Industry Profile Doodlebone

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Industry Profile: Doodlebone
10th October 2018

By Sandra Pearce

Pet accessories company Doodlebone is experiencing rapid growth and has moved to new premises more than 10 times the size of its first unit. If it has achieved this much in its first four or so years, what will the next five years bring?

 
In four short years, pet accessories brand Doodlebone has moved from a 400sq ft office to new 5,000sq ft premises with a warehouse, and by the end of this financial year, will achieve a turnover of over £1m. At the moment it has 200,000 units in stock, up from around 10,000 three years ago, but this will soon hit the figure of 400,000 pieces. Yet managing director Matthew Gerrard is philosophical about the company’s growth thus far – ‘it’s a good base to build from’.


“How you treat your staff is how your staff will treat your customers” – Matthew

He’s had to recruit a further five staff to boost his seven-strong team, spread across product development and design, sales, accounts, stock and inventory and warehouse. “In order to keep true to what you are, you have to keep investing in people, in the industry and in technology, and that is very important,” he said.

It’s a family business, and his father Andrew has the role of sales and marketing director, leaving Matthew free to focus on the other aspects. “He is absolutely critical to the success of what goes on in the sales team, and with his colleagues has been instrumental in developing the brand positioning,” said Matthew. “His input, communication techniques and work with the sales team is vital. It’s the one thing I do not have to worry about, and I know that our sales team will be trained and nurtured because of the way he does it.
“We have a team who will go above and beyond to deliver for our customers; I have seen our sales team in the warehouse packing an order to make sure it goes out. Yet it’s so easy to forget sometimes. You know that sales happen, but there is a lot that goes on to make that happen, and the team are critical to that success.”


Andrew has been instrumental in developing the brand positioning

Support for retailers
Yes, the accessories sector is crowded, with some very good, long-established manufacturers, but Matthew says he saw a space for Doodlebone because it can offer something different. “Our product quality, that goes without saying, so what’s different? Our level of customer service and the margin we offer to retailers.”

Its customer service ethos cuts right across all aspects of the business, from no minimum orders (retailers can order just one collar), free delivery (on every order) to lifetime returns. He said: “Our customer is essentially at the heart of everything we do, and so we do not have a minimum order quantity. And if you order by 1pm, we send it out for next-day delivery.
“We think it’s the little things that make a big difference, like replacing items. We will replace products straight away, so retailers can give the best service without financial implication. If a pet owner has had a collar for eight months, and the pup has chewed it, and the owner brings it back to the store, will we replace it? Of course we will.
“We’ve thought about every possible scenario to help shops deal with customers who, shall we say, are being unreasonable. But this service helps the retailer and takes the stress out of their day.”
With around 700 retailers on the books, the business tries to offer ‘the best margin in the market’ at 50%. “Look,” said Matthew, “if you sell a standard nylon collar, and if you are only making 15-20% from a £4-5 product, that’s not a lot of cash. So we try to help and 50% margin makes it more worthwhile.”

Doodlebone products are available both direct and via the wholesaler – wholesalers have access to a limited range and colours, the everyday products such as standard collars and standard mesh harnesses.




And though its products are also available via its own website at full RRP, Matthew says they always try and refer owners to a local stockist if available.
While the team suggests strongly that retailers stick to the RRP to maintain their margins, he says it can be frustrating to see bricks-and-mortar retailers with an online ecommerce site slash prices to below RRP.
“Take a standard collar. Is there any benefit for a retailer to sell that product for £2.50? I do not think there is. At the end of the day, all you’re doing is evaporating the retail margin, and that is not going to help anybody make a successful business. There are not many trades left to the independent retailer. For example, electronic and hardware stores used to be all over the place, they used to be on every corner, now you go to the big box – and there are only two of them!
“We’re trying to evolve our business and help pet retailers at the same time. So we do not sell to multiples like The Range or through grocery, because that’s not what we are about.
“We are here for the specialist trade, and especially in this trade, there are a lot of decent people.”


