Industry Profile Dorwest Herbs

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Industry Profile: Dorwest Herbs
21st June 2017

By Sandra Pearce

Dorwest Herbs has the honour of being the only company with a range of fully licensed herbal veterinary medicines, and last year it moved to bespoke premises in Dorchester. We chat with granddaughter Jo Boughton-White to learn more about the family business

Just after the Second World War, Murray and Dorothy Ellis started a general herbal remedy business with an animal and companion animal range. The award-winning three-generation family business now has tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of customers, is the only company to have a range of fully licensed veterinary medicines and exports to more than 20 countries.


Jo sits with parents Mary and Tony

Granddaughter Jo Boughton-White is managing director of Dorwest Herbs and said that when the 1968 Medicines Act was introduced, the family wanted to get its six core formulations licensed – and succeeded when these were granted in the early 1970s. Mum and dad Mary and Tony Boughton joined the business in the Sixties, and decided to focus on companion animals. Both Mary and Tony are now semi-retired, though Mary still works on the regulations side of things.

Key highlights included 1998 when it set up its own licensed assembly facility to enable total control over its packaging of medicines and other products. Then in 2015, it rebranded all its products. Hot on its heels came a move to new premises in Dorchester in 2016. This site, on Duchy land, houses both the production facility and headquarters in a purpose-built building with ‘great capacity for further expansion’.
 
Apart from the six licensed products – Scullcap & Valerian Tablets for Dogs and Cats, Garlic & Fenugreek Tablets for Dogs and Cats, Mixed Vegetable Tablets for Dogs and Cats, Kelp Seaweed Tablets for Dogs and Cats, Raspberry Leaf Tablets for Dogs and Cats and Garlic Tablets for Dogs and Cats – the company also manufactures 17 supplements, five topical products and 12 homoeopathic remedies. Its medicines are made in a Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) authorised site, with the same scrutiny that applies to human pharmaceuticals.

Just a few supplements…

“Getting licensed status was very difficult,” said Jo, “and we’re glad we did it when we did. It’s even trickier with herbal products because we are talking about natural products rather than synthetic ingredients. But we got our status! Vets like them and recommend them, because they know they are dealing with products that have the same quality and assurance as veterinary medications.”

Quality, quality, quality
The quality and efficacy of the herbal ingredients have to be constant and each batch is tested for pharmaceutical properties, but by their very nature, they are subject to the forces of nature. Extreme weather events can affect crop quantity and quality adversely, increasing the risk factor compared to manufacturers who deal exclusively with synthetic ingredients where successive batches are pretty much guaranteed to be exactly the same. “We have to be prepared for these incidents,” said Jo, “and we also do not have the option of stockpiling as there is a strict shelf-life.”

Cheap herbal products just don’t have the same quality controls and standards. “So people then say herbalism does not work, but it’s the ingredients they use,” she added. “Nowadays people would probably not go down the route of licensing herbals simply because you cannot patent herbals, unlike synthetics.”


Dorwest Herbs has licensed herbal medicines

Whether the product is a licensed veterinary medicine or not, Dorwest Herbs applies the exact same standards during the manufacturing process. Ingredients are tested to make sure they are the correct species (some herb varieties are very similar), to check their efficacy and that they have therapeutic benefits. All ingredients are also tested for contaminants. Everything is audited, tested and subject to a barrage of quality control checks, with official inspections every two years.

Jo said: “We have been in the industry for a long time. We get the best supplies and we have built up relationships; I have dealt with their fathers and they have dealt with mine.”

Top sellers tend to be products that can help the most common chronic complaints, such as skin and coat or joint and mobility conditions. Its licensed Scullcap and Valerian Tablets are also popular to help pets deal with anxiety or stress, such as during the fireworks season.

Owners are now seeing the benefit in giving supplements to their pets to help prevent symptoms and issues from occurring, just as they use supplements themselves. Keepers Mix is its most popular herbal supplement to maintain optimum health for dogs and cats. “People are now looking so much more at diets and super foods,” she said, “we are so much more prophylactic based. People are starting to realise they need to look after themselves better and then therefore their pets as well. People want to give their dogs a natural supplement, and this is a positive step.”


Easy-Green powder can be added to a dog’s meal as a simple way to add three ‘super green’ foods: spinach, parsley and watercress

Omega Star is its latest launch, which provides plant-based omega enrichment for a pet’s skin and coat, and completely sold out at Crufts. “And we brought more than we thought we’d sell,” she said. “People who feed raw diets especially like it.”

