The Pet Caterer - Transcript
An interview with a man who feeds animals for a living.
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Janice: Today on Business Bulletin, we will be speaking to Dan Johnson Smith who runs Animal Appetite. Now, this company....well, Dan, welcome to the show, why don't YOU explain to our listeners exactly what it is you do?
Dan: Hi, Janice. Err, well, basically, we call ourselves animal caterers...or pet caterers would I think be a more accurate term.
Janice: Pet caterers?
Dan: Yep, we prepare high quality, nutritious food for people's pets. And we've been doing so, with increasing success, for about two years.
Janice: Now, some of our listeners may be a little sceptical Dan.
Dan: I was too when my wife first suggested this idea to me.
Janice: Does she help you with the enterprise?
Dan: Yes, it's a two-person operation. My wife, Carol...deals, she deals with the food side of things. Ensuring that our products meet the highest standards of nutrition and, very importantly I feel, making sure each of our products is suitable for the animal it is intended for. Too many companies have a business model based on mass production being the most cost effective but we individually cater our food products for different animals...
Janice: ...so you have meat for the dogs, fish for the cats, nuts and seeds for the parrots...
Dan: Oh, we go way beyond that Janice. When we say individually cater, we mean exactly what we say. Different breeds of dog have different nutritional requirements and we do our best to meet those requirements. A Labrador will prosper and grow healthy on food which is slightly different to that which you feed a Poodle, for example.
Janice: Oh, I never realised.
Dan: Yeah, it's true. And not only that, but we go through an extensive consultation period with each of our customers when they first get in touch with us. A particular dog, or cat for that matter, we deal with over 40 different animal types at Animal Appetite...err, a particular dog may have a history of being overweight, or have heart problems, or be diabetic, or maybe have an allergy to certain products, or...
Janice: Are cats and dogs allergic to food?
Dan: Oh, for sure they are! They are complex biological machines in much the same way we are. It's just that you or I can go and see our doctors every six months and have our diet examined and our blood tested, so we find out these things whereas cats and dogs will eat something that reacts with their body and we may never know about it unless it gets serious. So we run some basic tests on all animals when we start working with a customer.
Janice: What kinds of allergy do you find?
Dan: Well, many types, ranging from sugar to pollen. It's amazing really. We had an Old English Sheepdog that couldn't eat meat, err, a Siamese Cat that couldn't eat fish...
Janice: Really? A cat that can't eat fish?
Dan: Well, we discovered it was only certain types of fish in the end...very complex business, I can tell you!
Janice: OK, well take us through the process. Someone gets in touch with Animal Appetite. Then what?
Dan: The first thing we do is to go and see the animal or animals. We run some basic tests to see if the food we would normally prepare for that type of animal will cause problems or not. We speak to the owners to find out the medical history of the animal, any problems with the heart or the liver or whatever. And then we start the deliveries.
Janice: OK, well this is the part that fascinates me. So, do you turn up to these people's houses with great silver platters like you would for a wedding reception?
Dan: No, no it's nothing like that. We make deliveries to our customers' houses every three or four days...for a cat or dog, that would be. In this way, we ensure that the food is always fresh, we don't want to be selling stale food to anyone. These animals get the best food on offer, that is why their owners come to us. So, every few days, we will drive around in our truck, it's a big white thing with the cutest Animal Appetite slogan down the side, you may have seen it...
Janice: I may have, yes....
Dan: And we don't have a silver platter, no - it's usually a picnic type hamper come to think of it.
Janice: You don't bring the cutlery and crockery too, do you?
Dan: No, no - the owners will use their usual bowls and things for their own pets. We only bring in the food.
Janice: OK, now before you mentioned that you have over 40 types of animals on the books at Animal Appetite. Did you mean breeds of cats and dogs?
Dan: Oh no! I mean, it's true that cats and dogs do make up around 60% of our income but the other 40% is a veritable Noah's Ark of other creatures both great and small.
Janice: For example?
Dan: Oh, where to start!? Hmm, we have a couple of goats, a badger, an otter, a few horses and donkeys. Then we have a lot of smaller animals such as parrots, pigeons, hamsters, lizards and, well, the list goes on. I'm thinking of opening a zoo!
Janice: Wow! That's a lot of animals. I can't believe people are keeping horses and goats in the city though.
Dan: You'd be surprised. Well, it's true a lot of the larger animals are out of town on larger plots of land but you would be surprised to see what some people have right here under your nose in the city!
Janice: Now, Dan. You said that Animal Appetite had been going for some two years or more. Where did you get the idea from and how hard was it to bring it to fruition?
Dan: My wife, Carol, had the idea when we were looking after these six husky dogs for a friend of mine who was away on vacation. He was actually in Alaska with his wife and kids and the irony was not lost on me. There I was with his pack of Huskies and he was in the snow and ice of Alaska. Anyway, the job was a lot more involved than I thought - and a lot harder than my good friend had made out. We spent a very intense two weeks with those dogs and I couldn't believe how careful you had to be with pedigree dogs like that, and of course not only with pedigrees.
Janice: And you were bitten by the bug, so to speak?
Dan: Yeah, I think I was. It was hard work but most enjoyable and I just got to think about how many animals were being fed poorly and you know what they say, we say "you are what you eat" and that is as true for pets as for us owners. So Carol, she says to me, "hey, you can do this, why don't you try to do this for a living?", and you know, I had just been made redundant from the local software company..
Janice: Oh yes, ZLT Systems, I remember when it went bust a few years back.
Dan: Well, best thing that ever happened to me Janice. I mean it. That spell of unemployment gave me some perspective and now here I am with the best job I've ever had. I wake up in the morning and I can't WAIT to get to work.
Janice: Ok, that is so great. Now, you said Carol was the food guru in your partnership?
Dan: Aha! Yep, she does the cooking, so to speak. I deal with all the deliveries and doing the books, I'm the accountant and the delivery boy. Yep, if we go to jail for tax evasion, that'll be down to me, haha!!
Janice: And the name of your business? I love it, Animal Appetite. Was that you or Carol who thought of that?
Dan: Oh, neither! That was Patsy, our seven year old daughter. Well, she's seven now but she was only five at the time so to think that she had come up with this superb idea for a name at five years of age, well, it's remarkable! We were coming to our wits end thinking up a name, I can tell you!
Janice: Dan Johnson Smith, founder of Animal Appetite and self proclaimed tax expert, thank you so much for coming on the show this afternoon.
Dan: Janice, it's been great talking to you and your listeners.
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