After being turned away from hundreds of jobs because he was deemed “too entrepreneurial” or “not suited to the corporate world”, Steven Deveraux-Stanford, knew that entrepreneurship was for him.
A visit to a pet shop made him realise there was a gap in the pet industry for an Australian made dog shampoo that could be used on dogs with sensitive skin. Nine months later Steven launched, Ivory Coat Companion Goods, which now has product ranges in 500 retail outlets across 3 countries.
Despite competing against a lot of big names in the pet space, Ivory Coat Companion Goods, has successfully been able to set their brand apart from competitors, turning over $1 million in revenue in its first full financial year.
Steven shared with us some of the strategies he has used to grow his business and expand internationally in such a short space of time.
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You are competing against some major players in the pet food industry. What strategies have you used to stand out in a crowded space?
It’s no secret the market for pet products has some huge international players, with the vast majority of market share amongst the top three, Mars, Nestle & Colgate Palmolive. This makes cost of market entry high. From Day 1 of this company it was never going to be a hobby, and my attitude is you go all out, all in, or go home.
I started the company with the vision for rapid expansion and therefore spent a lot of time in the research phase, doing detailed comparisons of current products on the market, speaking with wholesalers, retailers and end consumers. This was invaluable, I was able to take their frustrations with the current industry, supply and products and work on solutions to this for my ranges.
I’ve found there are two factors that certainly helped with rapid uptake:
1) Correct product to market fit. Anticipating what consumers want so that they can drive demand at a retail level.
2) The What’s In It For Me? principle. I had to be able to show to distributors, retails and consumers what is in it for them. It’s often not about your products, it’s business, everyone wants to know what they will get out of an investment.
I started by knocking on store doors, I was told, and still am… “I need another dog food in store like I need a hole in the head”. Our food is different in many ways, however there are a few key factors that assisted us to get our products onto shelf, that other entrepreneurs could use:
1) Getting the margins correct, and making them enticing to retailers, together with showing a clear marketing and growth strategy on how you will support back the stores and drive sales. Never expect the product will sell on the shelves itself, nor expect the retailers to just sell it for you!
2) Build a genuine story for the retailers to sell, one that will resinate with their consumers. For us it’s about Australian Made quality products, our assistance program to Australian farmers, and supporting local Australian industry, all whilst also providing better products for the same value proposition as the major labels.
What strategies would you suggest other small business use if they are also competing for shelf space?
Relationships are key… people want to buy from a person, or feel part of a quality brand, not a faceless corporation. I’d suggest building a ‘hit list’ of retailers, and this doesn’t mean putting Coles or Woolworths on the top of the list. I initially chose retailers and key industry figures that were influential in their marketplaces or key areas, and worked with them first.
It’s all about fine tuning, working out what works, what the difficulties are, where the opportunities lie and then replicating this across to new networks.
Also think outside the square! I approached Peter Alexander, a pyjama brand about creating some products for them given they have dog as a mascot and logo. I now do a co-branded Peter Alexander by Ivory Coat grooming range that’s in more than 40 of their stores throughout Australia and New Zealand.
You turned over $1,000,000 in your first full financial year. This is an incredible result. Can you pinpoint the key factors that influenced this?
A lot of hard work and no life outside of work! I feel my background in real estate set me up in good standing here, as I don’t take “no” for an answer easily. It’s all about being able to sell, as after all if you can’t sell your own product well, who can?
It was all about using our grooming products to set up a distribution network and utilising this network of distributors and stores to launch the food and treats in a big way in one bang!
What advice would you give to someone just starting a business or who wants to start? What do you wish you had been told at the beginning?
Calculate the money you think you will need to start and grow, then triple it!
Research, research, research, you have to know your industry inside out first, don’t be scared to ask questions…
Try regularly to take a step back and look at what you have created with an objective view, often we are too close to it to understand where we may be failing.
Take onboard criticism and advice, but go with your gut, everyone has an opinion but it doesn’t mean they are right.
Be prepared to sacrifice lifestyle for the long term goals.
What tools did you use when you were in startup phase that you couldn’t live without?
Google and a telephone! There was plenty I didn’t know and it has been a steep learning curve moving into a new industry, there is so much information out there if you just look. You can’t be afraid to pick up the phone, ask questions and build relationships.
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