Would you love to know what it’s like to go from being a successful pet service provider to launching a product business?
And having a lightbulb moment while watching TV then turning your idea into a hugely successful brand?
Karen Rhodes, founder of Luxury Dog Hampers, did exactly this back in the summer of 2019.
At the time, she was running Suffolk Pet Services, a dog walking and boarding business, but she wanted to spend more time with her senior dog Bailey.
So after having the idea to start Fortnum and Mason for pets, she ran with it and started a hamper business.
In this In The Spotlight episode Karen shares how she built her new business up, landed features in top publications like GQ and the Times and the impact it’s had.
You can listen in on the player link below or continue to read the key topics covered as a blog post.
Hi Karen can you tell me about your background?
Yes, I’m the founder of Luxury Dog Hampers and I started in the pet industry as a dog walker in 2014.
I’d just finished working as a foster carer and I wanted to spend more time at home with my dog Bailey, and have time outdoors.
But when Bailey grew older, he wasn’t as active and couldn’t come out on the walks. So I wanted to find a way of having a business but having time at home with him.
Can you tell me how your lightbulb moment happened?
I was watching a programme about Fortnum and Mason, sitting on the sofa with Bailey, and I thought, ‘Is there one for dogs?’
I Googled Luxury Dog Hampers and found there wasn’t, so I decided to make them myself, bought the domain name and built a website.
How did it all come together?
Well I started with about £150, I didn’t do any research, but I decided what I wanted them to be, which was a mix of eco friendly toys and healthy treats, in a nice hamper.
I got the hampers from Amazon and treats and toys from various places and started selling them on Facebook. It was all really random.
I had a DIY website, nothing like the one I have today, and people loved them.
They loved the backstory about me wanting to make the business a success because I could be with Bailey, that he was the tester, and I’d share videos of him enjoying the treats.
How did you go about getting your story out there?
I had a Christmas gift guide feature in Dogs Monthly, and I worked with you on the first round of your publicity programme, which meant I had a lot of local coverage.
I’ve focused on publicity since the beginning and have been in Your Dog, Dogs Monthly, The Sun, the Mirror, Metro, The Times, Mail on Sunday, Sunday Express, World of Interiors.
What I’m most proud of actually is GQ magazine, because they approached me after seeing all the coverage, and I’ve really enjoyed doing radio too.
How does press coverage impact on on sales and traffic to your website?
If you look at Google Analytics, I can actually see people clicking through to my hampers from GQ and other websites and the links are there forever.
As well as sales, I receive lots of emails from people that have seen it. I think the more you’re in the press as well, the more sort of prestigious your brand is, and the more like to get pushed up Google.
And I think if you’re seen everywhere you build trust as well.
You’ve shared personal stories as well haven’t you?
Yes, so people are nosy and they want to know about you, but also wants to know who they’re buying from.
So I always share personal stories. I believe you have to bare all but just getting little snippets of your life is really useful.
I use Twitter quite a lot to find opportunities and journalist requests and I’ve talked about IVF, the Pope saying people who have dogs and not kids are selfish and life with a big dog.
If people are interested, they’ll automatically gravitate towards you, look you up online and potentially become a client.
What it was like during the lockdowns?
I lost Bailey at the start of the first lockdown and that was a struggle, I was devastated, without a dog and could only go out once a day.
My other business had stopped and it was a low point. But I found Bertie, a Border Collie puppy online and having him helped me keep going.
When it came to sales, Luxury Dog Hampers really took off. I think with the fact that the shops closed, it was driving people online.
I had a few challenges with supply chain but I had the pick of the market of people looking for gifts for all the new puppy and dog owners.
Tell us about how you took your business to what it is today?
At the start I had a vision, I wanted an amazing website, lovely images, but I was doing everything myself, taking photos with my phone and writing my own copy.
But once it grew, I was able to have my site made by Rosie at Wuf Design and Rikki Sullivan, the Canine Copywriter helped with my copy.
I chose my brand colours and once the website was more user friendly I saw a 400 per cent increase in traffic which impacted on sales.
I think the brand has come a long way. And I’m really proud of it now.
What are your thoughts are if somebody is thinking is getting in the media worthwhile?
It’s definitely elevated my brand to beyond what I had imagined. People are always able to find you online. And if you’ve got an e commerce business l it’s it’s a no brainer.
And I think when you’re in the press as well, people trust you and they may look you up online as well.
So what’s next for your hamper business?
We have Valentine’s Day coming up soon, so definitely some hampers for the four legged love of your life.
If you had to share any tips with any small business owner for getting press coverage, what would they be?
I would say spend about ten minutes a day on Twitter having a look at #journorequest.
You’ll find a whole list of people of journalists wanting to talk to you. And they’re not scary they’re just send them a direct message or reply to their tweets.
And you never know you could be in the paper at the same day.
Links mentioned in this episode:
Visit Karen’s website: https://luxurydoghampers.co.uk/
Karen now helps pet businesses with Facebook ads too – learn more on her website: https://www.rhodesmarketing.co.uk/
Read about her in GQ: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/lifestyle/gallery/best-gifts-for-dog-lovers
Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/luxurydoghampers/
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/luxurydoghamper
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read In the spotlight with Sarah Jones from My Anxious Dog or From dapper dogs to Not On The High Street with Sarah Mills from Albies Boutique