets a business card, which has the links on so again, they can get hold of me through that. 

And I’m not frightened of giving my details to people so that they can either come back and complain or maybe buy again!

Tell us about what’s going to be happening at the end of October?

On October 29th which is a Saturday, we have the second Muddy Dog Day which I created last year inspired by my three, mud loving Labradors.

I wanted people to smile, to share photos of mud covered dogs and for it to make people smile and be happy, because after the last couple of years, we needed that!

It trended on Twitter last year. So I’m going to try and do that again, and we’ve had some press and magazine coverage too. 

How people can get involved?

Use the hashtag #MuddyDogDay and tag me @distinctivepets on any social media channel. I would love for people to post their dogs, share any of the posts and have fun!

We have a competition searching for the UK’s muddiest dog with a fantastic judging panel and a super prize.

Ruff and Tumble have donated some products plus some other really super goodies and they’re all to help clean up after a muddy dog walk.

After the weekend, we’ll pick the muddiest dog and announce it on social media. Last year was absolutely fantastic, loads of people supported the day and hopefully they will again this year.

How does having the day help your business? 

We’ve had press coverage about the day and Alison from House of Henry has created some stunning social media graphics to download which all have Distinctive Pets on so it’s spreading the word about what we do.

We have a Muddy Dog Survival Guide that people can download, which is a guide on what to do with your mucky pup, products that can help with the clean up and this has interactive buttons taking you back to my website. 

Plus there’s two new products we’ve launched for this year, a Muddy Dog Hoodie which says ‘I am owned by a muddy dog!’ And a Muddy Dog survival kit.

Any advice be for pet brands who want to grow their businesses?

I think one of the main things I found is it’s a very lonely place out there. Sometimes you’re not always sure whether you’re doing the right thing. 

It’s helped being in some really good supportive Facebook groups. If you can then afford it, investing in your membership helps, it’s turned the corner for me. 

If you can invest in really good photography, do, don’t use your own pics where you’ve chopped an ear off, and my website, my graphics and the PDFs and things that’s just pulled everything together and moved me on several levels. 

And talk to people, don’t be afraid to ask for help because there will be people with opinions and they may have the right solution that you didn’t even think of?

Want to find out more about Jo?

Learn about Muddy Dog Day: https://distinctivepets.co.uk/pages/muddy-dog-day

Check out the Muddy Dog Clean Up range: https://distinctivepets.co.uk/collections/muddy-dog-products

Follow Jo and Distinctive Pets on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/distinctivepets/

Follow the day on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/muddydogday

Connect on Twitter: https://twitter.com/distinctivepets

Keep in touch on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/distinctivepets/


Enjoyed this episode? You might like In the spotlight with Karen Rhodes from Luxury Dog Hampers, In the spotlight with Sarah Jones from My Anxious Dog or In the spotlight with Niki French from Puptalk.

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