Barking up the right tree ... Naomi Davis and her pug Rufio. Photo: Supplied
Sydney entrepreneur Naomi Davis has her pug dog, Rufio, to thank for her success in the business world. That and her social media nous.
At just 24, Davis heads her own organic dog treat business. With a slick website and an impressive Facebook profile behind her, the Sydneysider is attracting a growing customer base of "crazy dog people”.
Some people call me a crazy dog lady and I've met a few sceptics who are like: 'What, organic food for dogs? That's crazy.'
Davis launched Treats A La Bark in August last year, selling homemade organic dog biscuits and doggy accessories such as bowls and placemats.
"Lab" tested? Some of Treats A La Bark's clientele.
The business was launched after Davis, then 23, noticed Rufio had developed skin irritations. This led her to take an interest in exactly what her dog was eating. What she found shocked her.
“The treats were definitely the worst ones; there were a lot of weird things in those,” she said.
“I realised many commercial foods are highly processed with known common allergens for dogs such as wheat, corn and soy.
A happy customer. Photo: www.treatsalabark.com.au
“I started changing his diet and thinking he needed to eat more natural foods, so I started making my own treats for him.”
Davis' low-allergy dog treats became popular with her family and friends' pooches – so popular that she was encouraged to start selling them.
Starting up her own business was the natural next step for the enterprising Davis, who gave up a career in human resources to be her own boss.
She began experimenting with recipes, hiring the services of a food laboratory and formulating a website for Treats A La Bark – all while juggling her full-time corporate job.
“It was pretty hard juggling both,” she said.
“When I was doing my full-time I would come home and be on the internet until 2 or 3am and spend my weekends working all day, all night. It was such a challenge, but I love learning.”
Davis spent less than $10,000 on start-up costs. She hired an intern to design her packaging and a friend to develop her website.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing. She initially hired two web developers to create a specific web design for her new business. After Davis' creative requests were repeatedly met with refusals and she discovered the designers were using a web page template, she promptly fired them.
“I wasn't going to launch a website I wasn't happy with,” she said. “I think it's really important that a website reflects your brand and what you're about.”
Perfecting her product was the main priority, followed closely by a solid social media campaign.
“Social media has basically been the key to my success,” she said. “Without it I don't know how this would work. I think it's just the coolest thing ever.”
Davis embarked on her social media quest even before launching her product.
“I wanted to try to build a database and a following of people straight away,” she said. “With social media you're getting people in before they even think about making a purchase.
“It takes up a lot of time but it's definitely something that's important.”
Using Google Analytics, Davis discovered most of her customers found her website through Facebook.
In addition to Facebook, she regularly blogs, tweets and pins to Pinterest. She also attends entrepreneur seminars and women-in-business conferences.
For now, Treats A La Bark is a one-woman show. Davis does all the baking, administration and customer correspondence.
And given cleverly named products such as Organic Peanut Butter and Blueberry Barkscotti, dog lovers are finding it hard to resist.
“Everyone comments on Barkscotti and I really loved playing with that,” she said.
“Some people call me a crazy dog lady and I've met a few sceptics who are like: 'What, organic food for dogs? That's crazy.'
“But I really hope that people can see that food does affect your body and I really want people to learn it's the same for dogs as well.
“I want to create a world where dogs are seen as part of the family and treated as part of the family and that means healthy food for everyone.”