For many, the isolation and loneliness created by successive national and local lockdowns was alleviated by the pitter-patter of puppy paws, but as dog owners faced the prospect of returning to the workplace, a canine loving entrepreneur turned his passion for pooches into pounds after calling on help from Launchpad.
Andrew Irving hit on the idea of launching his dog day care business Forest Dogs in 2019 after being made redundant from his university research job. Keen to try and recapture a better work-life balance he decided to fulfil a long held dream of trying to earn a living by combining his love of the great outdoors and animals.
The net result of Andrew’s efforts is Forest Dogs, unique dog day care service which specialises in helping dogs to enjoy great walks in local woodlands and the beautiful Peak District. With a clear idea in mind, but unsure what self-employment would entail, Andrew realised he needed help in unlocking the potential in his business idea.
The Crookes-based canine lover contacted Launchpad, a tailored support programme which delivers expert advice to new entrepreneurs and business owners looking to take the next step in their business journey across the Sheffield City Region. Working with start-up specialist, Andrew Bunn, the idea for Forest Dogs began to evolve.
Andrew took part in a range of training courses as well as tailored one-to-one sessions, helping to equip him with the vital skills and knowledge to transform his idea into a reality.
Andrew realised that in addition to his long countryside rambles, there was a clear need for pet lovers to keep their furry friends occupied during the day and he decided to introduce a homely day care service providing a safe haven for dogs to enjoy supervised play and even overnight stays.
Forest Dogs is a true family affair for the Crookes-based entrepreneur. Andrew’s wife Carla lends a hand during evenings and weekends to help with the admin of running this business, whilst their children provide the treats and belly rubs for each and every dog they meet.
Today, the fledgling business has built a solid customer base and even a waiting list of energetic dogs, ready to embark upon their next adventure in the beautiful green space around Sheffield.
Covid-19 presented an uncertain future for many businesses, but the Launchpad programme has been on hand to help all SMEs and start-ups across the Sheffield City Region. Since launching their business, the entrepreneurial couple needed to overcome some unprecedented economic hurdles and were determined to use their passion for animal care to transform issues into opportunities.
Andrew Irving, founder of Forest Dogs, said:
“Britain is a nation of animal lovers and many people love the idea of owning a dog for companionship, but realise that it can be challenging, particularly if they are working full-time. The past twelve months have seen a boom in pet ownership numbers and as more people prepare to return to their workplace, many are looking for ways of looking after their canine companions during the daytime.
“I have always loved dogs and thought for a long time that taking dogs for a walk would be a nice way to earn a living, but I knew the market was really competitive. I felt I could offer something a little more special by combining proper woodland walks with home from home day care and boarding, but when it came to transforming the idea into a reality, I wasn’t sure where to start.
“The support provided by the Launchpad programme has been essential to our rapid growth as a recent start-up, but, they didn’t just help provide useful advice and resources to get going, they also gave me confidence that my idea could work and make the leap into self-employment. Since launching the business, I’ve been so grateful for the amount of interest my business has attracted and working with Launchpad has given me the confidence to believe in my idea, introduce new services and even recruit additional members of staff… something I couldn’t have imagined twelve months ago.
Joan Binns, Business Adviser, SCR Launchpad said:
“Sometimes creating a business is all about following your passion and being in the right place at the right time. Andrew recognised that dog walking and day care services are a popular type of lifestyle business, but by drawing on his love and knowledge of the great outdoors he has been able to build a company and differentiate his business in quite a competitive marketplace.
“Andrew had a great idea for his business, but realised that he needed help when it came to understand what his responsibilities were when it came to running the business. As restrictions continue to ease, I am sure that his business will continue to be in high demand and the growth he has enjoyed is a glowing testament to his hard work and efforts.”
Support from the Launchpad programme has also enabled Forest Dogs to bring in a new employee, set up a brand new website, www.forest-dogs.co.uk and has also given Andrew the confidence to diversify his business offering. Today, in addition to his core dog walking services, Andrew has developed a special doggy day care service, as well as overnight stays for a select number of visitors.
With many workers facing a return to the office, Andrew’s business is well placed to take advantage of the significant rise in pet ownership, whilst giving owners peace of mind that their dogs are being well looked after.
Launchpad is the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub’s key business support programme for new business. Financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by local authorities within the Sheffield City Region and the Prince’s Trust, the programme provides free help and support to budding entrepreneurs in the Sheffield City Region who are thinking of starting their own business, or looking for help to achieve business growth.