Industry Profile Sureflap

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Industry Profile: SureFlap
11th July 2016

By Sandra Pearce

SureFlap is known for its microchip cat flaps and pet doors and has recently moved into the pet feeder category, but at Interzoo this month, it will be revealing a new chapter in its history


“Change is the only constant” – SureFlap founder Nick Hill

The SureFlap team is counting down the days to this month’s Interzoo trade show in Germany, where it will be exhibiting its recently launched SureFeed Sealed Pet Bowl to an international audience.

The bowl is SureFlap’s first non-microchip operated product and features a motion-activated lid that opens when a pet approaches to reveal the food. The lid then closes on to the sealed bowl when the pet moves away. Crucially, this integrated seal keeps food fresher for longer, and prevents wet food from drying out – think about it, would you want to eat a dried-out stew? It also reduces odours in the home and in summer, does away with the problem of flies.

SureFlap’s flagship product is its microchip-operated cat flap that reads a cat’s microchip, preventing other animals from entering a home. It was launched to market in 2008, and since then, well over half a million have been sold worldwide. A larger size soon followed and the DualScan version, and then two years ago, the company brought out the first smart pet feeder, SureFeed, which like its sister products only opens for a selected pet’s microchip or RFID collar tag. The bowl has been the cure for the headache faced by many multi-pet households where one pet is on a prescription diet but not another or when dealing with weight management issues – or even in cases where the family dog prefers the cat’s food!

Moving from cat flaps and pet doors to feeders was a big shift for the company, said marketing manager Judith Bank, but response to the microchip feeder was extremely enthusiastic. “It was a great success,” she said, “but even before that was launched, we knew wanted to launch this sealed bowl.”

SureFlap is offering retailers in-store demonstration kits to place at the checkout. The bowl can be filled with complimentary SureFeed-branded sweets to entice customers to help themselves and see it in action. The kit contains the Sealed Pet Bowl, a display stand with leaflet holder, 50 leaflets and 500g of sweets. It is on offer to retailers who place an initial order for four or more bowls – some retailers have placed these with great success by their tills, said Judith.


SureFlap products on parade

The feeders come with a grey bowl but blue, pink and green colours are available, all sold separately. There will also be a new stainless steel version shown for the first time at Interzoo. “People like having something a bit more fun and colourful, or to tell different feed bowls apart,” she said.

Connecting the dots
Cambridge scientist Dr Nick Hill, who has a PhD in quantum physics, is founder and managing director of SureFlap, and said these feeding bowls demonstrated the company’s evolution. And now it is entering the age of Internet-connected products. “This will be the forefront of pet care,” he said. “It’s about adding connectivity to products and adding a smartphone. This is the future of product development.”

He explained it’s about providing best practice pet care when an owner is not at home, or to effectively monitor what is currently being done with a pet, such as whether one is walking a dog enough, feeding sufficient amounts or controlling food intake in the case of obesity. “It’s the confidence that your pets are fine and that you are fulfilling your responsibility towards pet care according to best practice,” he added. “We see this as the future for the company.”

SureFlap will be launching its brand new Internet-connected pet door at Interzoo. This will send an alert to a smartphone when a pet comes through the flap, so owners can keep tabs on a pet’s coming and going. Owners can also remotely lock or unlock the door if they are not in the house.

Internet connectivity has become a key strategy for the company, and it is this technology that SureFlap is exploring and developing. He added: “This will be expanded to our feeders, when owners can control and monitor these remotely.”

There are also other avenues to explore along similar lines. It’s all very exciting, he said. “We see things from different angles, you could say holistically, even though I don’t like this word!”

Monitoring a pet’s activity levels, how much they are eating or drinking all allows owners to build up a unique profile of their pet, and can be an early indicator when things are not as they should be. “It gives us an insight into their state of health, and an alert to early health issues,” said Nick.

