Dogged by success

Posted on 3 Feb 2010 by The Manufacturer

Our domesticated companions have never had it so good. Tim Brown talks to Armitage Pet Care chief executive, Paul Bousfield, who says that when it comes to our friends of the furry, scaled and feathered variety, Armitage aims to please.

Pet accessories is not necessarily a market synonymous with innovation, but constant improvement is at the core of the Armitage approach and it has clearly paid dividends. Over the last 12 months, the company has shunned the economic recession to achieve relatively strong growth and increase its margins largely through improved efficiencies and product development.

With its main office and distribution centre in Nottingham as well as a manufacturing site in Pinxton, Armitage makes products for almost every mainstream animal including dogs, cats, fish, birds and rodents. The company not only produces boutique offerings but also a staple range of typical pet products such as bowls, collars, leashes, food and enclosures. “Our strength is that we supply everything including food and all the accessories that one would want,” says Bousfield. “We are a one-stop solution and are the only player in the market with meaningful brands across a whole portfolio of ranges.” Indeed, the Armitage Pet Care umbrella shelters such recognised brands as Good Boy, Gussie, Kagesan, Rotastak and Wafcol to name only a few.

Bousfield considers the Armitage manufacturing product design program to be one of the company’s core competencies. “We take an approach which is to take different ideas to a market that has been starved of innovation.” And indeed Armitage is in a league of its own when it comes to the creation of novel pet products with inspiration for new products commonly found simply by looking at human products.

One of the most successful and original of Armitage’s products solved the age old issue of canines and chocolate.

As any dog owner will testify, when it comes to chocolate, the last thing on a dog’s mind is self preservation.

Leave a Toblerone out on the kitchen table too long and undoubtedly your pooch will get its sticky paws on it. But of course the consumption of chocolate can potentially kill a dog. Enter Armitage, which has allowed dogs to have their chocolate and eat it too with their range of cocoa-free chocolate for dogs.

While Armitage has a very strong share in the pet food market, not all of its products are edible. The upcoming release of the dog ‘Space Lobber’ will undoubtedly replicate the company’s success with other equally unusual products. For the uninitiated, the human space hopper is a giant bouncy ball which can be ridden to provide a highly enjoyable but somewhat ineffective mode of transportation. The ‘Space Lobber’ is a large 30cm tall latex squeaky toy, with a similarity to the human space hopper in shape and can provide the family pooch with a great deal of entertainment.

Dog chocolate and space hoppers are only the tip of the food bowl when it comes to the Armitage range of pioneering pet products. In fact, to remain as the largest independent supplier and distributor of branded pet accessories and treats in the UK, Armitage Pet Care undertakes a constant process of creation and development. “We are the market leader by a country mile in terms of this sort of product range,” says Bousfield. “You will find in the pet world a large degree of humanisation in many pet products.

An example might be posh shampoo for dogs, which I think reflects the way in which we now treat our pets.” With a core staff of 150 and an extra 30 seasonal staff, Armitage has engaged the use of what Bousfield terms cross functional teams which drive progress and ensure continued operational and efficiency improvements. Each sector of the business is allocated a team which is tasked with problem solving and solution implementation. In the event that an issue becomes apparent, the relevant cross functional team is responsible for taking the issue from the cradle to the grave which ensures all improvements are not only undertaken but completed.

Bousfield took the position of chief executive with Armitage just over a year ago but has already overseen a considerable change in operational structure and company culture. “I would describe us as a good company that just needed some principles set in place,” he says. “Those principles were about how to get onto the next development and encapsulating as a team all the initiatives that we need to do. We are already getting terrific results from a team that is now feeling empowered. Empowerment, innovation and better teamwork have been the major improvements.” Such benefits have been evident in Armitage’s ability to reduce its environmental impact, a topic considered of substantial importance at the company. “We take the environment very seriously and have used improvements in the efficiencies of our processes to reduce waste,” says Bousfield. “Running our machines more wisely has also been absolutely key and has allowed us to significantly reduce our energy use.” Of course it is not only environmental benefits that go hand in hand with efficiency. Unlike many companies over the last 18 months, Armitage has remained considerably buoyant during the downturn. “Our sales are in healthy growth and our margin has substantially grown and that has been achieved through all the teamwork and efficiency improvements we have made. The pet industry is not recession proof by any stretch of the imagination but it isn’t the first to suffer.

People tend to be very supportive of their pets in terms of spend.”

With such a credible performance during what has been a fairly tumultuous time for most manufacturing sectors, is it any wonder that Bousfield has big plans for the future of Armitage. Indeed, he says the company is aiming to double its turnover within the next five years. “To do that,” he says, “will be all about owning the areas in which we operate and driving the innovation and brand development which other key activities. We are not just going to import products from China, and we are going to invest and develop and build our brands.” The trajectory for Armitage is clearly onwards and upwards. Through further consolidation of its position in the pet care market, the company is in a strong position to realise its growth potential both within the staple as well as the novel pet product areas. Of course, the company’s future product developments are limited only by the imaginations of the designers, who are undoubtedly current working on the next big thing in the pet world.