Can you tell me about your business?
Ultra Pet Food specialises in the sale and distribution of New Zealand-made, premium dry food for dogs and cats.
I started the business in 2008 as a sales and marketing company, looking for worthwhile products to sell in New Zealand. One day I read about all these nasty dog attacks on little children and adults and thought there must be something that could help people with some sort of protection. In the US I found a product called the Dazer - a dog deterrent device that fends off dangerous dogs and helps reduce their barking - and since then we've sold hundreds of them here each year.
That product also gave us an interest in the local pet market, and led to the opportunity to help an Auckland manufacturer promote the sales of the Ultra brand of dry kibble for dogs. Then last year we extended our range with another New Zealand manufacturer of holistic 'grain free' pet food called Addiction.
Today we employ three staff and have 18 sub-distributors nationwide, and we're on target to generate in excess of $1 million in turnover.
What prompted you to start your business at a later stage in your life?
When I was 56 I started thinking about retirement being just around the corner and began to ask myself a few questions. They were things like, did I want to be totally out of the workforce at 65, what would I do, and if I really wanted to live on the pension and watch my savings dwindle away?
Up to then I'd moved through lots of industries - banking, food, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, computers - and had experience in sales, marketing and management roles. I finally ended up as general manager of a large computer importer and distributor, but that job came with lots of meetings and big demands on my time to produce results, manage staff and be creative.
I soon realised what I really wanted was to be more productive; to work smarter in a shorter time frame, and have more flexibility with my working days.
What are some of the challenges you've encountered as a laterpreneur?
Firstly you have to deal with people who think you're having a major meltdown or the fearful mid-life crisis! Another challenge is, of course, if you've been successful in your career and moved up the salary ladder and gained the extra perks, it's hard to start with zero income - especially if your family is used to that lifestyle of good living and overseas travel.
Another challenge is you have to upskill yourself across a lot of different aspects of business, whereas in a previous corporate life you may been 'vertically experienced' in one aspect like sales management.
How about the benefits or opportunities, though?
Having a varied work history does make you very streetwise. It's also helped me as a problem solver, because I can be a more divergent thinker. So rather than take on the big competitors head-on in the retail space for the Ultra Pet Food brand, we've developed a strategy for pet owners to buy from a local distributor who loves having their own dog belonging to local dog clubs and so on.
What resources or sources of support have you found helpful now you're running your own business?
The best support has come from people who've experienced similar challenges with a startup company. We're fortunate to work in a large, serviced office environment that houses a lot of successful small to mid-sized, entrepreneurial businesses. Talking to these owner operators, as well as my friends in Rotary and at the local bowling club has really helped me gather the contacts and knowledge I've needed.
What's a key piece of advice you'd you have for someone else considering starting a business later in life?
Think about what sort of work will bring you joy. Plus, build a business that will give you the mental stimulus and the financial gain that goes way past the 'too young' retirement age.