In April, SureFlap spearheaded the nation’s largest pet temperature study, the SureSense Study. In partnership with microchip provider Identichip, 1,000 cats and dogs that have Identichip with Bio-Thermo microchips had their temperature monitored several times a day for the month.


SureFlap’s first non-microchip operated product features a motion-activated lid

The aim of the study is to observe the real world changes in a pet’s temperature, matching these with changes in their activity and environment, giving owners a greater understanding and knowledge of their pet’s health and wellbeing. Having a Bio-Thermo microchip means that a profile can be built up of a pet’s typical temperature, which can also indicate typical behaviour patterns and again, if deviations are seen, this could be an early indicator that something is amiss, said Nick.

Shared views
Last June, Allflex – a global leader in the livestock identification industry and livestock intelligence – acquired SureFlap. Allflex and SureFlap both share the same views about how the evolution of microchips, the growing importance and application of Internet connectivity, animal intelligence and monitoring will all overlap. Both also share common goals of a pursuit of excellence and the drive to develop products focused on pet care.

Nick said: “We have worked with Allflex for a number of years and have a good relationship with them, which grew stronger because of our shared views. Our skills, areas of expertise and product plans are complementary so we’re a perfect fit.”

The SureSense study in fact builds on the work Allflex has done on temperature-sensing microchips. “It’s like crowd sourcing animal data,” reflects Nick.


The future will be all about Internet connectivity

Growth at SureFlap has always been organic – over the last five years, it’s been around the 35% mark. He said: “If anything less than that, we would be disappointed.” With investment from Allflex, SureFlap has been able to expand and has taken on seven new staff members, bringing the total to 45. The acquisition has also meant SureFlap has access to products currently being used in the veterinary and agricultural sectors, and can apply them to companion animals and the consumer market. “We now have more resources and more ability. At the most basic, we do not have to wait a year to build up reserves before starting a new project,” he said. “It’s really quite liberating.”

SureFlap exports its products around the world, with 40% of turnover going to mainland Europe, in which Germany is the biggest consumer. Then there’s Australia, New Zealand and the USA. America presents a slightly different picture because Americans tend to keep their cats indoors, but the microchip feeder is getting a strong response. Next month, SureFlap will be trialling its feeders in 25 PetSmart stores, and if uptake is good, the microchip and sealed feeders could be rolled out to its chain of more than 1,350 stores.

Not just 9 to 5
Based in Dry Drayton, SureFlap has the benefits of being Cambridge based but without the traffic jams. There is also a distinct company culture. “We are a company of animal lovers and have a pretty similar mindset,” said Nick. Which roughly translated means everyone works hard and plays hard. “We do quite a bit as a company; it’s nice that people like to spend time with each other,” he added.

The annual summer BBQ, for instance, has become quite the event. Held in his garden, the fire pit is lit and guitars appear, and many pitch tents to spend the night. This BBQ gives the extended SureFlap family a chance to meet and natter into the small hours of the morning.


The SureFeed products only open for a selected pet’s microchip or RFID collar

Every Thursday, everyone shares in a catered lunch, which is then followed by a weekly meeting. “It’s part of the DNA of the company. It brings everybody together, to get to know others in the company, and the meeting afterwards gives each department a chance to tell the others about what they are doing. In this way, we are always on top of communication, and everyone knows what’s going on. It’s the context, it’s giving people a sense of the whole company, whether engineers, marketing, sales and customer service. It’s a tiny overhead for great benefit,” said Nick.

His team is adaptable and flexible. “A lot of companies can be resistant to change, but we have had change every single year,” he said. “You can start out with a plan and halfway along, it changes completely and you find yourself on another path. But this is normal to us and we grab new opportunities with both hands.

“The culture we have here is very special and needs to be nurtured. And as we grow the business, we need to keep the focus of the business on our company culture. It’s all change in a positive way, and it’s about managing that process.”

He added: “When I was started in a spare room at home, creating the first cat flap, I was in my element. I love the creation of a product, but I also love the creation of the company. I like things having an evolution. Change is the only constant.”