Ken Seymour has been a well-known face in the UK pet industry for over 40 years so it was a surprise to many when he announced his retirement last week. He will still act as a consultant for TastyBone for a year but is looking forward to spending more time following his passion of sailing. Now the dust has settled on the sale of his company to Pets Choice, Ken reflects on an outstanding career.
How and when did you start in the pet industry?
I left school at 15 in 1963 and joined the Royal Navy. On my discharge in 1970 I didnt know what to do so went into the motor trade as a salesman with Lucas. (I used to hunt Russian submarines in the Navy, not a trade I could pursue in civvy street).
Lucas wasn't really for me and as we had a labrador I started to knock on doors asking if I could deliver pet food. It was just an idea at the time to help pay the mortgage. I used to go to the local cash and carry and buy Winalot and Chum. I found a company that sold a frozen brawn - Dinnodog Pet Products.
So with those three products I spent every Tuesday and Thursday evening building a delivery round while still working for Lucas during the day. It became a lucrative little business and I decided to try it full time.
How did the business progress?
I had just got married to Barbara, who worked for British Airways. We decided that we could just about exist on her wages while I built up the business. Everything was delivered in my old Ford car. We lived in a tiny flat at the time and products were stored all over the place.
As the business became larger I decided that we needed a van so that I could deliver more products. I purchased a beaten-up old Transit van that wouldn't pass an MOT let alone emission tests today!
My customers were always asking me for frozen meat, so I found a supplier, and installed two chest freezers in our kitchen. Saturday morning became ‘meat cutting and packing day’ with our parents helping with the packing. I spent four days delivering and one day knocking on doors.
After six months I purchased a very small shop in Ealing, West London, and turned it into a pet food shop. My mum and a friend ran the shop while I carried on with the deliveries. Eighteen months later a much larger shop became available in South Ruislip, Middlesex. We sold the small shop in Ealing to concentrate on the new one, which was called Pets Gourmet.
Was the new shop an instant success?
The business took off from day one, so much so that I couldn't carry on with the delivery rounds. The shop featured in ‘Which!’ magazine as one of the best five pet shops in the country. A film crew from the BBC came to the shop to film a feature for John Craven’s News Round. Our five minutes of fame was broadcast that evening. Business boomed. After 23 years in the shop I decided that we couldn't expand any more and decided to sell it. By this time we had two sons and moved into a larger house.
So what did you do next?
I put on a suit, put some squeaky toys in a bag that I was importing from the States, made a four-page catalogue, turned the garage into a ‘warehouse’ and off I went to sell my products. I spent all day on the road, wrote the invoices up in the evening and boxed up the orders first thing in the morning for a friend to deliver the orders and then back out on the road again. It was great fun and long hours but most of all we made money.
What did you call the business?
It was a one-man band called Best Friends Pet Products Ltd and it became a very lucrative business. After six months I decided to move to a proper warehouse in Aylesbury, employ sales and office staff and a driver. I became the distributor of quality products that I was purchasing from the USA and Germany.
We were now really flying and the next step was to manufacture our own products, bedding from the UK and toys from around the world under the Best Friends label. We employed more sales and office staff as we were getting even busier.
We were always more expensive than our competitors but the products we sold were the best – that was our USP. TastyBone became part of our range of products in 2002.
What are your fondest memories from that time?
It was fun, tremendous hard work and long hours, I made many friends in the trade.
What have been the biggest changes in the industry over the years?
The industry has changed beyond all recognition. It has become very professional. The ‘old’ shops have virtually disappeared and been replaced by modern well run businesses with knowledgeable staff. The enormous variety and ideas of products for sale now are incredible.
What’s the story behind the TastyBone brand?
TastyBone was started after a game of croquet with my friend. His dogs kept on picking up the balls and tried to chew them. We had a Labrador-cross at the time and as we all know they would chew through a brick wall. An idea was born –what if I could flavour and colour a croquet ball!? A few months later we launched The TastyBall in two sizes and three flavours. TastyBall became part of the range of products that we sold when we had BFPP Ltd. We manufactured and hoped to sell a few hundred at Petindex/Glee in 2003 – in fact we secured orders for 15,000 balls, mostly for export . In those days we had no idea how to export. We decided to expand the range into TastyBones, producing more flavours and sizes than the leading brand at the time.
We realised that TastyBone was the future for us. It was and still is a unique product with many USPs – all TastyBone products are designed, manufactured and packed in the UK.
We sold BFPP Ltd two and a half years ago to concentrate on TastyBone Ltd and we now have 35 distributors across the globe. It has become a worldwide brand winning export awards along the way.
Why have you decided to sell TastyBone?
We made the decision to sell the company as we were not getting any younger and it was becoming too big for us to take further without employing more staff and taking on more warehouse space. We are incredibly proud of what we have achieved with TastyBone in such a short time and it was a difficult decision to sell it on. TastyBone is now in safe hands and has become part of Pets Choice who I am sure will take it to further heights.
Are you sad to be leaving the industry?
Yes but it really is time to retire. Barbara and I have worked very long hours and it's now time to realise our asset. I feel we have done almost everything that the pet trade could throw at us.
What are you going to do in your retirement?
My hobby and passion has always been sailing. I have owned racing dinghies and become a sailing and power boat instructor. I will probably volunteer to teach disabled people to sail and drive power boats. I also have a small yacht based in Portsmouth and intend to sail around the coast of Britain. I have also been offered a job in the yachting business - not sure I will take it up.
We intend to travel extensively and most of all have fun. We have a great family and many friends and we will spend more time with them. All of the above couldn't have been possible without the support, encouragement and hard work of Barbara, who has always supported me 100% no matter what idea I came up with next.Hopefully yes. I am staying on as a consultant for TastyBone for about a year. I will be in Orlando for the Global show followed by PATS and then Nuremburg in May for Interzoo
Will you keep in touch with people in the industry?