I JUST THOUGHT WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?
Nic created a brand loved by people and their dogs. And then disaster struck.
I’m not an anxious person nor a panicker. Having gone through divorce at 49 and walked away from the design agency I used to run, I’ve become pretty resilient. So when I lost all my regular graphic design and branding work overnight at the start of the pandemic, I just made the best of it, even though I had no money coming in. Relocating permanently to the Kent coast, where up until then I’d spent weekends, wasn’t part of the plan, but I was happy to go along with it. Once I found someone to rent my flat in Hertfordshire, covering my mortgage, I moved into my partner’s Kent home full time and relaxed. I was stuck with a situation beyond my control, but I’ve always thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Being stuck on a beach in Kent was hardly hardship.
This meant spending a lot of time sitting on the beach twiddling my thumbs and going for big seaside walks with my new puppy, Bertie. And thinking what can I do? And, more importantly, what do I want to do? By the start of the second lockdown, it was clear the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere. So I started seriously contemplating a different kind of future for me. What’s more I acknowledged that I didn’t actually want to go back to living in a town.
“What I’d wanted for many years was to work for myself, doing something I can control. Something that uses my skillset and also benefits me. “
Having lived on the coast for a few months and seen the state of the beaches up close, I started to think about my environment and how I could help improve it. First I transitioned to using shampoo bars and stopped using plastic wherever possible. And I just thought, I want to do the same for my Bertie as well. A Tibetan Terrier, I’d struggled to find a shampoo that didn’t dry out his coat. After rolling in seaweed and sand every day on the beach and getting covered in dead fish and the stinkiest things he could find, getting him clean was quite a performance.
Non-moult dogs like Bertie have hair, not fur, and normal shampoos dry their hair and skin out, because they’ve got different pH levels to other dogs. So with the help of my veterinary nurse daughter Emily and some advice from Bertie’s groomer I started researching a few products on myself, trying natural ingredients and mixing different formulas to make my own shampoo bars, until I found one that was really moisturising. Then I tested it on Bertie, and it worked a treat.
“When friends who’d used my shampoo on their dogs asked for more, I thought Right. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a little business here.”
And that’s how Pup Suds was born
The base ingredients of Pup Suds shampoo bars are already tried, tested and certified. They’re organic, vegan, handmade and 100% natural, so they’re safe for use on animals and safe for the environment. Being an artisan product, the bars are quite expensive to produce. But having worked in branding for years I’ve learnt a lot about upscaling. I’ve seen a viable start-up get to the point of really taking off, and the founders say, “Oh, I was making it in my kitchen, now what?” And that’s usually the point when they fail, when they can’t transition from making it themselves at home to finding premises and bringing in other people to make it for them. I had to make sure PupSuds was scale-able from the start.
It took me quite a while to work out how to do all of this, whilst also starting to bring money in again – I wasn’t in a position to totally give up the day job – while planning for the tipping point when I could transition to running my business.
By the launch of Pup Suds in September 2020 I had two types of shampoo bar on sale as well as tug toys made by Emily. Within a week I’d sold 100 shampoo bars and all the tug toys. People started buying my products for their friends and family and it was all going swimmingly.
But there were a few glitches, like being approached by an artisan shop in old Margate about selling my products but ultimately finding we couldn’t get my product price low enough for them so that I could still make money. I also learnt that the soap bars are so moisturising that if they are not kept in a reasonably controlled environment they attract too much moisture and go soggy. Now I use plastic-free packaging so it’s good to go into retail.
“After the successful launch of my business I was gearing up for a really big push. “
I had PR lined up, with plans to get press coverage in magazines and nationals. It was a scary time, but as so often in my life, I thought “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”. And then the worst thing did happen. With no explanation, Facebook deleted my Instagram account and overnight I lost the thousands of followers I’d built up over eight years. As my followers were fans of beach living, non-moult dogs and living plastic-free, Instagram was my sales funnel and now I’d lost it – and couldn’t get it back.
While I don’t do depressed I genuinely had no idea how to pull myself back out of this place. Where to start? I had been approached by the Sun for Pup Suds to be part of their pet giveaway. But without my Instagram account and all those lost followers it would be pretty pointless. And I thought what am I going to do? Instead of getting investment I’d really worked hard at trying to set the ground for these products to be an organic seller. And now it felt like all was lost.
I’ll be honest, at that point I did think about giving up. But then I thought No, I’ve really got something here and I want to see it through. So I’ve slowly been getting my business head back to where it needs to be. Joining the Audrey Members’ Club has really helped me tackle all the challenges of being a business owner without being judged.
“Launching something on your own can be isolating. Being able to connect with other women in the same position means we all support each other.”
Because to me this isn’t a little lifestyle business, this is serious. I want it to succeed. I want to actually make a living from it and enjoy it. And in spite of a few mini hurdles and one that was almost insurmountable, I’m excited about the future. I now have five varieties of moisturising shampoo bars on sale and I love the buzz when I get customers coming back to order more. When I get asked to include my products in a subscription box. When clients tell me that they value the use of plastic-free packaging, and don’t mind paying that bit extra for it. I know I’m doing something people value.
It feels really good knowing I can overcome stuff and keep going. To know that I’ve made a business that works for me – that I’m self-made.
“I’m really proud to have created something people love that’s tied up in who I am, what matters to me and how I live – that feels brilliant. “
Words: Marina Gask
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