Business Advice finds out how a business rebrand helped ethical pet grooming startup HOWND refine its mission and re-establish itself in the market stronger than ever before.
The UK has always been a nation of pet lovers but the admiration for our dogs, cats, rabbits and even lizards keeps leaping higher and higher.
According to recent figures from Euromonitor, the retail value of UK pet care, both food and products, has risen from around £3.9bn in 2012 to £4.5bn in 2017.
Mark Hirschel, co-founder of dog grooming products firm HOWND, has played his part with annual revenues of £300,000.
Not only boosted by selling natural, cruelty free ranges such as shampoos, body mists and “Yup You Stink!” dog wipes to pet owners more willing than ever to splash the cash on their furry friends but by creating the annual “Bring Your Dog To Work Day” campaign to raise money for charity.
Business Advice went for a walk with Hirschel as he spoke about growing grooming pains, trademark battles, international growth and dirty dog bowls.
Who are you and how did the business get started?
I am Mark Hirschel and I co-founded the company, which at that stage was called Butch & Bess, with Jo Amit in 2013.
I had a range of jobs prior to launch, including ten years in fashion and jewellery and the steel industry. Latterly I took a position as a franchisee of a Swedish pet company where I met and worked with Jo. The business didn’t really work out as the franchise structure was a bit chaotic, but it gave us both a real love of the industry.
Myself and Jo sat down and thought about what products weren’t on the store shelves at that time for pet owners.
We decided to go into the grooming sector because of the treatment my pets used to receive coming back from a groomer itching and scratching! We had a gut instinct that a range of ethical and natural products would do well, and I always find that going with your first instinct works most of the time.
For a year and a half, we created around 20 or so grooming products having used our network contacts to help us with pieces of the puzzle such as finding essential oil companies.
Growth was slow, but we built up customers such as wholesalers, dog groomers and small independent retailers. We were happy with the progress.
And then you were hit with a trademark battle?
That’s right. We had spent a lot of time building up our brand and business, but we hadn’t realised that there was another UK company with a very similar name and logo to ours in the marketplace! They took exception and soon we were in a legal dispute with them about it.
Our lawyer told us that it was best not to fight the other company and so we had to rebrand. It was a disruptive period, affected our revenues and took a lot of time for us to get going again.
We came up with the name HOWND because everyone understands it and we put in the “W” so we could trademark it and protect it. The rebrand was the best move we ever made.
We had felt Butch & Bess was a very cottagey brand, too cutesy and we worried that we had also made the wrong decisions regarding its price point and even its packaging. We would probably have had to rebrand it anyway even without the trademark challenge.
How much did you change in the business rebrand?
We bettered the formula for our product range, changed the shape of the bottles, the labels and spent more time on market research. We wanted the customer to immediately realise what our product was on the shelf and that it was natural and ethical. We took the confusion away.
We also felt that HOWND might be too masculine a name for our female buyers, so we softened the packing design with pastel colours.
We knew the head of innovation at pet retailer Pets at Home at the time and we got her feedback as we developed the new range. When we launched, because she knew so much about it and felt it was the new premium offering they needed we went straight into 400 stores. We didn’t even have to pitch or have a store trial. Luck was on our side then.
Who are your customers?
It is mainly retailers such as Pets at Home and Ocado and professional dog groomers. We also export using a mix of direct sales and distributors to 13 countries and regions such as Scandinavia. We see further international expansion ahead as there is a real buzz around our brands.
The humanisation trend, where owners see pets as one of the family, is growing. People are trading up to us from cheaper brands because they want the quality to ensure their pets are getting the best treatment. It means that innovation and customer education is very important.
What are the future plans for HOWND?
We want HOWND to be all things dog, so we are looking at new products in health, wellness and hygiene. We are about to launch a 100 per cent anti-microbial and bacterial bowl using a silver ion solution within the bowl’s moulding. We are doing this because the dog bowl is one of the top four most bacteria filled places in your home. Next up could be anti-microbial toys. We are also looking at using hemp a lot more in food supplements and treats.
To finance this, we are aiming to raise £450,000 through private investors and also run a separate crowdfunding campaign.
What one piece of advice would you give to other startup brands?
Be passionate and keep on driving forward. We could have walked away many times in the last five years, but you need to keep on bouncing back.
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