Last year’s lockdowns posed major challenges for business operations in the U.K., but they also proved to be fertile ground for new startups. With Brits collectively spending over £180 million every month on their pets, new entrants to the business world included those in the lucrative pet care sector.
The U.K.’s craft beer scene is booming, and that’s good news for beer aficionados and their dogs, with the launch of Brewski’s Biscuits, a new dog biscuit company that uses spent grain from craft breweries to make the biscuits.
It started as a fun way of keeping Clare Douglas and her three young children occupied during lockdown. When her husband James Douglas, cofounder of restaurant chain Reds True Barbecue and craft brewery Legitimate Industries, brought home some of the spent grain from the brewery, they used it to make biscuits for the family’s English bulldog Madge.
The former company director’s career had been on hold for 10 years while she raised her family, but she had been searching for a viable idea that would get her back into the world of business. Unwittingly, she had found it.
“The biscuits looked great, home-made, artisan, and packaged in 440ml beer cans, and I had the idea of selling them at craft beer fairs,” says Douglas. “Using a waste product to create tasty treats for dogs also gave the product sustainable credentials.”
Then her marketing instincts kicked in and Douglas realized that collaborating with craft breweries would provide access to a much larger customer base. She ran her idea by James, who mentioned it to one of his contacts at multinational brewery and pub chain BrewDog. “The next thing we knew, they’d agreed to collaborate on our first products, which was a dream come true,” she says.
However, the sudden and unexpected change in fortunes brought its challenges; the BrewDog order was for three tons of biscuits, to be fulfilled by the end of the month. The limitations of their home-based production line meant they had to find a manufacturer and scale up the production of Brewski’s Biscuits very quickly, at a cost of around £20,000.
“My idea had been to create something quirky and eye-catching,” says Douglas. “To get to this stage so soon, with a strong brand, great packaging, a very large first order, and growing interest from several other breweries, is very exciting!”
When Nadia Leguel struggled to find places that would allow her to take her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Lola with her, she took matters into her own hands and launched WagIt, an online booking platform for finding dog-friendly services and venues, including pubs and restaurants, vets, and grooming parlors.
She says: “WagIt is about more than just finding dog-friendly bars and restaurants. Dogs, just like people, have medical treatments to get to, and the nearest vet can often seem quite a long way away.”
The business, which cost around £10,000 to launch, recently partnered with taxi firm Addison Lee, after the company had recognized that there was a demand for pet-friendly taxi services, but couldn’t find a way of marketing directly to dog owners.
In spite of London’s public transport system being reasonably dog-friendly, it’s well known across the capital that Uber doesn’t always allow canines in their cabs, while buses can refuse boarding to passengers with dogs, and black cabs are difficult to pre-book.
“One Christmas an Uber driver just drove off when they saw Lola,” says Leguel. “After that, I was always stressed when I ordered a taxi, so I wanted to partner with a company that understands that we don’t want to leave our dogs behind. Lots of people in the city don’t have cars, so to be able to help fellow dog owners get from A to B in a stress-free and safe way is a huge win for me.”
Living by the sea sounds like a dream for most dog owners, but it can have its downsides, as Nicola Wordsworth discovered. She says: “Bertie, my Tibetan Terrier is a beach bum who spends hours up to his ears in seaweed and sand every day. He’s always finding something stinky to roll in, and as a breed with lots of hair it can take some looking after.”
The graphic designer and studio manager had always struggled to find a shampoo that didn’t dry out the coat of her non-molt pup, so she developed her own and launched Pup Suds, an artisan, vegan, natural dog product brand.
“My cupboards were full of different shampoos and coat conditioners that hadn’t delivered the promise on the packaging,” says Wordsworth. “They worked for dogs with fur, but not Tibetan Terriers that have hair.”
During lockdown she started researching the manufacture of eco-friendly options and developed her first ‘eco-meets-luxe’ product, a natural shampoo bar with oils and butters that would soak into the dog’s coat.
Launched in November 2020, Wordsworth invested around £3,000 to start the business, which went on to develop five shampoo bars, a coat oil, benchmarked against the leading coat oil used by the Tibetan Terrier showing and breeding world, and a nose and paw balm. The products are made by hand at her home in Minnis Bay on the Kent coast.
Wordsworth has also ventured into the dog toy sphere. “Too many toys are plastic and poorly made, with no thought for the environment, so I set about creating toys that were eco-friendly and not easily destructible,” she says. “The result was Pup Tugs, washable, biodegradable, recycled and recyclable, compostable, fun, beneficial and not easily destroyed.”