Team has recently moved into new premises

Onwards and upwards
While at university doing business management, Matthew worked during holidays for a private company and watched its business grow from £5m to £30m, and he also sees how his dad has run a successful marketing agency for 25 years. “I have always loved sales, it’s a real art,” he said. “Some people ridicule it, but sales is a real skill and art when done properly. I’ve also been fascinated by business. I’ve always wanted to do something in the pet trade, and like so many people, went the online route with an initial business. After four to five years, I decided to set up Doodlebone as a manufacturer and started with a very small order of one product, the airmesh harness.”

Eighteen months of hard slog followed to gain traction, and Matthew then took on his first sales staff Ben Lockhart, who remains with the business today.



Paramount to everything, however, is his total trust in the brand’s current 19 products (collars, leads, harnesses, an airmesh range and blankets). The eventual aim is to offer a complete range of accessories for dogs, and this winter Doodlebone will offer jackets and fleeces. There are plans for patterned ranges of collars, leads and harnesses as well as limited editions for Halloween, Christmas and Easter. Then there are also toys, bedding and grooming products to consider.

All products are designed inhouse and are ‘very well thought through in terms of design and function’, says Matthew. Product developer Rebecca Connon comes from a body armour background and therefore incorporates factors such as body movement and the tensile strength of fabric into each design. “Our products are different,” he said. “We are looking more closely at pressure points on harnesses and assessing the most ergonomic ways of fitting. All our products have to be attractive in design but serve a good purpose and be ergonomic.”

Absolute attention is paid to the minutest of details, and the best-quality materials are used wherever possible, so zips come from the world’s largest zipper manufacturer, YKK Group, and its upcoming fleeces will be Dupont Teflon-coated for water resistance, while its jackets are made using a high-quality fabric sourced from Japan. He said: “All our products are very high end. We know our products, we know the fabric and material we use. We know the source of every component.
“I can see what my product is. You must be able to stand by the product you make, and during every step of its production cycle.”

Most products are available in 12 or 13 colours, and he and his team monitor fashion trends closely, referring to fashion magazines and even Pinterest. “In some urban areas, for example, a collar is often seen as an accessory to what the owner is wearing. Last year’s green is different from this year’s; this year, it’s brighter and more Granny Smith apple. We’ve also toned down our charcoal because a lighter shade is in fashion. We are able to react very quickly to trends and I can get a new colour from order to shelf in two months.”
Thanks to the number of colours, Doodlebone has a stable of 375 SKUS, but the pace of development and production is so rapid that this is expected to double to more than 700 in the next few months.



Looking ahead
Getting new products to market is just one aspect of his business plan. In the next two years, Matthew would like to get engineering equipment on site to test parameters such as the strength of a fabric.
He is also keen to develop their social media presence. “Social media is all about brand recognition. It’s about generating brand noise, raising awareness and communicating with customers.”
In amongst all these growth plans is the necessity to ‘keep everything running smoothly and oiling the cogs’ and ‘to make sure everything we put into place is as we expect the business culture to be’.
The big challenge is therefore managing growth sustainably and keeping customer service levels where they need to be, and the crux of this is the motivation of staff.


Warehouse has ample room for the larger deliveries due later this year

“How you treat your staff is how your staff will treat customers. If they are fed-up, why will they bother with your customers? If they are there just to pick up their cheque, that’s your responsibility. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as a bad member of staff – it’s a bad employer. You employed this person… did you provide the right training, right tools and right environment?”

Ultimately, you have to make everything work from the ground up, he said.



Matthew reveals he works to five-year business plans and has just started his second. “I monitor this every quarter and review the constituent parts, but I do not rewrite the plan until the end. We are beginning to find our feet, to feel our way through who we are and where we are going, but we are nowhere near the end goal.
“I love this trade; it’s a great trade to be in – there are some really knowledgeable retailers who are incredibly passionate and hard working, and we are trying to support them in the best possible way we can.”