Dogged Determination Turned Anneke’s Passion For Pets Into A Business Empire
Whilst some industry sectors are still struggling to recover following COVID, others report that business is better than ever, both during and after lockdown.
Pet products and services – one of the fastest growing market segments in recent years – is one of those doing well. We spoke to Anneke van den Broek, founder of Rufus & Coco.
Pet lover Anneke van den Broek, who founded Rufus & Coco in 2008, is not surprised that spending on pet products has escalated during lockdown. And she is confident the trend will continue.
“The global pet humanisation trend is alive now more than ever; 61% of Australians own pets and the average pet-loving household has four or more pets,” she said.
“For many of us, our pets are treated like humans, and as part of the family.”
The pet industry in Australia is worth around $12 billion with 33% of that being spent on pet products.
“Research has shown that pet owners prioritise spending on their pets over themselves. Additionally, more is spent on dogs than nearly all other pets combined. Therefore, it’s no surprise that in current times people are also increasingly relying on their pets for emotional support.”
Working as she does with not only pet-loving customers, but also animal rescue, Anneke believes our pets play a crucial role in our lives.
Biggest increase in pet ownership
“COVID will result in the biggest increase in pet ownership probably in my lifetime,” she said.
“Since March 2020, there has been a 45% growth in dog adoptions and a 20% growth in cat adoptions!
“At the same time, people are at home spending more time with their pets, requiring more entertainment, new collars and leads. We even saw an increase in sales as people briefly horded cat litter – which is the cat’s equivalent of toilet paper!”
Back in 2008, Anneke was on a mission. With a background in management, sales, and marketing – and a passion for animals that runs in her family, she set out to fill a gap in the pet care industry.
“Having grown up with pets all my life, I was frustrated that I was unable to find high-quality, more natural, fashionable and affordable products,” she said.
“It was many years later that I was made redundant. This was a blessing in disguise, and knowing I wanted to run my own business, and with the firm belief that there was a market gap, Rufus & Coco was born.
Selling over 4,000 products a day
“So, I made plans to launch a pet brand that people turned to for the world’s most inspired, original and trusted products. I wanted it to be easy and affordable for people to care for their pet’s health and happiness.
“12 years later, I am so proud to say that Rufus & Coco is Australia’s most awarded pet care brand and we are now available in nine countries, in some of the world’s largest retailers and selling over 4,000 products a day.”
Anneke was motivated to excel in business from an early age.
“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to run my own business and have a positive impact in the world. As a child, I used to pour over glossy magazines and admire the women in suits, trying to do just that in their own ways,” she said.
“Truthfully, my stay-at-home mother was always saying what she could or should have done and I thought, I don’t want to be like that.
Stand out from the crowd
“Throughout my corporate career, I always put in that bit extra in any job I did – going above what was expected of me, trying to stand out from the crowd. That got me noticed and I kept getting promoted – working my way through many of Australia’s leading businesses, including Carla Zampatti, David Jones, Blackmores, and Bonds.
“However, when I started Rufus & Coco, it was a longer and harder road to success than I could have imagined! In the beginning, I had a lot of naysayers and was doggedly determined to prove them all wrong.
“To be a successful entrepreneur, requires persistence and resilience in spades. Rufus & Coco was rejected by Woolworths three times before we successfully secured ranging! While the road was long and tough at times, it has been worth it to build a business that improves the lives of pets and their owners around the globe.”
Fast moving consumer goods
Working with David Jones for eight years was great training for running her own business.
“I worked my way through various roles in the marketing department – advertising, promotions, research and eventually, marketing manager. Around the same time, I started my MBA and decided it was time to grow professionally and learn something new. For me, the holy grail in marketing was in FMCG.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in health and wellness from a young age. So, when I heard that Blackmores was planning to move from being a manufacturing business to consumer-focused business, it seemed like the perfect challenge for me.
“It was a big step. I started as marketing manager with a team of 12 and within six months, I was promoted to marketing director managing a team of 40! All while completing my MBA.”
Anneke’s experience in the fashion and health industries paid dividends when she created Rufus & Coco.
“Nothing you learn is ever lost. It is not surprising that Rufus & Coco is a ‘health & beauty’ brand for pets given my background lies in human health and fashion. My passion, funnelled through my collected learnings and experiences, enabled me to create a truly unique brand, product, and service.
“I’ve also always had an entrepreneurial spirit. At six-years-old, I was selling mice to my local pet store for 40 cents each.
Building a brand
“My love for animals started as a young girl. Growing up, I lived in a household where if the dog got to the couch before you, you’d lose your spot. At one time we even had a pet turtle who use to walk around through the house!
