Snack at Frank's boss hoping to take bite out of dog food market with new venture
It's food for thought... for dogs.
A new brand of fun canine treats - created in honour of the late four-legged friend who inspired it - is hoping to get a pawhold in a lucrative market.
Waringstown entrepreneur Aaron Taylor, one of the pet lovers behind Snack at Frank's, told the Belfast Telegraph how the new venture almost hit the buffers when his beloved dog died suddenly.
"Milo, a wee blond chihuahua, was my best friend," he said.
"When we were in the process of setting up the business, the remit was trying to find interesting snacks for Milo because there wasn't anything on the market we were happy with.
"Little Milo had a heart problem but was on medication and seemed fine. In February, however, he became ill and died in my arms in the car while we were sitting outside a surgery waiting for an emergency vet to arrive.
"He'd been sitting on a blanket on my knee and suddenly his breathing got shallow and he started bleeding out of his nose.
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"It was absolutely dreadful. Even now, it's hard for me to think about.
"In the end, I kept going with the project because I wanted to do something in Milo's memory."
Half a million pounds has been committed to the Snack at Frank's subscription project - the brainchild of Aaron and the Belfast entrepreneur Scott Ritchie - which has already started trading.
They recruited their first member of staff in March and now have over a dozen people on the books. Now, their priority is the crucial Christmas trading period.
"Rather than a gift card for someone, you can give them a 12-month subscription or one-off gift box," said Aaron (37), who is confident the new brand - featuring quirky names such as Humpty Hump and Sausage Party - will find its niche.
"The current selection of dog treats isn't great in terms of nutrition and you're forced to buy big bags of it - but dogs are like people; they want variety.
"Get a box from us and you get six different packets of treats."
Snack at Frank's products - named after St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of pets - is an online only platform and likely to stay that way.
"We believe retail is broken and we thought it was a really good time to be doing this," explained Aaron. "We keep the overheads down and invest more money in the products, which we pick, pack and ship out of Northern Ireland."
Business partner Scott - whose own four-legged pal is called Boris - is perhaps better known as the former managing director of Connect Telecom, a firm he acquired in 2015 and sold for £15m to a group of investors a year ago.
Mr Ritchie (42) had built the company from around 7,500 lines and customers to almost 10 times that figure and, like Aaron, has similar high hopes for Snack at Frank's.
"We're all about ethical sourcing, sustainability and quality ingredients sent out from our dispatch centre in Kilkeel," Aaron said.
With December under way, Aaron revealed "it's going to be full throttle from this moment on" and he said they hope their unique offering will appeal to "dog parents" everywhere.
Aaron who owned Milo with his former partner, said the product's logo fills him with happy memories of his little dog whenever he sees it.
"To cheer me up after Milo died, aged 10, our designers incorporated him into the logo, so essentially whenever you see 'Frank' it's actually Milo," he said.
"It's nice to have him as the centrepiece of the Frank brand."