From dapper dog ties to Not On The High Street with Sarah Mills from Albie’s Boutique

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Sarah Mills started designing cute bow ties for her Cockapoo Albie so he looked sweet when he accompanied her to her art studio.

And when other people remarked on how gorgeous they were it inspired her to start a pet accessory business.

Since starting as a bit of fun back in 2017, Albie’s Boutique has grown and Sarah has created more than 13,000 products for dog lovers.

Now, Sarah has her dream pet brand and her products are featured on Not On The High Street.

She’s created another brand, Oh Mabel, after her second Cockapoo Mabel, and in this episode Sarah talks about the lessons she’s learned growing her ‘accidental’ business.

Listen in on the player link below.

Hi Sarah, tell us about you and your pet business.

I’m the owner and creator of Albie’s Boutique, a luxury pet brand born out of unexpected circumstances.

I used to be a teacher, but the corporate environment was not suitable for my lifelong struggle with anxiety. I knew I needed to make a change so I left.

My husband bought me a dog to help me get out of the house and meet people and do things to get me out of the headspace I’d been in. We named our sweet dog Albie.

I started doing my own artwork again after taking several years off. 

It was the perfect creative outlet for me, one that led me to share a unit in a creative village called FarGo Village. 

My only condition was that I could bring Albie along.

Everyone fell in love with him and I decided to start dressing him up a bit for work with bow ties, ties, and bandanas. 

I began by selling handmade craft items like artwork, jams and chutneys, and clocks and furniture but the dog items were the most popular, so my shop shifted to be more pet-centered.

I reached out to another local business and, together, we decided to attend The National Pet Show. It was a huge hit and shortly after we opened our Etsy store.

Since then, we’ve expanded our business, rebranded, built a website, and been approved to sell on Not On The High Street!

How was your business affected by the pandemic?

In 2020, we attended Crufts then the pandemic hit.

This was a huge turning point. Before, it was just a fun hobby.

We were worried our sales would dry up, but online shopping went through the roof in 2020.

I knew my current hobby mindset wouldn’t keep working. I needed to shift gears.

I started developing new products, pushing my brand on social media, rebranding and establishing my own website – all while sales were continuing to increase.

I was growing like crazy, but I didn’t want to outsource and sacrifice quality. I also knew I wasn’t capable of keeping up with our current demands and still enjoying my life.

So I approached Coventry Uni who offered free business support and with their guidance, I planned our path forward in a way that was manageable for me while still maintaining the integrity of the products we were offering.

What was it like figuring it all out?

I truly think it just evolved naturally. In the beginning, I was like a kid in a sweetie shop. 

Everything was exciting and new and I didn’t have much direction or focus.

That year, I took another free training course on financial fitness for businesses. I realised I needed to stop pedalling along and look at it from a business perspective.

It also required me to look at myself as a businesswoman and not a crazy dog lady making stuff to sell online.

The biggest transition was shifting my luxury items from the Etsy shop to our new website. 

Once that was done, I rebranded our Etsy shop to ‘Oh, Mabel’ a more fun and quirky brand full of items that make people laugh – I didn’t want to give that up!

At the beginning of 2022, I had to put on my big girl pants and pave the path forward. 

2022 was going to be the year – we’d build the website, build the brand, launch a new face to who we are, and get more wholesale customers.

While I certainly had many people in my corner helping me succeed, I was the one with the vision and it was up to me to get where I wanted to go.

Tell us about your products

My primary goal is to make practical accessories for dogs – items I would buy for my own dogs – including collars, leads, bow ties, bandanas, harnesses, and household pet items like feeders and lead hook stations.

I design collections to work well together, so no matter what you choose to buy you can find something else that matches.

We’re a luxury brand so fabric selection is extremely important to me. I use the best quality fabrics I can get that not only look nice but feel nice and last for years.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. I find as much deadstock fabric as I can and we send out everything in recyclable packaging. 

Even our studio was built from reclaimed materials!

What was it like to apply for Not On The High Street?

I originally applied many years ago when I was doing artwork. I remembered their comments, including needing great photography.

By the time I applied again, we had built this amazing website with professional photography that really was like a window into our brand. 

We have a wide range of products, so I did some research on other pet shops on their website and submitted items that had less competition to give us a bit of an advantage. 

I also had years of experience as a seller on Etsy with over 13,000 sales.

Once I was accepted, they wanted us to set up our shopfront on their platform quickly, with exceptional photographs and good product listings. 

Photography was one of the key things they asked for.

They were great to work with and the process went fairly smoothly!

What would your advice be to someone else in the growing stage of their business?

First and foremost, look at what’s most important. For me, it was never about building a multiple-six-figure business. 

It was about being healthy and finding something I truly enjoyed doing.

So truly take a look at why you’re doing what you’re doing. What’s it all about? 

Do you want to be a millionaire? Or do you want to be able to pay your bills and spend the rest of your time travelling?

I’m turning 50 this year. It’s a big year for my husband and me. Lately, people have been telling me I need to scale up, open a big factory, hire more employees, and that’s not what I want to do. 

Stay true to yourself. 

Close your eyes and envision the kind of business and life that you want for yourself. And then follow the path that gets you there.

Do you have any words of wisdom for someone just starting out?

It’s really tough right now. Even some of the biggest businesses in the world are struggling.

In difficult times we can catch ourselves looking at what everyone else is doing and worry we aren’t doing as well.

But comparison is the thief of joy and will fill you with imposter syndrome. 

Take each day one step at a time and know this is for the long haul. Things can change from one moment to the next and each year will be filled with lots of peaks and troughs. 

Put your head down, do the work, and then when you look back at your business over the course of a year, you will see all you’ve accomplished.

Learn more about Albie’s Boutique

Shop Albie’s Boutique Website: https://www.albiesboutique.com/

Like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/albiesboutique

Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/albiesboutique/

Get Inspired on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/albiesboutique/


Enjoyed this episode? You might like to listen to In the spotlight with Sarah Jones from My Anxious Dog, In the spotlight with Jo Milnes from Distinctive Pets or In the spotlight with Debbie Humphreys from Redhound for Dogs.

Find me in my Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/publicitytipsforpetbusinesses

On Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/rachelspenceruk

On Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/rachelspenceruk

On LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelspenceruk/

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