Michelle Bateman has three dogs, one granddaughter and one small business. Since its foundation three years ago, Woofs Treats has come on in leaps and bounds and fellow dog lover Daisy Jones spoke to Michelle to find out why she’s enjoying such huge success.
It was Michelle’s passion for healthy living, as well as her dogs, that inspired her to start making dog treats,
“I’m a health freak,” she admits, “And I feel the same way about my dogs. My dog Sherlock has a very sensitive stomach and suffers from gastroenteritis. I can’t give him most dog treats, as they contain artificial ingredients, so I started making some for him myself. My other dogs loved them too. It was pretty easy back then, just baking for them!”
It was around this time that Michelle’s situation at work changed. Her fixed-term contract as a software trainer for the NHS ended and in the wake of the credit crunch the job market was tough.
“By now, it wasn’t just my dogs enjoying the treats,” says Michelle, “I was taking them all over the place. I gave them to people at my gym, took them to the park and eventually I decided to turn my hobby into a business.”
With a background in accountancy, there was a lot Michelle didn’t know about running a business, however she loves to learn new things and was soon taking courses at the Chamber of Commerce, Barclays and The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME).
“The PRIME course was the best experience. It taught me the real basics, like a starter pack. It was great to be in an environment where you all want to start a business. On the last day we had to give a talk on our business plan and I went first. I haven’t stopped talking about my business since!”
Following this, Michelle started selling her dog treats at Warwick market.
“There’s a really good feeling about selling something you’ve made. You get a kind of satisfaction out of it that you don’t experience when you’re just selling any other product.”
As well as the market, Michelle started thinking with her newly acquired business acumen and took her products to dog shows, but surprisingly found that this choice of venue was a mistake.
“I thought, ‘these people have dogs and I have dog treats, they’ll buy them,’ but that wasn’t the case at all. Many people don’t treat their dogs, especially not working dogs. I found that my target market wasn’t just dog owners, I was after more of the ‘pampered pooch’ market.”
Another challenge was the strict legislation upheld in the pet food industry. As well as being registered with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Woofs Treats are a registered Pet Food Plant, with its treats approved and tested by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
“DEFRA approval is very important. A lot of people are selling dog treats without it and you don’t know what quality those products are. I use fresh, natural, human-grade ingredients with nothing artificial added so they are 100% safe. You can eat them yourself and some people do! My granddaughter is a toddler now and she’s always trying to nab some on baking days.”
But it’s not just the customer’s trust that Michelle has gained. Through networking, she has learnt how to market her business and get people’s attention.
“I had to find the right social media platform for me and to my surprise, my Twitter account (@woofstreats) has really taken off. I do a lot of real-life networking too, such as going to events and meeting people in person. You don’t meet them so they use your business now, you meet them so in six months time maybe someone will remember you.”
Now, Michelle’s hard work has paid off and business is doing well. People regularly approach Woofs Treats with an interest in the business or positive feedback and Michelle is keen to keep expanding into other areas.
“I started with dog treats and that’s where my heart is, but now I’m also selling gifts. Just little things like pencils and ornaments, all dog-related. I like to say the treats are for the dog in your life and the gifts are for the person in your life. I’m also planning on being a dog-sitter, caring for dogs when their owners are away.”
Michelle is full of ideas for the future, which include changing the packaging of her biscuits and seeing if she can sell them in new areas, such as in veterinary surgeries and wholesalers, or PRIME patron Prince Charles’ Duchy Originals shop. Her ‘can-do’ attitude means that as well as embracing change, Michelle rises to the challenge of the day-to-day running of the business.
“I work very hard seven days a week and it’s just me. On a baking day I’ll be in the kitchen from six in the morning until eight at night.”
Despite this, Michelle is driven by her love of dogs and her philosophy to help care for them.
“I was at the National Dog Show in May, which was brilliant. I really enjoy going to the festivals and shows. I meet people who really love dogs and would do anything for them and that’s exactly how I feel. I think it’s important for people to be able to give their pets good food for a good price.”
And could she ever give it up?
“I never want to retire!” laughs Michelle, “I’m going to die working or at the gym.”