Eat Play Bark
In this video, Cathy reveals her new micro business and their journey to market with help from The Growth Hub.
Cathy runs Eat Play Bark, a new business making homemade dog biscuits from a kitchen in Looe and tails are wagging for this micro business with the help from the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Growth Hub.
From her small domestic oven in her beautiful home in Looe Cathy has made hundreds, probably thousands of versions of doggie biscuits – drawing inspiration not from the canine world of Pedigree Chum and Caesar but from Delia and Mary Berry.
The taste testers were of course the important members of the household, Ed, Witty and Nora, and they are where the inspiration for this new business. Ed the Westie spends his time at the window checking for cats and seagulls whilst Nora the cocker spaniel looks for cuddles and Witty is a shy Shih Tzu rescue dog.
Her pets all feature on the packaging of her tasty treats, with each dog having their own packet. Who is the biggest seller, Ed Witty or Nora? Cathy lowers her voice in case they get jealous revealing that Witty has the highest turnover, with Nora taking up second place. Ed is clearly spending too much time checking for local wildlife than on the business!
Cathy moved to Cornwall just last March, leaving a job at Vodaphone where she managed global internal communications. However, Cathy and her husband didn’t see their move to Cornwall as life in the slow lane. Cathy knew she wanted to run her own business and that it would have something to do with dogs, but she just wasn’t sure what that would look like.
“I asked myself, what do I love in my life? Well I spend most of my time with the dogs and they always say that if you start a business it should be about your passion and your loves and that’s them really.”
The lightbulb moment came over the summer. She remembers saying Dog Biscuits to her husband and then jumped straight in with recipe development. Ed and his allergies made a good starting place, creating a tasty treat with zero added extras. This turned out to be fortunate as Cathy quickly discovered baking for non-humans is more complicated than you might imagine.
You can make jam and cakes from your kitchen and sell them in the village no problem; but when it comes to our four-legged friends we take their health very seriously, says Cathy. Uncovering regulations came thick and fast for this start up. No meat was no an obvious choice as this meant a whole new level of testing, but this also meant no meat by-products such as eggs, milk or even honey. So how do you make biscuits without eggs? Suddenly the thousands of samples made sense and Cathy’s house was covered in notes with variations of ingredients.
She admits that if she had known what she was getting into that she probably wouldn’t have started making biscuits, joking that she could have opened a café and served anything! But she has nothing but praise for the help she has had from Cornwall Council, who have steered her through the regulations, lab testing and inspection of her house.
Her passion for making her business ethical and sustainable shines through. The biggest problem was finding the right plastic free packaging she explains. Before David Attenborough woke up Britain to the problem, Cathy was at home Googling a solution that would give the biscuits a long shelf life and be 100% plastic free. Now she says, since Blue Planet, this has become easier with new products hitting the market and her new packaging is both compostable and recyclable.
Cathy explains why she choose Surfers against Sewage to support with some of the profits from the business. “Starting a business – I don’t think anyone does it because they want to be rich, you do it because there is a passion or a reason behind it. Dog owners in Cornwall spend so much time fishing out pieces of plastic their dog is eating and I wanted to support a charity that was doing something about it.”
Cathy is like a lot of small businesses in Cornwall working with The Growth Hub. It is their passion for what they love first and business planning second. Cathy laughed about market research and unique selling points before she started her concept for the business.
“It was starting from scratch, I can do all the airy-fairy stuff like Facebook and Instagram and I will worry about all the finance and accounting and stuff for an actual business at a later date! I didn’t have a business, but I had loads of followers!”
Meeting Christina from the Growth Hub was a turning point. “I met with Christina back in December, we talked through my business, what my ideas were and what help I needed, and she went away and sent me through reams of helpful files, links and places to go for more information. She was a never-ending bucket of knowledge!”
The Growth Hub is there to find out what the opportunities are for each business, and to understand the challenges and potential hurdles. But more importantly, by going out and meeting business owners they can have a good chat about them as a person, what they want to achieve and what their goals are – as everyone is different. The Growth Hub then does the leg work to find the support that is right for them, to help their business grow.
After meeting The Growth Hub, Cathy was enjoying New Year’s Eve party in Looe when fate struck again taking a tumble down the stairs and breaking her back.
Throwing herself into 2018 with a stay in Derriford wasn’t the best way to kick start a new business but Cathy again looks on the positive side. “I had to spend three months of work recuperating at home, but I used this time to go through the information that Christina from The Growth Hub had sent me.” Having the time to research all the legislation, regulations and business knowledge has made Cathy an expert, boasting that she knows how high her ingredient text should be down to the millimetre on her packets.
Eat Play Bark went live in April and, after making her first sale, she has hit the ground running with an accolade from previous ‘Dragon‘ Theo Paphitis’ twitter competition Small Business Sunday #SBS.
Plus, she has ticked off a “holy grail” goal of becoming a supplier to the Eden Project. Cathy sees her main online sales coming from Cornish dog owners as well as hotels and holiday cottages buying small packets of treats for their guests. She is also getting on her bike to chase orders with an old-fashioned pop up stall on the back of a bicycle on Hannafore Seafront in Looe.
“I couldn’t have done this anywhere but Cornwall”
Her part time job at the Royal Cornwall Hospital working for the University of Exeter keeps her busy while she is not thinking about new recipes. Her employers have been very supportive and the plan is to go full time with Eat Play Bark when her contract finishes.
“I couldn’t have done this anywhere but Cornwall” she says. “There is a great business community with everyone having a connection who can move your business forward. Even competitors in the dog biscuit market have been friendly and welcoming.”
Cathy, Eat Play Bark and her business partners Ed, Witty and Nora looks like they a going to have as much fun running their business as on they do on Hannafore beach!
How the Growth Hub helped Eat Play Bark
PLANNING FOR START UP BUSINESS
Referral to Breakthrough Start up support
A referral to the Cornwall Council Business Regulatory Support
Signpost to Intellectual Property Office