Two South African entrepreneurs recently won a global award at the World Branding Awards 2021-2022 Animalis Edition for their pet care brand, Rogz.
Paul Fuller and Irené Raubenheimer started the company 26 years ago and have built it into a formidable player in the fast- growing pet industry. The company now employs 250 people and has a presence in 90 countries and 1000’s of products.
And in a bold move, the two fiercely patriotic business owners recently moved all their manufacturing back to SA, giving a boost to the manufacturing sector in the country.
In the spirit of global Entrepreneurship Month, we chat with Paul Fuller and Irené Raubenheimer about their success story and the steps they took to get their company where it is today.
Congrats on the recent “Brand of the Year” award win! Tell us about yourselves and your career journey’s prior to launching Rogz into the FMCG industry.
PF: That’s a long story that, believe it or not, it started about 25 years ago when we both used to work on yachts in the Caribbean.
After returning to South Africa, we decided to get into business for ourselves. At the time we were running our company out of a small two-bedroom apartment in Cape Town. It’s incredible to think that some hard work and a sprinkling of luck took us from there to here.
IR: Back when we used to work on yachts, our sunglasses were our most prized possessions. They had those cords around the neck to keep them from falling off your head and we thought that this was a super cool business idea. So, we decided that we were going to come back home and sell these in Greenmarket square in Cape Town.
That road led us to starting a company that manufactured a variety of products, including watch straps and other sport accessories.
To cut a long story short, we ended up at a few trade fairs that went really well for us, and the rapid expansion of the business, combined with our love of animals, convinced us to pivot our business into what everyone knows today as Rogz.
What do you most love about working in the pet gear sector?
PF: I love being able to impact the lives of these animals in such a positive way. That and the passion of the people we work with.
IR: I think for me it has been the ability to create things that I think are both really cool and very functional. For so long, collars were bland and not very thoughtfully made. At Rogz, I truly believe that we make products that have both the pet and the owner in mind.
What have been some of the biggest challenges/barriers to entry that you’ve faced and overcome?
PF: I suppose it goes without saying but one of the biggest challenges for me has been running a business through a pandemic. We have been incredibly fortunate to come through it, but those hard lockdowns were rough.
IR: It was a bold decision we made to return most of our production to South Africa, but it’s one that has served us well. This country offers everything we need to make and sell our products. Where else in the world can one say that?
There have been some challenges in expanding our local manufacture, but we know it’s the right decision for our business. We love this country.
The Animalis Edition of the Awards is very competitive. What would you say sets Rogz apart from other players in the industry?
PF: Well, I think one of the things is how close knit we are. Rogz feels a lot more like a family than just a business. So, people don’t just clock in and clock out here. I think we all have each other’s backs and that comes out in the product.
IR: It’s an absolute pleasure to win this award. It means Rogz has been able to provide joy and relief to pets (and their owners) in the current difficult environment. For us, it has always been about remaining authentic and doing what we love.
Can you tell us about the design, manufacturing and distribution models/processes you implement at Rogz?
PF: Rogz has always been about creating a safe and trusted product for people and their pets to enjoy their life together.
In the last 26 years we have managed to build a business in Cape Town that exports to 90 countries around the world. We are authentic to our roots and value our long-term relationships.
IR: Cape Town has a lot to offer in our business and manufacturing. We are creating a brand here in South Africa that is appealing in developed countries.
Whilst there has been such a globalised agenda for so long, people are now gaining momentum and realising the value in localisation.
After outsourcing things before, we have now cycled back to making more things here because it is unique and different and we can control it, grow communities and inspire others with what we are doing.
How did the Covid-19 ‘pet boom’ affect business and operations?
PF: Initially it was a little rough. With the hard lockdowns, operating a business was very difficult but we began to realise that the pet industry was having a sudden boom in demand.
As that happened, we also came out of hard lockdown and so were able to resume operations to a degree and that was great for us.
IR: It has been the most radical year in our 26-year history; it was difficult but ultimately very rewarding. At first, we were pushed hard to adapt to drastic disruptions. We survived the storm and now are riding this crazy wave, requiring us to expand to keep up.
You also run a non-profit organisation, Rogz Academy. Can you tell us about this?
PF: We’re ragingly patriotic and love the people of this country. As such we felt it was important to give back to our staff and as much of the broader South African public as we could.
That is why we ended up starting Rogz Academy because there is more to business than just business. It now focuses on three core pillars namely Education, Youth Development and Nutrition and operates in the spirit of Ubuntu.
IR: We are very proud about the progress that the Academy has made since its inception in 2012. We are encouraged to see how the humble beginnings with basic involvement in one school has evolved into several impactful programmes running in four schools.
Similarly, the original veggie garden around a single factory has grown into an urban farm covering an entire industrial park.
We are very grateful for the support from various sectors who have empowered us to establish the Academy as an NPO with a passionate and driven management team to ensure long term sustainability of initiatives
What can we expect from Rogz in the future?
PF: Hopefully bigger and better things. We have found ourselves in a good place at the moment and we’d like to keep that momentum going.
IR: We obviously don’t want to bite off more than we can chew but with that said, we are really excited, and we hope pet owners will love the innovative products we’re working on.
Looking back at your career journey’s, what advice would you give your younger selves/aspiring young entrepreneurs looking to launch their products into the FMCG market?
PF: Agility in life is important as life is ever-changing, so you really need to be able to adapt to challenges in life. Sometimes you will get it right and sometimes you won’t and that’s okay too.
IR: Living with hope and positivity is no guarantee that it will give you the outcome you are going for, but you are going to have a better journey on your way there, so you might as well go with the positivity and hope for the best without becoming hung up on the challenges and issues.
By Jessi Wesson