“My Dutch father also taught me from a very young age that I could do anything if I tried. This has really been my life’s mantra. I didn’t realise then, that my first business venture of selling mice would eventually lead to building a global pet care brand. But I do feel like I have been born to do this.”
A key part of the Rufus & Coco ethos is animal welfare, something Anneke passionately believes in.
“Did you know that pet ownership saves the Australian economy $4.2 billion in health costs annually? Pets are proven to benefit our physical and mental health, and to bring communities together. This is why everything I do at Rufus & Coco, is aimed at improving humanity, one pet at a time,” she said.
“Over the years, as we have grown, so has our ability to give back to animals in need. Rufus & Coco partners with the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation. We strongly support their mission towards zero euthanasia of pets in shelters by donating a percentage of all sales within our I Give A Wag toy range.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported this cause by purchasing our toys.”
Fighting social injustice
It saddens Anneke that many pets end up being surrendered because of the difficulty of finding pet-friendly rental properties.
“I believe it is a social injustice that not everyone has access to a pet. So, I spend time lobbying and acting as a public voice trying to remove barriers to ownership. Be it smaller barriers like time, effort, or care needs – and also bigger obstacles like renting with a pet, or pet friendly transport.
“Each year in Australia, 20,000 cats and dogs are euthanised simply because their owners’ rental or strata agreement say they aren’t welcome! It’s heartbreaking that many Australians have no choice but to surrender their beloved pet to a shelter because of ‘no-pets’ clauses!
“Although 33% of Australians live in rented accommodation, only 4% of advertised rentals specifically allow pets. In the US, this is 60%! There is also no statistically significant difference in damage cost between pets and non-pet owners. At worst, the average difference in damage was $40. Compared to the benefits in reduced vacancy and marketing costs this is minor. A tenant with a pet is proven to be more responsible and stay 65% longer!”
Anneke is so passionate about advocating for the rights of pet owners, she even has a blog post educating pet owners about this. It includes links and resources on how to negotiate or appeal a landlord’s decision and how to create a pet resume. Find out more here https://rufusandcoco.com.au/blogs/blog/your-rights-as-a-pet-owner
And it’s not just animals that Anneke likes to help. She also runs a forum connecting women in business and personally mentors four high-growth businesses.
Endless source of education
“Jim Rohn says you are the average of the five people you spend your life with. There is no easier life hack than to change the people that surround you to ones that are living a life you aspire to.
“For me, I find support through incredible friends and the Entrepreneurs Organisation, which is a global network of entrepreneurs. I’ve been in EO for six years and the business has grown five times the size in this time. My EO group holds me accountable, inspires me and is an endless source of education and support.
“During this time, I established the Women of EO sub chapter – which aims to enrich, support and encourage the members lives professionally and personally. I am also incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to give back and mentor a talented group of five entrepreneurs who are all planning on scaling their business. Every day, I am inspired by what these business owners do in the community and so proud of the goals they have kicked.”
With 5.1 million dogs and 3.8 million cats in Australia, Anneke believes the sector will continue to grow and thrive. Together with the increase in pet adoptions and the trend of humanisation, she says there are lots of opportunities within the pet industry.
“As for products to focus on, I compel you to think: are you actually solving a need? Is there a real gap in the market for your product or service?”
And don’t be afraid to innovate.
“We’re passionate about designing products that are more natural and environmentally-friendly. And unless a product is performing better than those already on the market, we won’t introduce it. Some of our unique products include the only elasticised kitty litter tray liners in Australia with degradable plastic, our biodegradable Do Good poo bags, made from corn starch powder, and our awarded Wee Kitty Clumping Corn Kitty Litter which is laboratory proven to offer unbeatable performance.
“We are a company filled with passionate pet lovers who understand the problems everyday pet owners face and are committed to solving them. Our colourful branding and ‘beasties’ (cat and dog character icons) are eye-catching and along with our grey packaging really set us apart on the shelves. We’re also distinctly, and proudly, Australian!”
You can view all products at www.rufusandcoco.com.au .
The I Give A Wag toy range can be found on the website or at your local Woolworths. 5% of sales from this range are donated to the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation.
Helpful business links from Anneke van den Broek
Entrepreneurs Organisation – https://www.eonetwork.org/
YPO – https://www.ypo.org/
CEO Institute – https://www.ceoinstitute.com/
Tec – https://tec.com.au/
GENDER SPECIFIC NETWORKS:
Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine – https://www.facebook.com/groups/LMBDW/
Business Chicks – https://businesschicks.com
League of Extraordinary Women – https://www.leagueofextraordinarywomen.com/
Mentor Walks – https://www.mentorwalks.com.au/
Meet Your Maven – https://www.meetyourmaven.co/