If you want to get straight to my interview with Joanne from The Dogs Paws, go ahead and skip down to the next heading, below.
But if you’re in the middle of your exams, leaving school, about to graduate or looking for a change in career, you might find a few golden nuggets in this quick introduction.
Coming from entrepreneurial stock, it might not be so surprising that my post-education journey has been unconventional. From graduating into a rough job market and building my own start-up company, to setting off on my travels then building my writing career – it’s been an interesting road. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s more out there than what your secondary school guidance teacher had in mind.
I was lazy at school and never wanted to stay in education. That said, I wasn’t stupid enough to take these opportunities completely for granted. I graduated into a rough job market in 2013 and with no desire to become a number in a soulless graduate program, I quickly became disillusioned.
It was more a product of necessity then, that saw me working to make a go of my own start-up company. The business itself was a success but the real profit to be made relied too heavily on external contractors. After two years I had had enough. My stress levels were through the roof and I’d seen plenty of people close to me work themselves into the ground and I wasn’t about to do the same. I ended up packing it all in to set off on my travels. And I know, not everyone has this luxury, but I had worked hard for it. Plus I was able to return – tail between my legs – to the homestead in search of free board and lodgings.
In the couple of years that followed I stuck with what I really loved – working with horses – until a timely kick up the arse came in the form of my first mortgage. That’s when I started to take my writing seriously, and have since worked to establish my career in the niche that really feels like my own.
I wouldn’t want to go back and do it all again. And it’s a cliche, but I wouldn’t change it either because the lessons I’ve learned have not only made me look at myself and other people differently, but taught me to think more critically and look at the big picture every once in a while.
If you have a great idea, run with it! With a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and hard graft, you might just have a great new business on your hands.
This week I sat down with Joanne MacKinlay, the Perth-based entrepreneur behind online pet accessories boutique ‘The Dog’s Paws’ to find out how she turned her passion for designing handmade dog collars into a thriving business.
Joanne and I have been friends for a long time. As well as being a long-suffering buddy of mine, she’s a savvy business person.
In my blog 7 Things I’ve Learned from My Staffordshire Bull Terrier – which has had nearly 2000 views already, yay! – Lola was pictured wearing her gorgeous collar from The Dogs Paws Boutique. I’ve had nothing but compliments on it since I got it and with all the interest from my blog post too, I thought it would be fun and interesting to catch up with Joanne.
Joanne always had dogs when we were growing up, including the first staffy I fell in love with, Deano! She started out working for a local dog walking service and has two rehomed dogs of her own:
Nola and Bailey. Two mutts with different stories (and personalities!) they have inspired Joanne’s thriving business.
What is The Dog’s Paws?
The Dog’s Paws is an online Pet Boutique featuring Joanne’s handmade creations including some gorgeous collars, leads, harnesses and doggy beds. She is an advocate for raw feeding and natural treats too, so we’ll touch on that in the interview below.
What Inspired The Dog’s Paws?
I love to buy pretty collars for my owns dogs but found that there was little choice in the pet shops and you can spend a fortune online.
I have always been quite crafty and creative, so I thought I’d give it a bash myself. When family and friends saw Nola and Bailey modelling my home-made creations, they asked me to make collars for their dogs too. Things just took off really quickly from there.
What is Your Home Set-up Like?
Initially, I was just making collars from my bedroom! Since then, the business has become a lot busier and we’ve converted our attic to a spacious workshop space with an industrial sewing machine, where I can play about with designs and put together my creations.
What’s A Typical Day Like at The Dog’s Paws?
Typically, my day involves lots of creative work but I always have to spend a bit of time getting up to date with paperwork, managing my online shop, ordering stock and replying to e-mails and messages on The Dog’s Paws facebook page. Then I can get on with working on customer orders and shopping for new designs, fabric, and materials.
Why is The Dog’s Paws So Successful? Passing ‘The Bailey Test’
Yes, it’s partly down to hard work, but the thing that has really built our following is the quality of the products. Bailey had a lot to do with inspiring The Dog’s Paws in the first place, but as a completely crazy spaniel, even in the early stages, the collars needed to pass a rigorous testing process before I could use them! As the business progressed, I tried out lots of different materials. Bailey made light work of everything but the most durable materials. So ‘The Bailey Test’ was born. If she couldn’t destroy it, it could be a winner!
I tested loads of D-rings, as I found they were the part of the collar most likely to fail. I decided to go for a stamped D-ring as all the welded ones I’d used just didn’t seem too sturdy. I didn’t trust them, but a few months ago I found a welded D-ring which is really great quality and very chunky – so that’s what I’m using now.
Another thing I’ve chopped and changed is the 3 bar slide or tri-glide. All the ones I’ve tested have been sturdy but it’s the internal width that’s been a problem. They need to be wide enough to feed the collar through to make adjustments. I’m now using a heaving duty stamped 3 bar slide on the majority of my collars, which is strong and a good size.
The webbing I use is polypropylene webbing or cushion webbing because it’s strong and an ideal thickness. The polypropylene I use internally for the fabric collars and the cushion webbing for the collars that use jacquard ribbon, such as the Batman collar.
Jacquard ribbon is great as it’s a woven ribbon, doesn’t fade, is easily washed and it’s really hardy.
The buckles I use are nickel plated iron and have a breaking load of 200kg! For customers looking for a super lightweight collar, I use nylon Acetal because it’s light and stronger than standard plastic. All buckles are curved too, so they sit comfortable on the dog’s body.
Raw Feeding for Dogs – Why Feed Raw?
I first switched to raw when I had my first dog, Nola – a ‘Sprocker’ spaniel with constant issues with colitis. I had tried her on various high-end brands of kibble and wet food but nothing seemed to help. I had heard a bit about raw feeding for dogs and thought it might be able to solve her problems, so I bit the bullet and switched her to raw about 3 years ago.
Since then the difference in Nola has been amazing! She has not had a single bout of colitis or any more ear infections, her poos are solid, small and much less smelly (bonus!). There’s no more room-clearing gas coming out of her and her coat is so soft and glossy.
I know that feeding raw provides the best possible diet for both of my dogs and probably most dogs, in fact. It’s totally natural and has everything that a dog needs! Both of my dogs’ teeth are kept clean from chewing on raw meaty bones, so they no longer have bad breath which is nice.
I have also converted many of my friends to start feeding their dogs raw and not one has ever looked back! You have so much more control over what you’re putting into your dog’s body. The same goes for people! When you compare high quality fresh, locally sourced and ethically produced food over processed rubbish, there is no comparison.
My dogs are now food obsessed, they get so excited when it’s tea time and it’s so nice to see them so eager to eat whereas before they’d only pick at their food. I now order my dog food in bulk from a company based in Falkirk called Hungry Hounds, as well as for various people who live locally to me as well.
What’s next for The Dogs Paws?
Hopefully, the business continues to go from strength to strength! My development plan includes expanding out product range to include pet beds and accessories like jackets and drying coats. I have a few other ideas up my sleeve and customers will be seeing these soon!
Got questions about turning your business into a hobby, raw feeding for dogs or anything else Dog’s Paws related? You can contact Joanne at The Dog’s Paws on Facebook, through her Etsy Shop or drop her a line at email@example.com.
Where can I find The Dog’s Paws?
Check out Joanne’s range of super high-quality, durable and totally gorgeous handmade pet accessories in The Dog’s Paws Online Shop. Got something special in mind? She takes bespoke custom orders too.