When it comes to launching new products, listening to what customers want is key. For example, vets kept asking for a liver product, which led to Milk Thistle for dogs and cats. Sales of this product have ‘grown and grown year on year’.

The company is ‘investigating and researching’ a couple of products. “We always research a new product properly and make sure it’s substantive and will be there for the long term with no issues. We do not tend to jump onto the bandwagon, for example with a new wonder ingredient,” she said.

With so much going on and such volumes being produced, it comes as a surprise to learn Dorwest Herbs has a grand total of just 15 staff!


Blast from the past – the Dorwest Herbs’ stand at Crufts in 1985


Crufts, in more recent times!

This month, the company is launching its skin disorder campaign, Hot Under the Collar. Many dogs suffer cyclical patterns of skin flare-ups in which they end up being treated with steroids. Jo says two of its licensed products, Garlic & Fenugreek Tablets for Dogs and Cats and Mixed Vegetable Tablets for Dogs and Cats, can help with itching, irritated skin. To support the campaign, Dorwest Herbs is offering point of sale material which retailers can pass on to their customers which include leaflets that outline four steps to tackle skin conditions: environment, diet, grooming and, lastly, their veterinary medicines. “The product is mentioned last because we do not want to be seen as pushing our sales. Too often, owners forget about possible triggers such as not washing their pet’s bedding often enough,” she said.

Building relationships
When the company first started, attending dog shows was a key strategy to getting its products into the dog owners’ hands. Today, shows are still a top priority and the team visits more than 30 shows a year, meeting and reaching out to its core customers.

Jo said: “We have a team who is on the road in summer the whole time. We attend 30 championship dog shows, trade shows, vet shows, agility shows and, of course, Crufts. But our customers like to see us and they want to chat to us. And because we do not just employ sales people, we employ fellow dog lovers, that’s why our advice line is so popular – they like to ring up and talk and find out which products are good for them.”


Jo and her husband Ben were invited to meet H.R.H. The Prince of Wales at the new premises in Dorchester, which is on Duchy of Cornwall land. They gave him a selection of Dorwest products for his two jack russell terriers. The Prince of Wales asked about their usage and licences, and commented on the Roast Dinner Toothpaste

Customers send in photos of their dogs all the time, and the team displays these on their Dorwest Dog Wall.

The company also supports a number of charities in different ways. Apart from offering ‘very good discounts’, it also donates products that are short dated, returns or excess stock. Come fireworks season, it supports 20 rescues by donating its Scullcap & Valerian Tablets.

“We do lots and lots throughout the year,” said Jo, who is also taking part in the 100-mile London Prudential Ride, fund-raising for guide dogs.

Interaction is not just face-to-face at shows or over the phone, and Dorwest Herbs has a very active social media profile. She explained: “We engage with social media ourselves. Social media has to have a personal feel, not done by some corporate agency. It should be proactive, reactive, and come from the core of the company.”


Dorwest operates to pharmaceutical standards and a staff member is seen here tablet packing

So images go up of the team at shows, instagram is always busy, and there is an active blog in which guest bloggers put up pieces which can be informative, fun, offer advice, training tips or behaviour. The company also hosts a dog hour on Twitter, ‘Woof Woof Wednesday’.

“We love social media, and our customers love it as they like to connect with us,” said Jo. “It’s all about adding value, building relationships and rapport. Many of our blogs do not mention our products, but contain practical advice and ideas, for example, poo eating or rehoming a rescue.”

The company is also keen to share its social media assets with retailers, who can link to their site or download material. As far as possible, Dorwest Herbs will also attend any Open Days.

Ecommerce is a challenge for the independent, said Jo, but it provides an opportunity to focus on what high street retailers are really good at – customer service.


The Dorwest team on a local Dorset dog walk with their own dogs

“People like to come in and have a chat,” she said. “Nothing replaces good customer service, and the pet shops that are a success are those who have gone the extra mile and given that extra service.”
Dorwest Herbs offers a comprehensive training programme to retailers: Get Trained with Dorwest a 40-question module that trains retailers in its most popular products. Upon completion, retailers are issued with a certificate.

The company supplies POS material and a display unit, leaflets and stickers. “Our range needs that support with literature so that retailers can give them to their customers. We try to support our retailers in anything they do.”

Although it exports to about 20 countries, Jo says they are not actively seeking overseas distributors or stockists as they only serve those who ‘come to us’. “Yes, it’s a market with potential growth, but we are still UK focused and we want to put the UK retailer first.”


Last year, Dorwest Herbs won the Trade Stand of the Year at the Pawscars at Crufts, the dog equivalent of the Oscars