The Times: Rising Stars

This article originally appeared in The Times on 10/01/22

Pooch & Mutt, Kettering

Pooch & Mutt was a sideline for Guy Blaskey when he first started the healthy dog food brand in 2008. He started selling supplements for dogs after successfully treating his family dog’s hip complaint using horse supplements made by his mother’s company, and went on to develop two products specifically for dogs.

“I started in 2008 with a website and I was sending out orders myself, taking them to the post office in Ikea bags,” he said. He carried on working in marketing and art direction during the day, learning about the market and what customers wanted all the while. In 2012, he decided it was time to “take it seriously” and Pooch & Mutt brought out its first dog foods designed to address specific issues including weight loss and digestion in 2014. For the past four to five years, sales have doubled every two years to reach £9 million last year.

Before the pandemic, 50 percent of Pooch & Mutt’s sales came from retailers, including Pets at Home, Sainsbury’s and Ocado. Now the split is one third each through its own channels, Amazon and retailers. The company also exports to countries including France, Spain and Canada, though Blaskey said that the strategy he set for Pooch & Mutt five years ago “tried to ban the word exports”.

“We see it as sales through three channels: direct to consumer, online retail and mass retail. Mass retail, whether that is here or in France, is the same way of working, as is Amazon, whether it’s here or in Germany,” he said.

Expanding at such a pace in recent years also sent the company’s costs higher, and in 2020, Blaskey sold a 15 per cent stake in the company to Vafo, the company’s Czech Republic-based manufacturer.

“At any one time we’re holding £1 million of stock, and someone like Amazon, who pays on three-month terms, owes us £1 million,” Blaskey said. “When the business doubles, we need to hold more stock, and we need to fund it. Now, we can look at the costs as part of the larger group.”

Vafo is family-owned and focuses on making high-quality pet food, and the company is a long-term investor. Blaskey and his 15 staff members still do all of Pooch & Mutt’s product development and marketing, but selling the stake was nonetheless a difficult decision for Blaskey.

“I went as long as I could without fundraising,” he said. He is a mentor to start-up founders on a programme run by Imperial College and said he always challenged people who want to raise money early on, pointing out that it means working for someone else rather than just yourself.

The Czech company will ultimately buy Pooch & Mutt outright, Blaskey said, although he declined to say when.