Product idea #8: Butch & Bess
After a rocky beginning with an unsuccessful appearance on Dragons’ Den and IP issues, the dog grooming business shares the “incredible journey” of year one of business…
Founders: Jo Amit and Mark Hirschel
Date launched: November 2013
The product: Natural (and fragrant) human-grade quality products for pets
With pet grooming products that smell as good as men’s aftershave and women’s perfume but are made from all natural ingredients with the animal’s welfare in mind, Butch and Bess is ready to take a slice of the lucrative pet market with its innovative new brand.
The business, which was launched by former pet food franchise owner Mark Hirschel and colleague Jo Amit, came about after repeated consumer requests for natural shampoos and sprays – and one expensive trip to the vet.
The animal loving founders, who between them have two dogs, two cats and a bearded dragon lizard, wanted to create a start-up that would make a difference to animals’ lives – both contribute regular blogs on animal welfare – and the young business also supports both UK and global animal charities.
Despite a somewhat rocky start – facing challenges with competition in a dense market, protecting their brand and product IP, and a failed appearance on Dragons’ Den – things are now looking up for the dog grooming start-up, with an angel investor (who spotted them on the show) potentially on board and a US and wider product range launch scheduled for 2015.
Here, co-founder Amit discusses the importance of trade shows and why with her background in marketing and Hirschel’s in business development, they make the perfect start-up team…
Can you briefly describe yours and Mark’s backgrounds?
My background is in marketing and branding having worked in Israel and the UK and Mark’s is in business development and operations.
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Prior to Butch & Bess he owned a pet food franchise and I was working for him. He is great with numbers and negotiations, and I am the wordy marketeer so we make a good team!
Where did the idea for Butch & Bess come from?
Whilst running the franchise we were often asked by customers if we stocked natural shampoos and grooming sprays, which we didn’t. My own dog would often come back from the groomer itching as a result of being shampooed and sprayed with products that contained alcohol and harsh chemicals that on one occasion led to an expensive vet visit! We decided to look into creating a unique grooming range that would contain natural ingredients, be kind to an animal’s skin and affordable.
It was important to us that our brand would have a strong identity, and be colourful, quirky and offer pet owners and groomers quality without being exorbitantly priced. Plus as animal lovers our products have been genuinely created with love and the animal’s welfare in mind.
Our fragrances are our own unique formulations and have been produced in the UK using complex blends of essential oils to give each of our nine signature scents its own personality – our Butch eather fragrance contains cedarwood and vetiver and smells as good as a man’s cologne.
Our products stand out in the crowd, especially our Stinker Belle range which featured on ITV’s This Morning on the first day of Crufts, and we are working hard to get noticed in a very competitive market!
What market research did you conduct to learn more about the dog grooming sector?
We attend around 10 trade shows a year and we use these events to speak to our existing customers and visitors about our ranges and new products.
Before launching Butch & Bess, we spoke to various groomers, pet owners and online stores, many of whom expressed an excitement at what we were trying to achieve, and who welcomed a new product in the market. The pet industry is booming, and we can see that new pet companies, especially online businesses, are sprouting up weekly!
What have you done to protect the IP of your products?
The question of IP is very pertinent to us at the moment, and protecting your brand is tantamount to the success of a business. We have worked extremely hard this past year to launch our product range, and we did not realise how important this was until now.
We are in fact rebranding in January and this time around using a good trademark lawyer to make sure we do things right.
How did you finance Butch & Bess?
So far everything has been self-funded. We agreed to put a certain amount into the business that we felt we could handle with the idea that later on, if necessary, we would look for additional funding.
We made a brief appearance on Dragons’ Den in the summer, and although we didn’t walk away with Den investment, we did manage to get noticed by another investor and are now close to agreeing a deal which will help us push into the North American market among other things.
Describe your business journey to date, from having the idea for your product to bringing them to the market.
Being just the two of us in the business allows things to move along swiftly. From making the decision to create a natural grooming products brand to having physical stock in our warehouse took around three months. We worked with a few different designers to come up with our name and logo, and used our network to put us in touch with reputable people to handle packaging, formulations, and warehousing.
There were challenges with pricing and packaging, but overall the biggest challenge was introducing a new brand in an already crowded market. We have definitely made some mistakes along the way and the rebrand we are going through will sort out some of these issues.
How did you find your manufacturer?
We got introduced to our manufacturer through the company that produces our essential oil blends. When you first start out it helps to lean on your connections as much as possible. Get introductions to people they know. You can always change things around later when you know more, but in the beginning we were able to move quickly because of these sorts of introductions.
How do you distribute Butch & Bess products – is it exclusively online or is it currently stocked elsewhere?
We sell our products through multiple distribution channels:.We have an e-commerce site and we sell to retailers, wholesalers, and professional groomers. We attend trade shows (Interzoo every other year in Germany to attract overseas distributors) and PATS Sandown and Harrogate (March and September respectively).
We also offer white labelling and bespoke services to retailers. We create sales through advertising in pet trade magazines and do our own in-house marketing. We employ a small PR agency and also attract new customers through social media channels.
Do you have plans to take Butch & Bess overseas?
Our products can already be found in several European countries and in 2015 we plan to launch our new brand in the US through our North America partner. Over time we will invest more in Europe and other parts of the world.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering launching their own dog grooming product business?
Listen to what people want, not what you want to create! Surround yourself with good people you can trust.
And if some facets of the business fail, put your ego aside, take a giant step back, and start building the blocks again. It you’ve created a formula that works and is respected in your industry, it will be worth it.
What are Butch & Bess’ future plans?
New brand, products and markets. Year one has been an incredible journey and we are now very fortunate to have the right people backing and believing in us.