News Industry Profile 2014 Sureflap



Industry Profile 2014: SureFlap
24th March 2014

By Andy Bank

SureFlap’s Andy Bank (pictured right) writes about setting up a company in a recession and how SureFlap has quickly become a global brand

“When Nick Hill first told me about his microchip-operated cat flap he was close to launching, I knew it would be a great product. Within a few months I had joined Nick, albeit without a salary for the first six months, to help grow our customer base,” says Andy Bank, commercial director at SureFlap, the microchip-operated pet product company.

SureFlap was launched in 2008 by Cambridge inventor scientist Dr Nick Hill (below), who had realised there was a need for a secure cat flap after a neighbour’s cat came in through his cat flap to eat his cat’s food. After discovering there wasn’t a good solution on the market, he began designing a microchip-operated cat flap that would use the cat’s microchip as a personalised door key preventing other animals from entering. The result was the SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap.

Andy said: “Nick needed help on the sales and marketing so he could concentrate on developing the product. I had worked with Nick in the past, was keen to be involved and had a background in sales, so it made sense for me to join the company.”

Their faith in the product was endorsed when SureFlap was featured in a BBC news programme about promising start-ups in Cambridge, which resulted in some good initial interest.

To distribute or not?
Starting out as a small voice among some big voices in the pet industry, SureFlap had to be tactical in its approach. “In the UK, once we got the product in front of people it sold itself. We just had to be proactive and dedicate some time and effort. As a two-man band we just did what we could, with what we had.”

The two had an export plan, but before they could instigate it, they had contact from a Scandinavian distributor. “The e-mail came totally out of the blue. It said: ‘Hello this looks interesting, can we meet?’ and within a month, we had product in their warehouse!”

SureFlap then focussed on Europe and identified partners with an existing knowledge of the pet and vet markets. After starting to work with several, it was soon clear that things needed to change.

“Working with distributors meant we had quick exposure to vets but the ones we had chosen didn’t have any pet retail customers. As we had a fulfilment warehouse in the UK, we decided to supply our retail customers directly. This meant we would have more control and a closer relationship with retail customers and end users.”

Continue to innovate
Customer engagement is vital to SureFlap. From the beginning it invested time in finding out what customers liked and disliked, and which features they wanted to see in future products. As a result, SureFlap knows that its new product range, SureFeed, will be in high demand.

“We always knew that we wanted to develop a range of smart pet feeders, but needed to get the technology, supply chain and customer support right first. Now that is in place, we are able to focus on SureFeed, which will benefit from the same robust, reliable technology.”

The SureFeed range (available in 2014) will launch with two models: the SureFeed Pet Feeder, designed to keep food fresh and the kitchen odour-free, and the SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder, which in addition functions as a selective pet feeder that opens only when it recognises a pet from its microchip or RFID collar tag.

“We believe SureFeed will have international appeal – for example, in the USA some cat owners don’t allow their pets outdoor access so don’t require a SureFlap. However, all cat owners need to feed their cat, so the potential market is much bigger and now our worldwide supply chain already exists, it makes it much easier to get the product to market.”

Looking back
Starting a business can be very difficult, particularly in a recession when investment is tight. He explained: “The biggest problem in the early days was cash flow. We had to put our own money into the business and arrange better payment terms with our supplier and distributors. We had faith in the product and in ourselves, and have had to remain focused throughout.

“Strong customer service is essential. By keeping customer support in-house, we ensure the team is well informed and customers feel satisfied they have received quality care – a core value in our brand.”

Testament to this, SureFlap’s net promoter score for customer service is market-leading not only in the pet industry, but in business as a whole.

“Although the last five years have been hard work, by having a great product which we are passionate about as well as satisfied customers, we have created a strong international brand. The pet industry is a great one, and we look forward to future growth.”