Building a successful business is often seen as the ultimate endgame. But for first-time business owners Corrin Elliott and Roxane Coutts, success meant starting small. Combining a shared love for dogs and a desire to build something of their own, Corrin and Roxane joined forces and launched Barkery Deluxe Dog Treats.
Barkery Deluxe is an all-natural, Australian-made dog treat company based in Buxton in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
“It all started out as a bit of a hobby really, something we could do on the side as busy mums,” says Corrin. “Our original idea was just to sell some biscuits at a market stall.” Little did they know how far that simple idea would take them.
From a humble start at a weekend market to running retail pop-up shops right across Melbourne, the pair now supply vet clinics, animal hospitals and cafes, and dispatch orders across the country.
All with a doggedly loyal clientele to boot. Not bad for a side hustle made by hand.
How it started
Having met through friends at a bootcamp class, Corrin and Roxane hit it off straight away.
We did a lot of mud run obstacle courses together, where you’re being dragged through freezing mud.
“It was a good training ground for dealing with adversity and teamwork!” laughs Corrin.
Roxane had long harboured the idea of making healthy, nutritious dog treats and selling them at local markets.
One day at the local swimming pool with their kids, the conversation swung to returning to work and Roxane shared her idea of going into business.
Corrin didn’t hesitate, “We met up for lunch a week later — no kids, no distractions — and started making notes.”
Trial and error
Working in their respective kitchens, their first foray involved a lot of research and experimentation. “Our recipes were tweaked over time, with a lot of trial and error,” says Roxane. “We started out with just a couple of biscuits, and we were doing it all individually, in our own homes.”
Their first stall at a local weekend market was a surprise hit. “The response was great,” says Corrin. “We had lots of support from people we knew — friends, family, other parents.” Encouraged, they kept going, revising their recipes.
The two even consulted their local vet to make sure the products had clinical approval. They did.
From bone-shaped biscuits to dog donuts and bow-wow bars, their products are free from preservatives, chemicals or additives. All are made using quality Australian, human-grade ingredients.
“We’re extremely proud of our products,” says Roxane. “If we can’t make it from scratch, with fresh ingredients, we won’t sell it.
“That way we can guarantee the quality, that everything is locally-sourced, and nothing is imported.”
A growing business
By now, the business had grown too big for Corrin and Roxane to run out of their kitchens. They upscaled to a purpose-built premises on Roxane’s property and set up a small factory with commercial equipment.
This enabled them to apply for a PrimeSafe licence, which strictly regulates meat, seafood and pet food production in Victoria. Barkery Deluxe Dog Treats is one of the few pet food businesses in Australia to have a PrimeSafe licence.
“It definitely sets us apart from our competitors,” says Corrin.
“We get audited twice a year by the same governing body that audits the big companies”, adds Roxane. “It assures our quality control and procedures; everything gets assessed and audited and we have to abide by those regulations.
“It’s a big thing and ongoing, which is why a lot of other companies don’t go down this path.”
Building an online home
When it came time to build an eCommerce store for their business, Corrin and Roxane admit it was something they knew very little about.
“We were rather ‘tech-challenged,” laughs Corrin. They did their research and canvassed opinions from other businesses that had done the same thing.
The idea of building a website was very overwhelming and scary, but we didn’t have the money to pay someone else.
“Once we found GoDaddy, it was all so easy and straightforward, especially for someone like me who didn’t have much experience,” says Corrin.
“We were led through the whole journey. Being able to call up support and get advice when we needed it made such a difference”.
“Having that website in place is pretty much how we survived during lockdowns when we couldn’t do face-to-face sales.
“GoDaddy really helped us with that — we would have been in big trouble without it. It’s hard to believe now how any business could grow without it.”
Like so many Australian businesses, Corrin and Roxane had to rethink their business model when COVID-19 hit. Withall retail closing due to lockdown, the pair lost 70% of their income overnight.
“We had the website set up and we were taking a few online orders when it all hit,” says Roxane.
So we started pushing the website more, marketing ourselves a bit like ‘Uber-Eats for dogs’ and offering contactless drop offs.
“In between lockdowns, we managed to squeeze in a pop-up here and there, but it was all over the shop.
“The biggest lesson we learned was how we approach our online sales,” says Roxane. “We know the importance now of having a good website that’s customer-friendly and easy to navigate. We know we need to future-proof ourselves and solidify our online presence. COVID really taught us that”.
So, what’s next for Barkery Deluxe Dog Treats?
With stores reopening and lockdowns hopefully a thing of the past, Corrin and Roxane are keen to take their business to the next level.
“We’re looking forward to growing our business,” says Corrin. “For this to grow big enough for us to take on employees and step back a little, so we can focus on growing it and managing it. This is the year to see it really take off”.
“My dream is a Barkery Deluxe Dog Treats franchise around Australia and Barkery Deluxe Dog Treats bays in pet stores,” Roxane says.
“Right now, we’re the accountants, the PR, the manufacturers, the sellers — we are everything. We’re always coming up with new ideas for new products. Hopefully, we can explore those ideas further down the track.”
Corrin and Roxane’s top tips for new business owners
Whether you’re starting a side hustle or looking to pivot your existing business, Corrin and Roxane have a couple of key tips to keep in mind:
1. Make sure you love what you do
“If you’re doing it purely for profit, you’ll lose your passion for it,” says Corrin. “If it was just for the money, it would be so hard to not walk away from the hard stuff.”
2. Minimise your risks by starting small
“What saved us is that we never tried to run before we could walk,” says Roxane.
We would rather work until midnight, night after night, than borrow more than we could pay back.
That meant we could trundle along in lockdown, even though we lost 70% of our income. We knew we would survive no matter what. We would have been in a lot more trouble if we had over-extended.”
Barking up the right tree
Through hard work, determination and a whole lot of love, Corrin and Roxane have turned a part-time hobby into a thriving full-time enterprise.
And it all started with a simple idea. If you have an idea ticking away in the back of your mind or there’s a passion project you’ve dreamed of turning into a business, all it needs is that first step. Start small, doing something you love, and build from there. Your passion project could well become the next diamond in the ‘ruff.’ Back yourself and go for it!