News Industry Profile Antos



Industry Profile: Antos
13th April 2016

By Sandra Pearce

Antos may have started selling its dog treats and chews from the back of a small yellow van, but it now has thousands of satisfied customers across the UK. Co-owner Antoon Murphy talks about the early days, and where the company is going

Antos sells 10,000 antler pieces each week, all year round. “Yes, it’s a lot,” says co-founder Antoon Murphy. “We cut, clean and process the antlers in our warehouse, and have three full-timers working on it all year round, and three temporary workers at peak times. Antlers are seasonal, so we have to buy enough to last the whole year round,” he added.

Antos uses antlers from Red and Fallow deer, and removes all sharp points to make them safe. He admits that the first time a customer asked for antlers, he had no clue what they were talking about. After a few requests, he started looking into it and decided to give it a try.

It’s all about spotting trends and serving new demand, he says. “I’d like to think that we are one of the companies in the market who sets them, too,” he added.

Antos started as a university project in 2004 – Antoon’s then girlfriend needed to start a business as part of her course, and Antoon suggested importing dog snacks from his uncle’s business, the Netherlands-based Antos B.V. Then a trainee solicitor, Antoon roped in his good friend Lloyd Murdoch, and they decided to stick with the name Antos, though the two companies are independent of each other.
Antoon remembers trying to place their very first order, which came to about £200-300. “My uncle said ‘Is this for your own dog?’, which was quite funny. He then said ‘Go back to the drawing board and try a larger order!’ So we did and ended up ordering a container load, which we sold before we had to pay for it. And we kept ordering container after container.”

When his girlfriend returned to France in 2006, Antoon decided to turn his back on law and commit himself fully to Antos. Lloyd carried on in his part-time role until 2008, when the business was fully viable.

Antoon remembers those early days: “We were going around pet shops, and showing samples of our products to shop owners from the back of a car or small yellow van, similar to Del Boy! Slowly we moved further and further afield. We started with a small range of about 15 products.”

Their strategy was also to attend as many consumer dog shows as possible, to get dog owners asking their retailers for the product. “I was working on the business during the day and when I got home at night, and then weekends at shows. It was not sustainable,” said Antoon. “But I never felt working on the business was a chore; it was always enjoyable. I never woke up feeling I wish I did not have to go to work today. I saw that the business was growing and the hard work we had put into it, and we saw the results at that end.”

The product range was also growing, and the partners were delighted when customers who took ‘tiny orders’ were now placing ‘good, regular orders’. Antos now sells across the entire UK, into the Channel Islands and Ireland, and also does some exports, to countries including South Africa and Belize.

The company’s rate of growth has been impressive. In its first year, Antos saw a turnover of £100,000. By its fifth year, it attained the million-pound mark, and now in its 11th year, it expects to hit three million pounds, up £400,000 from the previous year.

Antos carries around 150 or so products, which are housed in a 10,000sq ft warehouse, and there is literally something for every dog owner, said Antoon. “We have the most comprehensive range of dog snacks.”

A small selection of Cerea vegetable-based dog snacks made its way to Scotland in that first container all those years ago, and today, the wheat-free Cerea range has grown and is a top seller. It includes the novelty-shaped frog and hedgehog shapes, toothbrushes, Eurostar and flat strips. The low-fat Cerea was the only product of its kind back then, he said, though now has its fair share of competition.

The range is now made in-house in the Netherlands, and Antos B.V has extended its production facilities to include a drying facility for smoked bones and other natural products.

Antoon says they also sell a lot of Mini Bones and training treats. These have been designed to hold a dog’s attention and have a strong scent – they sell particularly well at Crufts!

The low-fat, high-protein D’light range is growing in popularity, and comprises chicken and fish (made from fish skin) varieties. These come in 100g re-sealable bags to keep the product fresher for longer.
For owners who like the natural route, there are pig, bull and cow ears, tripe, bull pizzles, bones, hooves, chicken feet and necks, and sausages.

Products are sourced as much as possible from the UK, like its gourmet sausage range, of which sales have really picked up over the last year or so. “It’s been quite nice to see that side of the business grow; it’s going quite well,” he said.

Growth has always been financed from within, he added. “Most of our profits have been reinvested in the business, and we’ve been lucky enough that we’ve managed to avoid taking on debt to finance growth. We’ve grown at a rate that we are comfortable with, and this has allowed us to retain 100% of the company.”

Only about half its product range now comes from the Netherlands, as the partners now source from other suppliers (antlers as an example). But having this link certainly makes sense, he said, especially when it comes to buying power or on the occasions that they want to trial something new. They can then simply order in a pallet or two, and not have to commit to a huge initial order. “It gives us a chance to test the market and see what could work.”

Trade and consumer shows still remain a priority, though attendance at consumer shows is now down to the annual Crufts. He said: “It’s good going to Crufts to meet the public face to face; it’s the only time we really get feedback or suggestions for new products. Then if we think a product can work, we will source it and give it a try. It’s about gauging the market and seeing what the trends are.”

As a bonus, Antos gets a lot of trade queries at Crufts. “It makes it well worth going,” he added.
Social media keeps interaction up with dog owners, and Antoon’s wife has taken on the Facebook and Twitter side of things. “My wife is a Facebook addict, and she is really into animals,” he said.

Antoon and Lloyd also attend Interzoo, piggy-backing on Antos B.V’s stand. “We make appointments with all our suppliers for the two days that we are there,” he said. The two PATS trade shows are also a must: “Well, it’s where the trade meets twice a year. And there is a social side to it as well!”

Though Antos products are available online, the company does help the independent. He said: “We offer a very low minimum order, good margins, are very flexible in terms of credit, offer a next working day delivery service, special offers and discounts on certain volumes.”

Antoon and Lloyd are also very hands on: “When people call us, they will be speaking to someone who knows what they are talking about. Very often it will be me or Lloyd at end of phone!”

Although over a billion Chinese have ushered in the Year of the Monkey, Antoon and Lloyd have a different animal in mind. “We want to develop the Cerea range. We have taken delivery of new hedgehog and frog shapes, and will be promoting this heavily this year. We have decided that 2016 is to be the Year of the Frog.”

Antos is also looking to grow, solidify and consolidate its position as the number one seller of antlers in the UK.

Yet with so many of its products being imported from Europe, the fluctuating currency rate is a cause for concern. “The pound has dropped quite a lot, and many brokers are saying it’s going to be a challenging year. But you cannot just keep changing your prices. We have to hold the price steady and ride out the highs and lows. However, I am hopeful the UK economy will continue to recover at a faster rate than the Eurozone.”