Would you think it’s crazy to quit a “high-flying” job paying a “five-figure monthly salary” to start a pet food business?
It doesn’t sound so crazy actually, considering that Singapore’s pet food segment brings in US$107 million in revenue in 2019, and the market is expected to grow annually by 2.8% in the next four years?
But Terry Peh, owner of two dogs, isn’t really looking at getting a lion’s share of the pie.
He just wants to really help pet owners be Good Dog People (GDP).
A Problematic Pet-ty Problem
“When I started raising two rescued Miniature Schnauzers in 2007, there was no social media and an evident lack of education in pet care,” 36-year-old Terry Peh said.
“There was very little regulation in the commercial pet food market, often resulting in irresponsible products sold and inflated product claims.”
The founder of Good Dog People vividly remembers when a friend’s dog had choked on rawhide and died.
“Think about this – if rawhide is made of bleached leather, slapped with paint and glued into odd shapes, why is rawhide still found in every pet store today?”
Terry’s first dog almost died when the pet store refused to treat its ring worms infestation, and his second one was abandoned by a couple who was going through a divorce.
Both his dogs also came with “baggage”, like behavioural and health problems.
“It also didn’t help that I often get strong, differing views from enthusiastic individuals who were eager to share their opinions as ‘the right advice’,” he explained.
“So I went through the school of hard knocks without having a dependable support system.”
He thinks that the struggles new pet owners face are real, and that responsible pet ownership could have been easier and more prevalent if there was a strong support system for them.
His interest in the pet business grew when he noticed that more investors are funding startups in recent years, he wrote here.
Their strategy to gain market share was “squeezing the mom and pop stores out with a price war” and expediting the process of commoditisation in pet retail.
He was inspired to set up GDP because most pet stores operate like a “mamak shop” which focuses on lowest price and variety.
So gooddogpeople.com was really set up to address this problem in the market – we want to be a responsible pet company that helps pet owners count more meaningful memories with their pets – through responsible products, services and resources.Terry Peh, founder of Good Dog People
Tired Of The Corporate Life
At 36, Terry says he doesn’t quite fit the societal stereotype of a Millennial or a Gen X.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’d say I’m a blend of both. I’ve inherited the idealism of millennials and the pragmatism of gen-xers which shows through clearly in my academic and career choices,” he said.
“Not many know I started my education in engineering – and it was after some trials I realised solving problems through structured workflows isn’t quite my thing.”
Terry craved for creative expression, so he decided to become a creative in an advertising agency, a move that was frowned upon by many people.
“The early 2000s were simpler times – if you were not doing law, medicine, or accounting, you should be an engineer,” he said.
His first six years in advertising was brutal, he described, but it solidified the foundation of his work values and ethics.
It’s actually a place where you get slapped with “tough love” with very long hours and a mediocre payout, not quite the glitz and glamour that many people would imagine.
He moved up from being a creative, to doing client servicing, and ended up at business development in a short time.
The self-discovery journey led him to realise that he’s “more ENFP than the INFP” he thought he was.
“At age 29, I reviewed my priorities and made the decision to leave advertising to focus on a few things,” he said.
“Climbing the corporate ladder to feed my ego is one of them.”
Terry caught the entrepreneur bug when he was living in Shanghai for work and travelled around Asia Pacific and North America frequently for business.
He noted that the Chinese and Americans were ahead in their mobile commerce and cashless payment game.
“Back in 2016, China was already offering same-day delivery for shopping, first class food delivery fulfillment, cashless payments even in hole-in-a-wall eateries, and ticket booking services on mobile had never been easier and faster.”
“In North America, it was amazing that I could skip the dreadful lines at Hyatt via mobile check ins, just minutes ahead while commuting,” he continued.
“I was also able to order my morning coffee a few moments before picking it up at Starbucks while making my way to work.”
It was a time when consumer behaviours were shifting quickly in two major powers of the world, where the tech and commerce scenes were exciting and vibrant.
“Coming back home means I had to adjust to the stale and lacklustre scene here. Southeast Asia has a lot to catch up – Singapore included,” Terry recounted.
I was also getting restless with a sterile, high-flying job and new career opportunities just didn’t excite me anymore.
Terry has also witnessed countless restructuring exercises and has also been “forced” to accept a job consolidation exercise in one of the MNCs (multinational corporation) he’s worked for.
He doesn’t mention it often but he was also a victim of workplace bullying when an insecure reporting manager, who felt threatened, had physically assaulted him.
The corporate world is ruthless. If that’s the likely future that awaits us in our career, why are we buying time to wait for it to happen?
The Leap Of Faith
In his Medium article, Terry said that people were sceptical of his sudden career change.
He wrote, “6 months into the business, my recruiters and ex-managers want me back. One asked, ‘Have you fooled around enough? How much money can you make out of pets? I have the perfect role for you.'”
The truth is, no one thinks highly of the pet industry.Terry described in his Medium.
When asked about how he felt about it, he said that taking the leap requires a radical mindset shift and that naysayers usually have a different mindset.
“I’m that sort of dude who would sign up for a marathon or biathlon because I got bored of my routine and I want to start cracking PBs.”
“I plan hiking expeditions every year so I could re-experience my fear of heights and try to overcome it each time I scale a new mountain.”
“Now I dive into entrepreneurship so I could dunk myself into the cold water to feel alive because I was getting very comfortable with the corporate work that I used to do.”
Today he has access to so much more resources and people with influence who can make this world a better place.
He wants to create a safe environment where people can come in to do real, meaningful work and spend time with people with great character and build a culture that values honesty and excellence.
Terry sees the bigger picture knowing now, that in the bigger scheme of things there are so many like-minded people who also want to build legacies and do great things.
