Tell me a bit about yourself please - family, interests etc
I am the Co-founder and Communications of Director of ProtectaPet, a business ‘born and bred’ in Stoke on Trent, with 14 of the 22 key suppliers based in Staffordshire and a key commitment to sourcing locally and investing in our local talent and communities. Entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to the locality is core to my heart, with a family lineage of pet businesses in the Potteries dating back to the 1940s.
My experiences at ProtectaPet are diverse and my daily role can include anything from finance, export documentation, human resources, health and safety, through to chatbots and digital marketing strategies. I am an Export Champion for the Department of International Trade.
Aged 36 and a mum to four young children, I’m invested in the future of Staffordshire and I’m eager to support capitalise on the opportunity of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
In terms of my hobbies, today I’m recovering from running the ‘Potters Arf Marathon’, cheered on by the most incredible support, as people gifted sweets, lollies, drinks, high fives, and hosepipe sprays to the runners. I’m also an avid collector of Stoke on Trent pottery and I love flipping a plate or cup when I’m out and about to see where it’s made.
Can you tell me about your career and how you’ve ended up where you are today…
I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial and as a child, my sister and I did holiday pet care for pocket money. But I qualified with a PhD in Byzantine History and I have a breadth of experience in academia at the University of Birmingham and Manchester Metropolitan University, gaining membership as an Associate of the Higher Education Academy, as a result of my lecturing and tutoring experience. I have also worked in Public Relations at the AA (Automobile Association) and in the University of Birmingham Press Office, producing press releases and editing the University of Birmingham magazine. I think there is something innate within me that brought me back to the fast pace of business and my love of supporting people with their care of animal companions.
Can you give me a history and description of your company….how it came to be, hurdles overcame, values, staff, growth etc etc…
ProtectaPet was founded after Simon and myself lost our little black and white rescue cat in a road traffic collision outside our house. We realised that the tragedy was entirely preventable and that’s what motivated us to start ProtectaPet. There’s been no end of challenges from product design, manufacturing, recruiting, and retaining the right team and promoting the culture you want to thrive. The challenges come thick and fast on almost a daily basis and it keeps you on your toes and keen. Now, more than 21,000 cats are now in safe outdoor territories, which is the most amazing sense of satisfaction. But the work doesn’t stop here and we’re committed to world-class and revolutionary preventative cat care which enables every cat to access a safe outdoor territory and every cat owner to experience total peace of mind.
What is it’s USP and also its competitors?
ProtectaPet cat fencing solutions are innovative in the concept of enabling cats to roam safely in controlled outdoor territories as opposed to being kept indoors. The products are completely unique, providing a comprehensive range of meticulously designed components, which can be configured to the features of all outdoor spaces from balconies to expansive rural gardens. The business exclusively offers both DIY components for the technically-savvy and cost conscious consumer, or a professional installation service, for those seeking the assurance of technical expertise, having cat-proofed thousands of gardens and professional training to 'think like cats'. Innovation permeates every level of ProtectaPet from operational procedures to waste management.
ProtectaPet was founded in 2014 and since launching just seven years ago, the business has filed six UK patents, one US design patent, one EU design registration and one international patent, with a second scheduled. The extent of iterative design is exemplified by the intellectual property alone.
How would you say in layman’s terms what your company does and offers?
Revolutionary cat fencing solutions, comprehensive to all gardens, meticulously designed for cat safety and owner’s peace of mind.
Is the Mentoring process focussing on you, your company, or both?
Simon and I work on the company together and we have very different appetites for risk: he is a visionary with huge ambition. I am more risk averse with quite a critical approach to opportunity. Between us, we strike the perfect balance. Tom, our Mentor, is like an independent adjudicator in a small family business, enabling us to navigate our way through the decisions ahead.
Why and when did you choose to go down the mentoring route?
Several years ago, we were appointed John Lowther as our first mentor. John came with a wealth of experience in the Stoke on Trent hospitality sector at Middleport and at the Trentham Estate. He is charismatic, uplifting and he energised us on to succeed. This was such a positive experience that when we were subsequently offered a mentor, we jumped at the chance to use twelve hours of someone’s expertise.
Why and how is Tom Yeung your mentor and tell me about your work/meetings with him so far?
Our mentor, Tom Yeung, is really focussed on the data and the numbers behind our decisions. This is essential in a rapidly growing business as you initially follow instincts, and the rationale might not always be supported by detailed analyses. Everything we discuss with Tom, from new products to new markets, must be supported with a detailed Profit and
Loss with projections to showcase the point. Only when you have the data can you make a properly informed decision on the right path forwards.
What were the targets and objectives that you wanted to get out of it?
The target was to get better processes around the analysis of new opportunities and decisions behind strategies.
What have you had to change about you/company since mentoring?
I think the new emphasis on data has made the ProtectaPet team much better at recording and celebrating small wins. For example, in 2020 ProtectaPet eliminated polystyrene packaging, with an estimated 28mᶟ of material prevented from going to landfill every year. Polymesh waste produced when tailoring the mesh is now processed in a bailing machine so that it can be recycled. This process prevents an estimated 200mᶟ of waste from going to landfill every year so the total annual reduction in plastic landfill waste is 228mᶟ.
Any visible or tangible evidence of success caused by Mentoring so far?
Since we started working with Tom a year ago, ProtectaPet has grown by 43%, spanning all three areas of the business from the professional installation service, the online shop and export sales. ProtectaPet launched a new UK online shop in January, with the French version set to launch at the end of October. It is an exciting time for the whole team.
How did lockdown affect you and your company?
While the professional installation service was off the road from March through to June in 2020, ProtectaPet were able to mitigate this financial impact with an overnight pivot to focus on the growth of the online shop. Many cat owners, furloughed at home, were looking to undertake DIY projects and garden renovations.
Reflecting on the time since the gradual reopening of the economy in June 2020, ProtectaPet has seen significant growth across all sectors of the business. This can be attributed to a variety of factors including an increase in pet ownership; an increase in spending targeting pets, home and DIY projects.
How did lockdown affect the mentoring process?
All our mentoring sessions were undertaken on Zoom so the support hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic. Our previous mentor was able to visit our premises and this probably enabled him to get a bit of a better insight into the business operations, but it all depends on the objectives of the mentoring.
What do you see as the short and medium term future of your company and also the mentoring process?
ProtectaPet are currently looking to relocate to a larger premises and I have no doubt that Tom will request a detailed Profit and Loss, as well as a list of Strengths and Weaknesses, for every potential location.