Wednesday, February 9, 2011

FouFou Dog - The Start Up Story

In FouFou Dog's 2nd year of business, CBC Venture contacted Cheryl to feature FouFou Dog on their program that highlighted unique Canadian businesses, covering aspects of the Canadian economy and beyond. Cheryl, Evelyn, and myself were a three person team at the time, working together out of the basement of my parent's house. I remember we were absolutely thrilled and excited when they contacted us and the feature involved months of having them follow us around with their camera crew to shoot random footage of us at work. The CBC Venture crew even followed us to New York City where we attended the 1st annual NY Pet Fashion Week trade show.

Watching the video (posted above) is like taking a trip down memory lane as I am reminded of the cold, dingy basement, with no drywall, nor carpet, where we used to spend 8+ hours a day working.  In the area outside of our "office" were baskets that lined the walls from floor to ceiling with colourful dog apparel and toys.  The picking and packing area consisted of overflowing tables of charms and accessories that we used to fill orders.  I had almost forgotten about this clip until just recently as someone had posted it on YouTube.

At the time of the filming, FouFou Dog was only about 2 years old;  Evelyn was 22, I was 25 and Cheryl was 27. We were a team of young, ambitious, inexperienced ladies with mouths thirsty for fame and fortune. If you watch the video, you can see that we had a lot at stake. The time and money we invested into a company consisting of dressing up your dog was an unorthodox and risky business back then, because none of us were sure if the doggy dressing trend would be a dying fad or not.

I will never forget how incredibly scary and stressful times were back then when we had (as Cheryl mentioned in the video) bank loans, personal lines of credit, and credit cards with balances climbing everyday in addition to our own personal life savings invested.  I very quickly realized just how much money and capital it costs to get a start-up company off the ground.  These days, when anyone asks me about starting up their own company, I always tell them, "You have to have a lot of capital."

Since we were starting up a wholesale company, it meant we needed to stock a LOT of inventory, which is ultimately where 50% of our capital went.  I remember looking around at the walls of dog apparel and accessories we would have on hand and think to myself, "That's all our money sitting there... " 

Being a small Canadian business trying to make a dent in the huge American pet industry, we were maxing out our credit cards in order to attend trade shows in the United States.  To give an idea, renting booth space alone at a US trade show could easily run you a few thousand dollars.  In order to save money, we would purchase IKEA furniture to display our collection at the shows, fill a van with the furniture and as much inventory that we could fit, and make the 8-10 hour drive to the trade shows, sharing a double room at nearby, economical hotels. 

While Cheryl and I have had many heated debates in the past about attending too many trade shows that were out of our budget, Cheryl continued to demand that the trade shows were essential in developing our brand name.  She felt and still feels that it is important to make a presence in the industry where retailers can meet and greet us, put a face behind our company, as well as physically touch and feel our products.  Cheryl has always, and still is, a real stickler for branding.  She always says, "It takes a person 7 times to see your brand name before they will remember it..."  With that said, FouFou Dog has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to date on branding alone: whether it is through physical packaging, promotional items, events, or social media.

If you watch the video, you will also notice that we have spent a lot of time, money, and efforts to make our catalogue outstanding.  On top of branding, it was important for Cheryl to make FouFou Dog, a small time company, APPEAR large and reputable, even if we weren't.  The video mentions going from a 6 page catalogue (from year 1) to 32 pages (in year 2).  Again, the costs to produce this colourful catalogue of glossy, 8 pt, 100 lb stock to portray our entire collection was a tremendous investment that we had to make, which was still pertinent to Cheryl.

Luckily, the stresses and struggles have paid off and the fad of dressing your dog is here to stay while it continues to evolve over the years.  The rewards that we reap from the success of FouFou Dog boils down to the recognition and demand for our name brand, which is what Cheryl has been striving for since Day 1.  It is a great feeling to hear someone mention that they love FouFou Dog or to even ask us where they can buy it.  With balances down to $0.00, lines of credit at our disposal and bank loans paid off in full, the pressure of "making it" is no longer an issue.  But FouFou Dog did not get to where it is today without the stress, sweat, blood, and (as seen in the video), some tears along the way. 

While we have come a long way since we started, I sometimes get the feeling that we've only just begun...


  1. Great article!

    Thank you for posting and continued success!

  2. Hey Cheryl,
    Great post! Congrats on making it with Foufou dogs.... I know exactly how hard it is to promote, sell, market and brand a name in a very competitive yet tight industry!

    Campbell Morden Vaughan

  3. Great post, Jenn! FouFouDog is an inspiration for start up businesses.