“When I first told an ex co-worker that I am leaving the company to set up GDP, I vividly remember she said this, ‘If I were you, I’d do something that would change the world at a global scale. The world should be your stage, not a pet store in Singapore.'”
“Did she mean any ill intentions? No. Fast forward to 18 months later, is she still bitching about her job in her small cubicle? Yes.”
Entrepreneurship is a mindset – you take charge of your life, gather strength and take a frigging huge leap forward. And you never look back.
The passionate entrepreneur said he invested S$50,000 to start the business and he did everything solo before he could hire anyone, noting that in retail, cash is king.
Most of the funds went into growing new acquisitions and inventory.
“My wife always said, ‘Come to think of it, you saved a lot for the company because everything was done by yourself.'”
“I guess a lean, mean machine was a good way to describe how the business was planned out and structured,” he said.
He designed and coded the web store on his own, from uploading 3,000 products on the site to creating Google and Facebook ads; marketing collateral; email newsletters; to social media content, and more.
Terry rented a space about the size of a 3-room BTO flat, and handled customer service, fulfillment of orders, vendor and inventory management, picking and packing, and bookkeeping – all by himself.
He typically spends 18 hours a day working, joking about how it feels like to be working so hard.
“If not for my diverse experience in my past career choices, I would have taken more effort or spent more money to set the business up,” Terry said.
“My local and global experience in SMEs and MNCs also gave me an added advantage – to be able to see things in broader perspectives and execute with excellence and better precision.”
A Good Dog People Dog-trine
With so many brands and categories out there, how does he decide what gets to be on GDP?
Terry answered, “We always look at three things: One, is this supplier someone we can trust and want to work with; two, are the manufacturing sources and marketing claims real?
“Three, do the ingredients meet the safety requirements and dietary needs of our pets?”
GDP’s rule of thumb is this: if a product is going to take what little time our pets have away from us, it will not be listed on GDP.
Customers do ask them why certain brands are not listed on their store and expect a wider range of food choices.
He hopes to educate pet owners that it’s not better just because there are more brands to choose from.
“Why would you want to put yourself at risk of buying crap food when someone does the screening for you?”
Besides providing conscious pet food choices to their customers, GDP has also collaborated with local brands and ambassadors, supporting many meaningful causes.
In April 2018, GDP reached out to Sijun, a talented teen artist diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth to launch a collection of dog bandanas.
“At that time, we were conceptualising a Good Dog & People fashion showcase with Daniel Boey to promote the comeback of beautiful, rescued dogs and works of local creatives adapted on dogs,” Terry said.
“We knew we had to give Sijun the platform to showcase his talents and also debunk the myth that special needs artists are ‘not good enough’.”
They partnered Sijun up with Baileys, a retired K9 dog and they had the “most magical chemistry” together.
Terry recalled Sijun’s mothers words to him, “I never knew Sijun could take care of a dog. He has grown up and I’m hopeful that he’s able to take care of himself in the future.”
“That was such an emotional and powerful moment for all of us,” Terry shared.
He also launched the heyVet! feature on GDP, a community platform where pet owners can ask questions and access vet-authored resources, and get tips and insights on pet care.
“heyVet! was started on the premise that GDP is not your traditional pet store that focuses only on products, especially those with high margins,” he explained.
“We walk the talk by working with certified vets to offer responsible, vet-authored content.”
In today’s time and space, the Internet is rife with unaudited information and opinion.
Terry helps tackle this issue with heyVet!, weeding out false information and providing accurate ones to pet owners.
“The idea was also extended to mini workshops conducted in co-working spaces so pet owners can mingle and network with other pet owners.”
“It doesn’t come without challenges though – we need to make sure pet owners recognise that heyVet! is not a substitute for veterinary diagnostics and care.”
“Bringing the right partners onboard is also key to the success and continuity of heyVet!.”
More Good Dog Days Ahead
In its early days, GDP had to work with limited funding while creating visibility in the market through word-of-mouth and social media, which were challenging at first.
Cash flow was also important, so they only started investing in paid advertising when they had a good amount of sales volume inbound.
“At present, we’re experiencing a 225% Y-O-Y growth and we’re looking to finish the year with a 300% Y-O-Y growth,” Terry shared.
However, as the startup scene and retail industry grow increasingly competitive, he believes GDP is late to the game.
He thinks any “sound entrepreneur would expect harder market penetration, lower margin profiles and a longer time to generate returns”.
A few companies, in response to that, are using an anti-competitive, predatory pricing model that hinders growth in the industry, he observed.
“The industry has been dormant and reactive for a long while. Many are looking for change and I believe the time has come – there have been dialogues going around to rally change,” he shared.
“But more needs to be done. We will press on and continue to tackle the hard issues with the right people.”
Terry revealed that they are in talks with investors whom they’ve had “several months of long and hard conversations with”.
“Besides hiring, this is one of those things that we are very cautious with,” he said.
“Many of our considerations have little to do with the money. People are differentiable, money is not.”
“We want an investor and a partner who comes in with a strong value exchange on similar terms, vision and philosophy of how we want to scale the business and other projects in the pipeline.”
Pet owners can expect more from their new natural pet food brand, BARE Pet Food that was launched in April this year.
“BARE was conceived because we believe good, natural food should be made accessible and affordable. We want to do more of that.”
GDP has also just completed a recent customer satisfaction survey programme and scored a CSAT rating of 4.3 out of 5.
More than 90% of their customers are happy to recommend them to their friends and families, and have also shared useful insights on how they can still do more to meet their needs better, Terry said.
“I believe most of our customers want to be in this with us together for a long term.”
“This matters a lot to us so we are going to use these insights to refine the launches that we have planned out in Q3 and Q4.”
Featured Image Credit: Terry Peh