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Industry Profile: Scruffs
9th July 2014

By Sandra Pearce



Premier league

Within spitting distance of Old Trafford is the home of pet bedding specialists Scruffs. Sandra Pearce visits to learn more about the brand and where it is going

Scruffs groups sales director Dubby Klyne is a keen Manchester United fan. A very keen Man U fan. Not only does he have season tickets, when the family business was looking for a new site for its warehouse and headquarters and an option came up in Old Trafford…well, let’s say it was a done deal. All 13 acres – including 300,000sq ft of warehousing and 40,000sq ft of office space – of it. And you do need this much space (plus another four sites!) when the family business has several brands.
 
Klyne & Klyne was founded over 30 years ago by Dubby’s parents Risa and Sammy Klyne, who originally traded from a market stall in Manchester but soon moved into wholesaling. Today, among other things, the family holds a licence for DIY household name Stanley Black & Decker Inc, manufacturing and distributing sealants, adhesives, fillers and tapes to more than 100 countries; and has a two-year-old, award-winning baby products business CuddleCo, which exports to 15 countries. Last year, all its companies including pet bedding and accessories brand Scruffs came under the umbrella of holding company The Klyne Group, which was followed this year by its move to its Old Trafford location. 

So how did the transition to pets from DIY come about? Dubby, who moved over from the DIY side to establish Scruffs in 2005, explained the pet concept was a natural fit for their existing customers, which included a core group of garden centres and DIY retailers. “Certain products have to be sold by
specialists, such as pet food,” he said, “but our products, though a specialist accessory, can be sold by a variety of retailers.



“Before we launched, there was not a brand-led and design-led premium dog bed. Eight years ago, the choice was limited to either a budget bed or high-end premium boutique bed. Our aim was a design and quality-led bed at a price point affordable by 95% of owners.”

The inspiration was therefore two-pronged: to launch a quality, affordable bed, but also one that owners would not be ashamed of keeping in the living room or dining room when visitors came calling. “The bed has to sit there alongside an £800 sofa and look at home – there has to be a fashion element,” he said.

The brand has grown so quickly that it is now exported to 45 countries and has its own team of designers, warehousing, sales and marketing staff. Its products are stored mostly at Old Trafford but also in Wiltshire to service the south-west of the country.



Game plan
The strategy underlying Scruffs’s continuing success (it has sold six million dog beds worldwide so far) sounds so simple: “It’s all about innovation and functionality, and staying ahead,” he says. “We are about finding the problem that everyone has, finding the solution, but making it stylish.”

As examples, he says Scruffs brought the first self-heating thermal bed to market; it was a pioneer in the boot bed category; and this year at Germany’s Interzoo and PATS Harrogate, launched a new anti-odour, anti-bacterial pet bed, the inspiration of which came from one of Scruffs’s designers who has a ‘slightly whiffy’ dog. The technology behind this launch, says Dubby, has only recently been applied to pet accessories.



The company is also proud of its Eco range, made entirely from recycled plastic bottles, yet is so super soft you’d think it came from the fluffiest, softest wool. The future is in eco-friendly products, but at the moment he thinks it’s being held back because ‘a lot of the time, a premium is being charged’. People want to buy into the eco message, he says, but they don’t want to pay a premium. And sometimes there is the perception that eco products are of inferior quality. “We work hard to make our eco products as good as, if not better quality, than our normal range.”

The company has, for instance, recently launched an Eco accessories range with feeding bowls, grooming equipment and dog toys. Not only is the bowl made from environmentally-friendly, sustainably-sourced bamboo, it also has anti-gorge properties, adding to its functionality. He explains: “Sure it would have been cheaper to launch just as a bamboo product, but we made it anti-gorge so it had two usps. That’s the difference between building a brand and launching a product.”



The brand’s strongest seller is its Hilton Memory Foam range; further launches into dog and its cat brand Tramps were made at Interzoo. Yes, memory foam has been around for some time, its benefits making it a perfect fit for working dogs and older dogs or those with joint or mobility issues. But in the early days, he said, pet products on offer were either very expensive or comprised 80% foam and then a memory foam topper. Scruffs came up with a bed made of 100% memory foam, and with a price under the £50 mark – average price of such beds then was over £100.

Pricing is so affordable because its products are made in the Far East and the family group is able to ‘leverage sourcing power’ thanks to its being fairly global, says Dubby. The key, he says, is to never charge a premium for a product’s usp – Scruffs beds are priced according to size, not function.

New products can take up to three years before they make it to market. Apart from the functionality factor, fashion is a critical consideration, so it is not surprising to learn that approximately 40% of the Scruffs range changes each year to reflect fashion trends in the home and lifestyle sector. “A little while ago, everything was duck egg blue and chocolate,” he recalls. With knowledge that this trend would hit the pet market soon, Scruffs had 15-20 beds in this colour combination. “If you are perceived of as a lifestyle brand, you have to remain current,” he explains.

Scruffs also likes to play with textures and materials, so there is always something new for
consumers to try. “If you can get the wow factor on every bed you do, you have achieved your purpose,” he said. Needless to say, there are a number of new launches planned for the year, and even more ideas kicking about in various stages of development: “All shall be revealed in good time…I’ve always wanted to say that!” he says with a laugh.



Inspiration comes from all corners, and apart from its designers and buyers (all of whom have dogs or cats), it is essential to keep communicating with pet owners. Which is why Crufts is so important to the team at Scruffs, and is the one show that is permanently marked in their diaries. It’s the one chance the team has to really talk to its customers and find out what they like, or don’t like, about their products. “It’s about interacting with the end user rather than the trade buyer,” he says.

Which is why social media is so invaluable as Facebook and Twitter give consumers a voice and the chance to be heard. If you have a good product and brand, you could not ask for anything better, he feels – social media gives manufacturers the perfect opportunity to build and develop their brand. “One of my favourite things about social media is when users post pictures of their dogs in our beds,” he said.

Scruffs has an enviable return rate of one in 7,860 – its record year was just one in 9,500, and the team is aiming for one in 10,000. The two main reasons for returns? A dog rips the old apart (maybe it wanted a new bed?) or there is urine damage – neither of which can be classed as a manufacturing fault. “We always replace the bed if there is even a hint of manufacturing fault; that’s our promise,” says Dubby.

On the ball
Scruffs is distributed to about 1,800 retailers in the UK, of which about three-quarters are pet shops and garden centres, but this figure does not include the retail outlets. The product is also actively marketed in the export sector, with strong growth being witnessed in the Asia-Pacific region, notably Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and China. International shows are firmly on the agenda and Scruffs makes an appearance at major pet trade shows such as Germany’s Interzoo, China’s CIPS, Italy’s Zoomark and North America’s Global Pet Expo. There are even plans to open a hub in Europe at some point, and the company is keeping a keen eye on China, which Dubby thinks in a couple of years will be its biggest market. “We have been approached by a number of people in China, they like our product,” he says.

The team is constantly evaluating its product portfolio and identifying what works best and what can be improved, and a little while ago the decision was made to discontinue its licensed lines including Wallace and Gromit and to instead work with dedicated partners, which at the moment are The Kennel Club and Crufts.

“The problem with licensing is that it adds cost to a brand, but not value,” said Dubby. “But working with organisations like The Kennel Club and Crufts can add value rather than just cost,” he said, explaining for instance how The Kennel Club can provide sizing and demographic information that can help grow the brand.



Although Scruffs does offer online sales, the products are always listed at full RRP as ‘we do not compete with retailers’, he stresses. The company is also protective of the independent trade, he says, and recently had a cull of its retailers, cutting out the so-called bedroom sellers. Scruffs is now sold only through small wholesalers or direct to the trade, as this affords more control over its route to market.

The cull cost almost £¾ million worth of sales, and resulted in a lot of angry correspondence, but it was the right thing to do, he says. “These retailers, they do not provide a service and because they have no overheads, can sell for £1 profit. Genuine retailers have overheads and support us, and I want to protect the retailers who stock my product and protect our brand.

“We have to be conscious about what our brand is about, and our message to retailer partners. Our message has always been that if you buy from us, we will support you.”

For that same reason, the company will not work with drop shippers.

“A brand is all about trust,” he says, “it’s that you can be relied on. That’s why we will never produce a product with sub-£10 RRP as we cannot guarantee that it will match up to our customers’ expectations.”