Ever noticed how difficult it is for dogs and cats to eat from their feeding bowls? Jane Grant did, which is why the Londonderry woman is now chief executive of Hugx – suppliers of high quality bowls that cater for the needs of the pet.
Far more people will quickly become aware of the Hugx product, thanks to it this week winning a prestigious award from the US-based Pet Product News International magazine. This is the second award Hugx has won in America – last year, Hugx was presented with the Pet Fashion Week New York’s Lifestyle Innovation award, in the ‘pet dinnerware’ category.
Grant hopes the latest trophy will repeat the impact the previous award had in boosting her business. Going to international trade fairs holding an award can do wonders for a business and its sales, says Grant. “Winning the award last year in New York helped get custom from Japan,” she explains.
What makes Hugx distinctive is that it supplies pets’ bowls from which the pets can actually eat, leaving less mess and without leftovers attracting flies. “Imagine you are tucking your nose into the food whenever you eat,” says Jane. “That is what we are asking our pets to do.”
It might be assumed that only dedicated pet owners are buying the Hugx product, but it is rapidly breaking into other sectors. “Sometimes we are being given as a wedding present,” says Grant “It can be a leaving present [from work]. So it’s not just the pet market, but also the gift and interiors market.”
But Jane stresses that the size and importance of the pet market, particularly in America, is huge. “The pets business is very, very lucrative,” she says. “It’s a $48bn market in the US, in the top ten product sectors in the US, and it is growing exponentially, at a time when most other businesses are a standstill.”
Sales of Hugx are going well in the US, Japan and Canada, as well as in the UK and Ireland, with interest now growing from the Middle East. Hugx has just been accepted onto the Frontgate.com website in America, providing access to a new market of high net worth pet owners.
“Hugx is stylish,” explains Grant. “The product is made in very high grade aluminium, so it doesn’t rust. And in hot countries where we sell to, leaving food around the corners of old-style food bowls is not a hygienic thing to do.”
Yet, despite the growing success of the business, Jane has taken to heart the motto, ‘don’t give up the day job’. For her, Hugx remains a weekend and night time occupation. “It’s the way every business start-up is going these days,” she says. “You need a full time job to finance it.”
Consequently, Hugx is a growing success story without any full time staff – the business brings in the expertise it needs on a contract basis. And all the Hugx profits are reinvested in product and business development.
The business is young – research started in 2005 and trading began only two years ago – yet Grant is actively investigating how to expand much faster. “We are trying to establish distribution rights with different UK and USA companies,” she says. “We are looking for licensing agreements, or even venture capital to build the business to where we want to go.”
Jane also wants to expand beyond existing markets by offering a cheaper product. “Our bowls sell for £49.99, so we go for a sophisticated market with high disposable income,” she says. “But there’s a lot of other people we could market to if we have another business offer.”
There are many dogs and cats out there, if only they could read, who might wish Hugx every success in expanding into even more markets.