Startup story: Ralph and Co, the 'world's best dog bed'
Posted January 5th, 12:07
7 min read
What happens when two dog lovers, a furniture designer and a branding expert join forces? According to Ralph & Co, “The world’s best dog bed.”
Geryn Evans, entrepreneur behind the sofa brand Aero Zip, and James Street, marketer and founder of pet accessories brand Wild Manor, might be making a bold statement, but what entrepreneur doesn’t rely heavily on bold statements?
Founded in 2016, Ralph & Co is a joint venture between the two university friends. In 2017, the pair launched an Indiegogo campaign for Ralph & Co and raised $12,000, beating their goal of $10,000.
We chat to Geryn about how to design the world’s greatest dog bed – and then persuade customers to buy it.
What were you doing before you started the business?
We both have existing businesses that we are running alongside this project. I’m the MD for a company called Ipea UK who specialise in the design and supply of innovative furniture products, e.g. integrated music systems & wireless charging.
James is a brand design specialist and has successfully launched products in a range of markets. Most notably ‘Shore Projects’ watches and ‘Old Harry’ jumpers.
Why did you decide to launch your own product?
The traditional route of launching products can be frustrating as there are a lot of barriers in your way when dealing with retailers. You may have the best product in the world but if the retailers do not share your vision then it will never get in front of consumers who have the final say if a product is in demand.
Crowdfunding gets your products directly in front of consumers so that you can gauge their reaction instantly. Luckily, consumers shared our vision that the Ralph & Co dog bed was a great product.
The crowdfunding element is great for the long-term strategy of the business. If you run a successful campaign, you can approach the retailers and say, ‘This product works, and I have sold $12k worth of products in the first 3 weeks’. Once you have proven there is demand for a product and money to be made, the buyers are a lot more responsive!
Crowdfunding also gives you a loyal fan base, brand exposure and customer feedback very quickly. This can also help your long-term goals. For example, we launched six designs of dog beds ranging from the very bold (blue pineapples) to a classic design (charcoal with pink piping). We discovered that the classic designs were a lot more popular, which helped us choose our second wave of designs.
If we had gone the traditional route to market we may have committed to stock products that were not that appealing to customers.
You’re both entrepreneurs – why did you decide to launch a product together?
We are friends from university. I’d dabbled in the pet industry a few months earlier and become frustrated by the barriers that were put in place by the retailers; while James has had success with a few crowdfunding projects in the past and is an expert in brand design.
We decided to put our heads together to develop a product that was not only high quality but also looked great. James convinced me that crowdfunding was the right way to launch the brand, and I am happy to say he was correct!
You’re combining two different skill sets – can you explain how your skills complement each other?
My background is in the furniture industry so I had the contacts and skillset to source the correct materials and to manufacture the dog beds. There was a lot of design work that had to be done with the fabric to ensure the product looked great and was high quality. I also look after the logistics and admin sides of things.
James and his team were responsible for developing the look and feel of the brand: marketing, designing the visuals of the dog beds and producing the campaign video.
How did you find the research and development process?
Firstly, we had to decide the shape of the dog bed. We made several prototypes and tested them out with several dogs and their owners. This was quite tricky as smaller dogs prefer to snuggle up in a nest style bed (with raised edges) but larger dogs prefer flat beds.
After several designs, we came up with a product that combined both elements and would be suitable for all types of dogs. Our product has the walls to provide a ‘nest’ environment but also a flat surface to ensure the dogs have a good sleeping position.
A lot of the other work was trial and error. We constantly developed prototypes until we had the design spot on. We had to consider several things that could be seen as boring, but are essential for ensuring high quality and longevity of the product.
You’re proud that the beds are made in the UK – why do you feel that’s important and what value does it add to the product?
There are so many cheap and nasty dog beds on the market. We wanted to avoid this at all costs and ensure that consumers knew from the outset that this was a premium quality product that would last a long time and be good value for money.
There is a growing demand for premium pet products from owners who treat their pets like members of their family – they are our target market. They tend to buy decent products for other aspects of their lives e.g. clothes, furniture etc.
The bed is priced at £180 – how did you arrive at that price point?
The Ralph & Co dog bed is a premium dog lounger which is made with top-grade materials. The products are aimed at consumers who prefer purchasing a high-quality product instead of cheap products that have a short lifespan. The cheap dog bed market is extremely saturated and we have made it one of our main focuses not to be compared with these products.
We avoided this by prioritising quality over price and placing a focus on eye-catching designs. Anyone can stitch fabric together and call it a dog bed but we wanted to make our beds stand out from the crowd.
When compared to other memory foam dog beds, our products are quite competitive. We found this out by identifying our competitors and ensuring our pricing was in line with their models. We match them on price but aim to be more competitive by having more appealing designs and a stronger marketing campaign.
You’re currently going through a crowdfunding round – how have you found the process/what have you learned so far?
As with anything new, it’s been a huge learning curve! We have done some things well but could have improved in certain areas. The biggest problem we faced is that we wanted to attract orders from the US market in time for Christmas deliveries; this meant that we had to rush our campaign and didn’t have the chance to build up steam before the campaign launched.
For our next campaign, we will spend two to three months before the launch to build up a following and brand awareness.
Crowdfunding has been a big success for us and put us in a strong position moving forward. We have proven there is demand in the market, obtained invaluable feedback and have built up a small brand following.
Because of the campaign, we have signed deals with four large pet retailers to launch our products in January.
Have you got any other investment?
We did not have any investments for this project, the funds were put in from our own pockets. We worked tirelessly in the evenings and weekends to get the campaign up and running alongside running our other businesses.
You’re donating a bed for each one you sell – why did you want to do that?
We thought it would be nice to give a little something back to the dog community as there are 81,000 dogs in the UK who need rehoming or are stray. We work with animal charities who do a fantastic job helping to rehome dogs in need.
What are your plans for after the crowdfunder – where do you want to take the product next?
The dog beds are our flagship product but we plan to introduce four to five new products over the next six months. We want to build up a loyal community and fan base around our brand and working with charities and engaging with the dog community is a great way to do this.
As mentioned, we have signed up retailers to sell our products in January. Over the next 12 months, we aim to increase our product portfolio and plan to be stocked in at least 25 European retailers.
Our three-year objective is to be the number one brand for premium pet products.
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