Tom Read (TR): Thanks for sparing the time today to share your story with us. Tell us about Pets Purest, and what it’s all about?
Oliver Bristowe (OB): In a nutshell, we’re a natural pet care company that offers high-quality products at affordable prices. The idea was borne out of a need and a desire to improve the quality of products that we gave to our own pets. We didn’t want to keep putting chemicals into them, and wanted to adopt more of a human-mindset to pet wellbeing.
To give you an example, one of the dogs in my wife’s family had a recurring ear problem. Every time they went to the vet, they were given some drops and a bill for £70. There was never an explanation of what was in the drops, and not really a commitment on whether they would really work. As a result, we thought there was a gap in the market for offering an alternative to vets when there are minor problems.
To be clear, we’re not a replacement for vets, and vets are essential. But there are basic things pet owners can do when it comes to ‘maintenance’, which can potentially keep pets out of the vets over the longer term. A great example is ‘teeth’ – if you can keep your dog’s teeth healthy, you can help prevent other issues from spiralling further down the line.
TR: What inspired you to set your company up?
OB: It was a bit of a combination of seeing some overall trends emerging, and having some specific ideas. We started out selling pet products on Amazon, having seen wellbeing issues with our own pets. The first product we sold was salmon oil, designed to stop itchy skin. In parallel, we’d noticed a growth trend in natural products for pets, and the two went hand-in-hand.
TR: Would you say that you’ve always been entrepreneurial? Or did it come later in life?
OB: To be honest, I’ve always been interested in money and buying and selling. When I was at school, I used to sell sweets to the other kids, having bulk-bought them with my Dad at the weekend. Later in life, my wife and I always knew that we wanted to own a business, but we didn’t necessarily know what the business would be. I’m pretty stubborn by nature and couldn’t imagine working for someone else!
Before Pets Purest, I actually started selling random calendars of Pugs, online. It was a bit of fun but it was linked to a genuine passion for pets, and it showed me I could sell successfully in this industry.
TR: And how have you gone about growing your business up to now?
OB: For the first four or five years, it was all pretty fluid. We used to run our business from the spare bedroom, and then our first child came along, which meant my wife stepped back for a bit. At that time, we didn’t have any staff, and our motivation was all based on making and distributing better-quality pet products.
For the last five years or so, we’ve gradually been expanding into Europe, and we’ve obviously moved out of the spare bedroom as we’ve grown! After some investment a few years ago, we now have a team of 10, including a day-to-day business manager.
TR: And can you tell us more about the hurdles and challenges you have overcome so far?
OB: Finding high-quality manufacturers has been the main challenge since we started. We always wanted to avoid creating products with synthetic chemicals, and that makes the manufacturer options a bit narrower. Then there were two major global events out of our control – Brexit and COVID-19.
In the aftermath of Brexit, we’ve had logistical challenges given that a number of our sales are generated in Europe, and our animal-based products were therefore subjected to extra checks (than before).
And when it came to the pandemic, we had to adapt like everyone else. In some respects, we were relatively lucky during lockdown because Amazon could still deliver our products, and we weren’t reliant on physical retail sites for sales. That said, there were still obvious pressures, mainly due to the fact a number of factories had to down tools. It meant an increase in demand for our products, for example when more people started getting dogs, couldn’t necessarily be matched by an increase in supply. Thankfully, these issues have been resolved now.
More recently, I’ve had the challenge of growing a team. People management doesn’t come naturally to me, so I quickly learnt to employ good people and a manager who could do a better job of it. My focus now is on finding opportunities, improving efficiency and maintaining the high standards that got our business to where it is today.
TR: On the flip side, what have been the biggest positives?
OB: The biggest positive for me has been lifestyle. My wife and I always wanted to set up a business that we truly believed in, and we didn’t want to work a standard 9-to-5 pattern.
Watching the brand grow, and our team grow, are also major positives. And it’s a great feeling that we now have time to go on holiday and know the business is in good hands while we’re away.
TR: Out of interest, do you think there is a recipe for success for an entrepreneur?
OB: To be honest, I’m not sure if you’re born with the skills, or if you can build them up. However, one of the big things is that you just need to start.
For us, we started with the calendars and took it from there. Starting, regardless of what it is you’re selling, is key. As is the need to be resilient.
TR: Now that you have a team, what would you say is your style of leadership and management?
OB: I’m naturally quite hands off, and candidly, people management is not the thing that gives me my energy. I’m happy to delegate that side of running the business, and to devote more time looking for growth opportunities and new product ideas.
TR: And as an extension of that point you made just now, how would you say your role has changed as the business has grown?
OB: Two years ago, I was the focal point of everything – the main ‘doer’, and sometimes as a result, a bottleneck. Now that we have a team in place to help drive the business forward, I can shape my role to look at different areas where I can add value.
TR: And lastly, what’s next for your business?
OB: At this stage, it’s all about growth. We know our markets, and we want to expand into them and widen our breadth of sales channels. For now, it’s all about the UK, US and Europe. In future, who knows?