Small Business: What made a 60 Minutes reporter make kit for dogs

By Aimee Shaw

Travel Wags founder Sarah Hall and her pet dogs Billy and Archie.
Travel Wags founder Sarah Hall and her pet dogs Billy and Archie.

Travel Wags creative director Sarah Hall, a former 60 Minutes TV presenter, explains the career change and how her business caters to animal lovers.

The Auckland-based business, which sells "stylish" dog bags, was launched in June this year and has since received interest from a number of US distributors.

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What gave you the idea for the business?

Basically I designed two types of bags that I couldn't find anywhere myself.

I was walking the Waiheke sculpture walk and my dogs were hot and exhausted and wanted a drink and it was on that walk I thought "how stupid that you can't find a dog bag anywhere in the world that has water and a collapsible dog bowl".

The second bag I designed was because I go to the beach every weekend and I was sick of putting their food in my chiller bag, and their toys, leads in another bag - it's basically a diaper bag for dogs.

How long have you been in business?

Travel Wags was launched on the market around eight weeks ago.

Since then we've featured in some on the biggest dog magazines in America and been picked in a number as Editor's Choice for best new products.

We also launched in to the UK due to the size of the population.

How is business in New Zealand?

New Zealand is very interesting. We've had a great response from the stores that have stocked us - they have been really surprised at how quickly they have sold out of their product.

Where do you see the business in five to ten years?

I think Travel Wags can become a strong leader in the dog supply market. We have ideas for many future products. Both of the bags are a first of their kind on the market. I still see that their are gaps in a lot of places to fill in the pet industry, with products that have not been designed.

So you're not currently facing any competition in the market?

Not yet, but we suspect there are people designing bags similar to ours. We are going to continue to come out with new products in the next few months and focus a lot of our energy on the UK market.

Sarah Hall formerly worked as a TV presenter for TV3.
Sarah Hall formerly worked as a TV presenter for TV3.

Do you see the UK as the biggest growth area?

I think the US is actually our biggest growth area. We haven't launched in shops in the US, but we are online. Our strongest sales are coming from the United States.

My sister lives in the UK and she is now a half-owner in Travel Wags so we have the opportunity to be able to launch into the UK.

We are focusing our energy there simply because of the scale and the number of upmarket independent pet stores.

What was the biggest challenge in designing the product?

The biggest challenge was finding all of the different factories to make all of the different components. The water bottle took six months because I needed a bowl-bottle that was going to be ergonomic so that when walking it wouldn't tip over.

The entire process has been incredibly challenging and we've had to do a lot of problem solving a long the way.

What is the best thing about the business?

The best thing is the bags are incredibly well thought out and designed - we spent a long time getting that right.

I hired one of New Zealand's top interior designers, Sonya Cotter, to give the bags a specific look that was stylish enough to take you from the dog park to a cafe.

The bags solve a problem for dog owners and the response from people who buy them has been amazing. I get letters everyday from Americans who are buying them online to say how gorgeous they are and how much they love using them.

Some of Travel Wag's products - a travel dog bowl and tote bag.
Some of Travel Wag's products - a travel dog bowl and tote bag.

What sparked the career change from presenter to business owner?

My love of dogs was a huge part, but also I have looked for these products myself but could never find them.

I contacted many of the big dog product manufacturers for several years asking them "why don't you design the product?", but they never did so in the end I thought "if no one is going to do it, I'll do it myself."

The great thing about Travel Wags is when you are in a business that's involved with dog lovers, all the people who buy the bags send photos of their dogs and I get to hear all their stories. While it is a business there is something very family about the dog lovers community - it's lovely.

What advice would you give to other small business operators?

Ask questions, lots of questions. Do not be afraid to pick up the phone and ask experts for advice and do your research.

Hall is part of the Business Mentors New Zealand programme. Running for 25 years, the program has so far helped more than 70,000 New Zealand businesses.

- NZ Herald

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