Delhi-based Rashi Narang has always known a life that was shared with pets. She left home to pursue higher studies in the United Kingdom, got married and returned in 2006 to a furry birthday gift — a Labrador pup named Sara.
“I was glad to have a pet at home after many years and got engrossed with caring for her,” she recollects.
Her journey as a pet parent led her to discover a number of gaps in the market. “Like any other pet parent, I tried to find a good quality leash, collars, bed, treats and toys. But the existing stores offered basic products with no variety to choose from,” she tells The Better India.
Rashi says that apart from the accessories, she could not find food sans harmful chemicals and could not read or understand the names of the preservatives used in dog treats. Moreover, there were little to no choices for grooming products and other essentials.
Disappointed with the products and their poor quality, Rashi started designing her own for her dog, which led her to launch the startup — Heads Up For Tails (HUFT). The 38-year-old began the startup in 2008 to create products that help pets live a better life.
Unique, Customised Products
Rashi says that dogs should always play with products that stimulate their mental and physical being. “It is their instinct, and they cannot remain confined to closed spaces. It is evident when they sniff everything around their surroundings during their walks,” she says.
She has created products with functionality and design, churning out products like jackets, collars, beds and other items. “I designed jackets that were well-suited as per the dog’s breed, bowls that were convenient for them to access food and leashes that did not harm the pets. But when I approached retailers, everyone refused to put the products on their shelves,” she says.
She says the shop owners were adamant that her products would not sell, and Rashi says she faced almost 200 rejections from various retailers.
“I learned from experience that the majority of the shop owners were not pet parents and could not relate to the products. They failed to understand the need of the dogs and perceived pet products as just another business. But it needed a more thoughtful approach,” she says.
That’s when Rashi started putting her products on display at exhibitions during festivals like Diwali and Christmas. This, she says, was the turning point for her business.
“The customers interacted directly with me and shared their thoughts and ideas about the products. Many visitors at the events were pet owners and instantly related to the products. They gave me encouraging feedback,” she says, adding that motivated by the positive response, she invested Rs 5 lakh to set up a kiosk at a city mall.
Rashi says the venture further helped her interact with customers, note their feedback and sell her products. “The pet parents asked queries and came with various requests for customised products, as per their dogs’ requirements. We also helped pet parents by teaching them about walking their dogs, taking care of them and understanding their pets better,” she adds.
Sharing examples of innovative products, she says, “We created a water bowl for Cocker Spaniels that would ensure their long ears would not come in the way or get wet every time they drank water. We also made orthopaedic beds for elderly dogs. We came up with harmful chemical-free food, as customers complained about toxic chemicals and allergies their dogs caught after consuming certain products. Our product range increased to over 100 such products and helped to scale up the business.”
In 2009, when her husband moved to Singapore for work, Rashi kept her business afloat from overseas. “We had launched the website by then and had a team of 10. It was difficult to manage it remotely, especially with the logistics and supply product chain,” she admits.
But the move did her business good.
Six years later, Rashi returned to India and was already in talks with investors in Singapore to fund her startup. “There were a few companies interested in investing in the startup, but I wanted to find the right opportunity and time to put it in the business. The first round of investment came through a Singapore-based high net-worth individual (HNIs) who invested $1 million,” she says.
She adds that the money enabled her to expand the product range and categories. Since then, there has been no looking back. In 2017, she received another set of funding with $2.6 million.
Today, HUFT sells over 5,000 products through its 41 stores and has 20 dog spas located in nine cities across Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana. The business earned Rs 48 crore in 2020 and they aim to reach a target of Rs 150 crores with 55 stores in 2021. The price for her products starts from Rs 40 for dog food and goes up to Rs 20,000 for a comfortable couch.
Sustainable & Organic Pet Food
Rashi claims that Sara’s Treat is one of the most popular products, and is made from human-grade food ingredients, thus making them “entirely preservative-free, hormone-free and antibiotic-free treat”. But she adds that “there are many popular products across different categories”.
Bisham Lilaram, an entrepreneur from Delhi, says he came across an HUFT retail shop around 2009 and has been a loyal customer ever since. “I was passing through Chhatarpur [Madhya Pradesh] when I came across their store and decided to pay a visit. There was only one shop I preferred to buy products for my dog before I came across HUFT and I was instantly impressed,” he says.
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Bisham says the best feature about the startup is that all the products are dog-friendly and made considering the comfort of the pet. “They have all the sizes, shapes and colours, which leaves you spoilt for choices,” he adds.
Rashi believes that passion and purpose helped her achieve the feat and scale heights. “I needed a lot of motivation, and there were times I felt like quitting when times were hard. Moreover, managing a child with a growing business only added to my challenges,” she says.
Rashi says that she was way ahead of the curve. “We entered into sustainable, natural and organic food products for dogs even before the market was ready. It took a long time for the market to catch up. But it eventually did,” she says.
Commenting about her journey so far, she says, “I feel privileged to have pet parents who gave valuable feedback, spent time with the products and put their trust in us and directed us to bring the best possible items for their pets.”
Their innovation with new products has not stopped. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the startup came up with a dog sanitiser for dog paws and toys that would mentally stimulate the dogs. “We created puzzles for dogs to fetch food through a snuffle mat. We made lick mats for the pets to eat yoghurt or other food, which helps to enhance their senses and social skills. A chew bone was also introduced, which helps dogs calm down and exercises their teeth,” she explains.
As a tip for entrepreneurs, Rashi says, “Always remain close to the customers. That is what helped me move from being rejected to gaining customer loyalty and trust in the market. It is crucial to build a team that works on the feedback, closes the market gaps and works towards delivery. I review every feedback or complaint from the customers. Sometimes it is the logistics or the packaging of the product but I address them all.”
On a parting note, Rashi says, “We are privileged to have pets in our lives and be able to spend time with them. We should all respect their needs and meet them to give them a quality life.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao