How Dog Rocks cracked international markets
Dog Rocks, which produces a natural prevention product for curing urine burn marks on lawns, is one of the 243 businesses that has just won accolades by the Queen on her birthday.
The business, that has already cracked the Northern American Market, won The Queen’s Award for International Trade for excellence in export, product innovation and sustainability.
Dog Rocks has been set up by three ex-GB athletes including Carina Evans, who represented GB as a World Cup Skeleton athlete, and Andrew Hine and Nick Evans, who represented GB in International Polo.
We caught up with Carina to chat about business growth and cracking international markets:
Q. Tell us about your background, how did you set up Dog Rocks?
As a speed freak I’ve always loved and taken part in sport, mostly involving either ice of race horses. After failing to make Olympic selection in Skeleton I decided that I needed to knuckle down and find a “proper” job. I temped for a London based estate agent but after a really really heavy night and sending the day’s post back into the postal system I was asked to leave. It was the greatest sense of freedom I have ever felt and I realised that I was much more suited to being in charge of my own time.
I then worked for some amazing people that owned Arena Leisure, a company that own racecourses. We sang from a similar hymn sheet and I really respected their structure and spirit and of course I loved working back in racing. I was enjoying the role tremendously (offices in Mayfair, racing as part of my job, perfect!) and progressing well within the company. My husband casually mentioned to me about this “Dog Rocks” product that had a really strong sales history in the Australian market. I was not immediately won over but we took it on and I sold online for the first couple of years. The product helps stop pet urine burning grass, it sold its self and soon we were selling in bulk to wholesalers. I quit my job with Arena after six happy years.
Q. How did you grow your business?
Really, I grew it with a lot of hard work and determination, probably to the detriment of my health and certainly to the detriment of family life. We started online and created demand from consumers to retailers and naturally wholesalers started to ask for the product too. That pull through from consumer to distributor has been key. We attended a good deal of consumer and trade shows and still do, just to keep products in the buyer’s eye.
Up until 6 years I ran day-to-day operations but when we took on the North American market things just ramped up and we went from being a team of two to a team of six basically in four months. I have learned and continue to learn so many new skills, leadership is one with its challenges but which I am enjoying.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges?
People, I find it really difficult to source talented individuals with a cheery, “can do” problem solving attitude and excellent work ethic. There are of course other challenges like currency fluctuations and the pace of our growth has meant that frustratingly we have had to walk away from opportunities but I would rather have growing pains than not!
Q. What have been your biggest milestones?
Entering and making a success of a large market like North America. Selling product and multiple SKUs into big box retailers and some of the largest distributors in the European and American markets.
Targets are usually financially driven and hitting those targets which are set just beyond my reach is also satisfying. I know I will be really happy though when I can go trekking with my family in the foothills of the Himalayas and not have to worry too much about operations running smoothly at home.
Q. How did a small business like yours crack international markets? What advice do you have for small businesses?
We took our UK model and applied it to the North American market. We did almost the same as we do in the UK, constantly learning but expecting pitfalls. We took risks and some paid off and some didn’t. We employed a sales rep that ripped us off. We went through three warehouse and pick and pack facilities before we found our current partners.
We are on our third PR agency. You have to expect to make mistakes, budget for them as far as possible, learn from them and have loads of energy and mental toughness to get through the pain and reach the other side. Then you have to do the whole process again and expect bigger hurdles to jump as things grow. Ultimately though its all vanity. What really matters is the family and those less fortunate so I try to keep that in mind as far as possible. I visit Nepal as much as I can because the Nepalese have a habit of keeping things real!
Q. How did the Queen’s Award come about? What was your first reaction?
Honestly it was a lovely surprise as one of my team was recommended we enter by UKTI. I didn’t really have much to do with it so when the email arrived in my in box I thought it was spam.
Q. What are your future plans for your business?
We need to harness and make good the current opportunities and products we enjoy in our portfolio. We will assess and manufacture line extensions and source new products. Growth is really important and I would love a company whose ship I can steer rather than navigate round every bend.
I would love to work in finance or a Tibetan school in Nepal. I would also like a stable full of race horses and a family holiday. Who knows what’s around the next corner. Opportunity is exciting and while I have energy I want to make hay while the sun shines to ensure we remain agile and grasp the nettle and run with it.