HOWND: Mark Hirschel and Jo Amit on growing a cruelty-free brand

Founders of HOWND, a cruelty-free, 100 per cent vegan line of pet care products, talk about managing their rapid growth, despite facing an unexpected obstacle just as they started to take off: a trademark challenge.

A shared love of dogs inspired entrepreneurs Mark Hirschel and Jo Amit to launch HOWND, a range of vegan and cruelty-free certified dog grooming products to bring an ethical option to the pet care market. Since its launch in 2013, HOWND has quickly grown an international presence and is now looking to grow further.

The products are made in the UK and stocked in all Pets at Home stores nationwide, Ocado, WaitrosePet, Amazon, and used by over 2000 professional dog groomers in the UK and overseas. HOWND is now available in 11 countries in Europe, China, South Africa and the UAE with shipping to America to begin in mid-2018.

HOWND’s ethical values and bold approach to innovation has paid off, winning them a clutch of awards and recognition, including the PetQuip Pet Product of the Year (accessories) for its skin, nose and paw Balm.

It has not all been plain sailing, however. A year into trading in 2014, a trademark challenge to the fledgling company resulted in the rebrand to HOWND. What seemed like a potential disaster at the time has turned out to be one of the best things to happen to the founders, says Jo Amit.

“We lost five months of trading, and our year-end accounts in September 2015 showed a turnover of very low gross profit. The turning point came when Pets at Home launched the entire range in 2015, which in turn allowed us to develop new products and attract new customers. Fast forward to a year later, our turnover in comparison was up 475 per cent with a gross profit up 640 per cent on the previous year,” he says.

HOWND’s all natural, cruelty-free and 100 per cent vegan products are unique in the pet market, specifically its use of botanical extracts and pure essential oils that are used in human grooming products, too.

HOWND is endorsed by the Nature Watch Foundation and the brand was awarded the coveted Ethical Accreditation from the Ethical Company Organisation, with all products bearing the Cruelty Free International ‘Leaping Bunny’ logo – one of a handful of pet product manufacturers worldwide to receive this accreditation.

“The amazing response to our brand inspires us to go that little bit further when creating new products. Winning Gold for innovation at PetQuip (An international trade association for manufacturers and suppliers of pet care goods and services) is a huge coup, and really encapsulates what we are all about as a brand. It has helped raise brand awareness and provides further validation that we are moving the business in the right direction”, says co-founder Mark Hirschel.

HOWND is about more than just dog grooming products, he adds. Amit and Hirschel founded and organise ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’, an annual charity event that has captured the heart of the nation, with big names such as Jeremy Clarkson, Ricky Gervais, Coronation Street, Shrek the Musical, Tennis TV, Larry the Cat, and many more tweeting their support on the day.

They launched the high-profile Bring Your Dog To Work Day initiative in 2014, the same year they were facing the trademark challenge and rebrand to HOWND. “Like with everything we’ve done, we have always punched above our weight,” Amit says.

“Bring Your Dog To Work Day is another example of how we took an idea and from its outset made a big impact and captured the imagination of celebrities, dog lovers and thousands of companies who have supported us. We’ve, raised thousands of pounds for charity. Each year the day enjoys tremendous press coverage and social media engagement that culminates in the #BringYourDogToWorkDay hashtag trending at no.1 on Twitter.”

Both Amit and Hirschel are passionate about promoting the adoption of rescue dogs. Last Christmas, they produced a short, low-budget two-minute film “When Harry Met Hero”, which was made to promote the adoption of rescue dogs through the anti-puppy farming “Adopt Don’t Shop” campaign.

Before long, the video went viral on Facebook, racking up 2.7 million video views, which resulted in a 7,900 increase in website traffic four days after its release.

The duo are now working on new grooming innovations alongside the launch of a reward based crowdfunding campaign for HOWND’s first pet care accessory for Q1 next year. Considering their recent success, Mark and Jo are currently preparing for a Series A funding round to help accelerate their expansion.

“In a short time, we have built up a loyal and fast-growing customer base that embraces our core ethos and business values,” says Hirschel. “We have a proven track record, and the fact that we’ve overcome obstacles shows that we have the determination and tenacity to succeed. For the right investor this is an interesting and exciting proposition.”

Jon Sumner

Jon Sumner

Experienced director of digital media with a demonstrated history of working in the publishing industry. Strong media and communication professional skilled in media sales, digital strategy, web development,...