Business on a leash
Jane Boyd was frustrated by the poor quality of pet accessories sold in New Zealand, so she quit her sales career to launch a business marketing the world’s best. Today Louis & Phoebe is on a roll. It was Phoebe who first greeted me at the Newmarket office where I was to interview Jane Boyd, […]
Jane Boyd was frustrated by the poor quality of pet accessories sold in New Zealand, so she quit her sales career to launch a business marketing the world’s best. Today Louis & Phoebe is on a roll.
It was Phoebe who first greeted me at the Newmarket office where I was to interview Jane Boyd, the founder and owner of Louis & Phoebe Pet Boutique.
Phoebe is a delightfully cute Cairn Terrier Schnauzer Cross and part-time receptionist and, as Jane informs me, a former rescue dog from the Humane Society.
Phoebe is also modelling one of Louis & Phoebe’s brightly coloured pure leather collars, and while she settles for a quick snooze, Jane explains why she gave up a successful career in sales management to launch her pet boutique business marketing a range of high quality pet products. We’re talking leather collars and leads, beds, coats, merino clothing, eco-friendly toys and 100-percent biodegradable corn-starch poo bags.
Her sales career had largely revolved around the retail food and hospitality industries. She had enjoyed meeting people, the challenge of achieving sales targets, and the satisfaction gained from accessing supermarket shelves for new and emerging family brands.
She admits, in her own modest way, that she was successful as a salesperson. “But I got to a point where I decided that I no longer wanted to work for anybody else.”
Then one day two-and-a-half years ago Jane went shopping for a collar and lead for Phoebe and her other dog Louis (a Soft Coated Wheaten who passed away in June 2017), only to discover the quality and variety was sadly lacking. After just a few months both collar and lead were looking rather worse for wear.
Curious, she began researching the market – searching overseas websites to see what there was out there, and discovered a Canadian manufacturer with a high emphasis on quality.
Emails were exchanged and samples sent. Jane could immediately see and smell the quality of both the leather collars and leads.
She dipped into her savings and set up a website; imported a small shipment. Her friends were impressed and it was time to get serious. And because potential purchasers want to see and feel the quality of the products, she began looking around for retail premises.
A few months later she was operating seven days a week from premises in Orakei. While it was hard work, Jane says she loved the fact that she was meeting people again. “And [by then] I knew I was onto something,” she recalls. “That was obvious from the reactions of people who came in.”
Jane began importing other high-quality pet products, many of them eco-friendly. Her local vet approached her to set up a shop on their Remuera premises – which quickly proved highly successful.
She subsequently found better retail premises in Kohimarama, and currently has three other retail stockists based around Auckland, as well as a number of wholesale customers and vet clinics on board.
The business has been self-funded, is growing steadily, and the potential for further growth is real. When it comes to their ‘fur babies’, for most Kiwis it’s a case of ‘no expense spared’, says Jane.
Louis & Phoebe has a strong point of difference, “people can immediately see and feel the quality,” and the pet accessory market is expanding in New Zealand.
“There are 93,000 registered dogs in Auckland, and more than 900,000 dogs in all of New Zealand,” says Jane. “Obviously not everyone is going after premium products, but I believe that a lot of the products currently out there are not fit-for-purpose.”
When she sees the wrong leads on dogs (especially retractable leads) and people failing to control their dogs properly on sub-standard leashes, her hackles go up.
Taking the lead
While admitting that building the business has been tough on her own (although there has been some help from husband John Boyd’s public relations agency) Jane gets a kick out of all the customer satisfaction Louis & Phoebe generates. She has managed to turn a profit in her second year, and at the end of 2019 plans to open a second Auckland shop. Her plans also include growing the wholesale side of the business, developing the website further and, in the not-too-distant future, introducing her own Louis & Phoebe-branded products.
Canada has proven to be a valuable resource. It’s a market similar to New Zealand and one she trusts. The quality is consistently high, Jane says.
In August she’s off to SuperZoo, the Las Vegas pet trade show, to meet her Canadian supplier and get further up to speed with the market.
So, based on her experience, what advice would she give other business start-ups?
“Definitely don’t expect overnight success,” Jane says. “And put all your processes in place right from the start, if you can. I didn’t [always] have all my stock and inventory up to date, so had to take a week to catch up.
“I knew all my costings right from the beginning, but you’ve got to know exactly how much stock you have on hand, and where it’s going.”
The early days in business can involve compromises as expenses get deferred, Jane warns, and it’s vital that you do your market research, your marketing (she updates her Facebook and Instagram pages daily), and adopt “an ongoing process of improvement”.
But she’s definitely in it for the long haul – and doing something she really loves. Having a passion for the business sector you’re in is important, she says. And it helps that she absolutely adores dogs – has done ever since she got her first dog as a little girl.
But for now, there’s Phoebe. She’s getting impatient; the interviews over and she’s keen to get back to her reception duties. Woof!