‘You’re feeding them like athletes’: how I tasted success selling raw dog food

Not many dogs can claim to have a business named after them but, long before Bruno, a collie-lurcher cross, had his name above a shop, he was struggling to inspire much in anyone at all. That was until he met Bradley Allen.

“[Bruno] was, at the time, the longest-serving dog at our local rescue centre,” recalls Allen. “That’s why we took him on.”

Before founding Bruno’s Dinner – a dog food supplier specialising in raw food – Allen worked as an inspections manager in the aviation industry and rescued Bruno and three other dogs: Lily, Leila, and Max. The dogs were happy and thriving, albeit with some lingering minor health issues. Then Allen switched the dogs to a raw food diet. It was this mixture of meat, bone, and offal that he credits for his dogs’ new lease of life. “It’s the coat, it’s the teeth, it’s the temperament,” he says. “You’re effectively feeding them like athletes.”

The dogs were happy, but Allen needed a change of his own. “I woke up one morning and I thought: ‘I can’t do this. I need to work for myself.’ And then the lightbulb moment happened.”

After a 20-year career in the aviation industry, Allen wanted to provide the service he struggled to find: raw pet food with first-class service.

“We launched [Bruno’s Dinner] from the double garage of my house,” says Allen. “I bought a couple of freezers online and approached Landywoods [a raw food supplier] to deliver on a weekly basis to me. For the first year, the takings were pretty abysmal, literally taking only £30, £40 for seven days’ work. But then you have to believe in yourself.” Today – six years since starting out – Bruno’s Dinner is Landywoods’ biggest reseller for raw dog food in the UK.

He opened his first shop, in Crawley, at the start of 2019 and expanded into the adjacent shop earlier this year.

Allen credits his success to how he treats his customers and staff. “In the early days it was me serving, almost like a personal shopper,” he says. “And that’s the ethos today. Most people would probably go to my shop now and say: ‘You’re overstaffed,’ but that’s how I like it. We’re a small family and I want people to come to work each day with a skip in their step.”

The market has grown, too. “There’s an explosion in the want for knowledge with regards to raw feeding,” says Allen. “To a lot of people, a raw diet just makes sense.”

As with all handling of raw meat, good hygiene practices and precautions such as hand washing and cleaning down surfaces are essential to keep you and your family safe. Raw food suppliers are regulated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and everything sold at Bruno’s Dinner is Defra approved.

A year after opening his first shop, Allen was contending with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Thankfully, we were allowed to stay open as an essential business, but we had to rethink our entire operation,” he says. “So we became a click-and-collect service and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without PayPal. Nowadays, if you can buy something in just a few clicks, why wouldn’t you?”

It’s not just PayPal’s checkout service that Allen finds convenient. His new website was financed with PayPal Working Capital, which provides businesses with funds directly into their PayPal account. Payments are automatically deducted from sales, based on a pre-agreed percentage of the sales made.

“The good thing about PayPal is that they’ll support you along the way. If you’ve got problems, there’s a team there to help. I’ve used PayPal Working Capital a couple of times and they make it really quick and simple.”

Today, the annual turnover at Bruno’s Dinner is pushing £800,000, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. “I’ve now opened a second shop and I want four shops in the future. It’s all about goals for me.

“My advice to people? It’s basic: you get what you put into life,” says Allen. “I don’t know how many hours I’ve put in over the past five years to be where we are, but I can tell you, it’s a lot. But if you put the effort in, you will see a positive result. It might not be immediate. But your time will come. You’ve just got to keep chipping away. A favourite saying of mine is: ‘Look forward, not back.’”

With new shops on the horizon, Allen might have to contend with a simpler issue. “My signage is Bruno’s Dinner with a paw print, but you’d be surprised how many people come in for a pizza,” laughs Allen. “They think it’s a diner!”

After living long and happy lives, Bruno, Lily, Leila, and Max have passed on, but there’s a new four-legged friend in Allen’s home.

“Three weeks ago, we rehomed a giant schnauzer called GG,” says Allen, who adopted the dog after a difficult and challenging year.

When asked what having a dog means to him, Allen becomes visibly emotional. “I’m welling up here,” he says. “She’s everything that we haven’t had for a while. That waggy tail is a great thing.”

Whether Allen is rescuing a dog or nurturing a business, his philosophy is the same: “You get what you put into it.”

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This article describes the experience of one small business. This content is provided for informational purposes. You should always do your own research and obtain independent advice before making any business decisions.

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