By Rashi Narang:
In 2006, a fur ball of love bounced into my life! Sara, my two-month-old Labrador was the apple of my eye and filled my life with endless joy. But in my quest to find her quality products – toys, treats, a bedding, and accessories – I was dismayed by the stuff that even the best pet stores in the city had to offer. That’s when I decided to start my own line of quality pet merchandise with a strong focus on design for pet parents like myself – who treated pets as family and wanted ONLY the very best!
I spent the next few months doing lots of research and learning about pet-friendly styles, patterns, fabrics, development, vendors and the pet market in India. I had no background in any of this at all – I had just recently graduated from the London School of Economics in Human Resource Management and had started work at an MNC. I invested my meager saving of about INR 2 lakhs and after two months of planning finally launched Heads Up For Tails (HUFT) in February 2008 via an online store with about 30 products.
Those were early days, both for e-commerce and the pet industry, and it was highly challenging. There was a lot to learn, running and managing all aspects of a small business – finance, production, marketing, branding, admin and more. Like most young entrepreneurs – I worked 18-hour a day for months, trying to grow this ‘baby’. As a tiny business with almost no marketing budget, creating visibility for the brand was also a huge problem. So, I tapped social media to reach out to people across the country.
I introduced new products, ran contests, shared lots of pet stories and posted (adorable) pictures of pets posing with their toys and other HUFT merchandise! You could say that we literally, built our brand using social media. And it paid off. A few months into starting out, one of our customers had us design the most gorgeous dog bedroom you can imagine – complete with a four poster bed and a beautiful dog wardrobe. This was really encouraging and gave me the validation to go beyond the online space. Soon we set up a kiosk at Delhi’s premier mall Select Citywalk, and though retail was a whole different ball game in terms of management, there was a steep learning curve to it.
In the meantime, my husband was transferred overseas and three years back I also had a baby. A start-up needs you 24 X 7, and a baby needs you 24 X 7. Now, I was managing three babies (Sara and my business, included) and this was challenging beyond words. I struggled to find enough hours in the day for both. But I realised that it was important to keep going. And slowly, yet surely I grew the business from a home-based one to almost one lakh customers around the country, with over 1000 product SKUs.
I’m truly passionate about what I do, and this reflects in the design and quality of our products and also how we do things at HUFT. Our tuxedos and sherwanis, bandanas and bow ties, customised bedding and clothing are some categories that have made us really stand out. We get artists to hand draw the designs, then convert them into graphics, for many products. We’ve also used the brand to educate pet parents and spread awareness on the adoption of our gorgeous Indian strays – a subject that I feel very strongly about. Another fun thing we do is work with pet models at shoots (though getting them to perfectly pose needs some doing!).
So, as you can see it’s been a real adventure with lots of learning, along the way. We’re constantly aiming to get better and more innovative with what we offer. Sometimes it’s tough but Sara who always perseveres, especially when she wants a treat, taught me this – keep trying and never give up! Things may take a while, but it WILL happen.