20 Years of Happy, Healthy Pets by Chris Essex
Big Dog like any business has had our fair share of triumphs and challenges. Our business is no different to any other business out there trying to offer a product we wholeheartedly believe in, because if you don't believe in your product, how can you expect somebody else to? We strive to supply the most natural, health promoting, palatable food in the market for dogs and cats. Why? Because we love them. There is no bigger motivation in business than doing something you absolutely believe in and know is having unbelievable health results for our pets.
This is what drives me every day and this is what helps me to have tough discussions at times with our whole team here at Big Dog.
It’s a simple approach, and a simple question - Will this help the health of the pets out there?
What was I thinking?
At 26 years old I started Big Dog, it was a huge risk, because at that time I had completed my Food Science studies at University, I had a newborn baby, and I was well on my way up the ladder in a major smallgoods business in Australia.
However, a random general discussion with a pet store owner close to where I lived, got me thinking about a raw diet for dogs and cats. A diet that had been in place for thousands of years, which would promote health and wellbeing for our pets. A raw diet that is just common sense, to mimic what a dog in the wild would eat or to recreate for our pets an evolutionary diet. This was the perfect opportunity for me. I love nutrition, I love animals, I had been around them all of my life, and to bring this passion together just made sense.
There was no diet like this available in the market. There were some books written about it, but no product for a pet parent to buy. They could make it themselves, but, that presents its own challenges, such as obtaining raw materials, grinding bones, and who really had the time? It had to work, and I was the man for the job. I had the contacts from my supply chain in smallgoods (human grade), I had the experience with this type of processing (by this time I was the Production manager of a factory working 24/7 with 240 staff), but most importantly I had the drive and passion to make this work.
It’s go time
Twenty years ago, on September 26, Big Dog was officially recognised as a business. To this day, we still get asked if we make food for big dogs because of our name and that's been a challenge to overcome. I originally wanted Blue Dog, after one of my favourite dogs, but during the registration of the business found this name wasn’t available. The closest name to Blue Dog was Big Dog and in the haste of the process, never realised this would be a problem. But we've stuck with it and we're thankful to have dogs of all shapes and sizes, reaping the benefits of a healthy raw diet.
Our first two years in business were particularly tough; the first year we experienced a loss of $80k and the second year a loss of $40k. I had the passion, but that only goes so far, and the slap of reality was coming down really hard. What had I done to myself and my family? Times like these do bring out your true character, and your friends and family’s characters as well. The support to continue was there and the focus was still there too, that was really important, and I am forever grateful.
So, despite owning a business losing money, the business continued to knock on pet store doors. The education process was huge. Here we were trying to educate Australia about BARF, which most people constantly took pleasure in reminding me that’s what they say in America for throwing up. Yes, it is, but in pet food it’s commonly referred to as Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods or a simple way of remembering is Bones and Raw Food.
Slowly, we would manage to have our product ranged in various stores in QLD. Then slowly it would become ranged in other states - raw feeding was gaining momentum, but slowly.
Five years down the track, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, I received a pay cheque from Big Dog - my first pay cheque, it was amazing! This business might just survive yet?
Survived we have, and along the way we have moved premises three times and our packaging has changed numerous times also. Our list of ingredients and our formulations have also been tweaked to ensure we are consistent with our beliefs and also on customer feedback.
Today, we find our brand ranged in over 800 stores across Australia, something we as a business are so very grateful for. Our customers (pet stores) are amazing and the support shown is wonderful. These stores are doing a great job in ensuring our range is available right across Australia for you, the pet parents of Australia. We are now making 100 tonnes per week of raw natural diets and that means our pets are becoming healthier every week! The common goal of why this business was started is now starting to come to full fruition. It’s exciting, and at times, sometimes just unbelievable.
The pet industry is a wonderful industry to be in, your support of our product helps us to keep striving for the very best in every way. Your feedback, whilst at times can be harsh but honest, helps us stay on track and focused. Your testimonials are wonderful and simply confirms for us we are doing great things out there for the pets of Australia (and Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea).
A wonderful change is happening, raw diets are becoming common and are being better understood for what they truly are and for what they can do for our pets. The information sharing, the availability of products, and not just ours, other raw food manufacturers products as well, ensures that our pets can and will continue to be able to thrive.
The help Big Dog has received along the way from other businesses, friends and family cannot be denied, and we would not still be here without their help. The list would be too long to mention, and even then I worry I would miss some people. A huge thank you to you all, you know who you are, and our success today I hope you can also share in your own way.
As I write, our family at Big Dog grows to a team of 57 staff. It makes my day so much easier being able to come to work and be greeted with a team of happy, passionate people. To every one of our family at Big Dog I also thank you and wish you all a happy 20 years birthday.
Finally, I wish I could say time has flown these last 20 years... but, the reality is it really hasn’t. Starting a raw pet food business in 20 years ago wasn’t a popular idea and it was an uphill battle for a long time. However, I’ve enjoyed this ride and I continue to enjoy this ride, the industry, the Big Dog family, my family, and, of course, you and your family, gives me as the Founder of Big Dog, nothing but more motivation to continue to do what we do best, all raw natural diets that will promote health, wellbeing and longevity for our pets... of all sizes.
Keep it Raw,
Owner, Founder and Managing Director of Big Dog Pet Foods.