Beating Brexit, one dog biscuit at a time
Brexit Proof Q&A: Liam Brennan of subscription service for dog owners BusterBox
BusterBox co-founders (from left) Gary Redmond, Liam Brennan and Paul Carrick with Coco and Ciro. Photograph: Paul Sharp
BusterBoxis a monthly subscription service for dog owners. Each month they ship out a box of healthy organic dog treats, toys and accessories to customers in the UK and Ireland.
What was your reaction when the UK voted to leave the EU?
We were absolutely shocked because, from the very early days we knew, if this company was going to be a success, the UK market would play a massive part in it. There are 8.5 million dogs in the UK and there are only one million dogs in Ireland. As soon as we heard, we started making plans on different scenarios on what we could do to make it a success.
How is your business likely to be affected?
About 70 per cent of our customers are based in the UK and we get about 80 per cent of our stock from the UK, so obviously we could be affected with tariffs.
We got in touch with a lot of different fulfilment centres in Britain. If it goes ahead and things are looking bad, we’ll swap our fulfilment to Britain for our UK customers.
We have been building up a massive network of all the best toy and treat suppliers around Europe and we’re actually in the middle of partnering with an Irish company in Coolock that are going to be importing toys for us directly from China so that will be a big help.
How much do you rely on raw materials or markets in the North and Britain?
We are expected to do about £1million (approximately €1.13 million) of sales in Britain alone this year so we heavily rely on it [as a market]. We do have customers in Northern Ireland but the majority of them are spread through Britain.
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what are your contingency plans?
As soon as we knew they had voted to leave, we started to plan. Obviously it’s very hard to plan when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. LEO Fingal [Local Enterprise Office Fingal] gave us the Trading Online Voucher Scheme which we used to change currencies on our website pretty much immediately. We set up the UK currency straight away so costumers weren’t being billed in euro, they were being billed in pounds. We also started looking at the logistics and suppliers around Europe straight away.
Are you examining new markets/suppliers and if so how practical is that?
Yes we are. We are currently looking to Germany as another market. They’re a nation of dog lovers. We’re going to expand into there towards the end of 2019.
We are also in the middle of launching another product in Ireland – our own brand of healthy grain free dog food on subscription.
When do you expect to be Brexit ready?
I’d say we are about 95 per cent Brexit ready. The final piece will be flying over to Italy and adding more suppliers to our list and meeting face-to-face with a lot of these suppliers that we’ve been contacting online for the last few months.
Are you stockpiling goods and raw materials?
One of the benefits of our model is that we only ship once a month and we know the exact amount of subscribers we have. So all our products will come in by the 10th of the month, they will all be packed up in boxes and they’ll be gone by the 15th, so we don’t really have any cash tied up in stock. We’d like to keep this model going even if Brexit does go ahead.
How might the British or Irish governments ease Brexit pain for your sector?
I think at the moment the Irish Government are doing a pretty good job. The Local Enterprise Office in Fingal, since day one, has offered us nothing but support and advice. They’ve helped us by sending down a couple of consultants to help us bulletproof our Brexit plan, if it does go ahead. I think they are doing a pretty good job at the moment.
How do you think the governments handled Brexit negotiations?
I think the Irish Government have done okay. But more will be revealed as we get closer to the end of October and see what’s actually happening with the Border.
Five years from now, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
It all depends on what happens as we get closer to October. If it does go ahead and we have to move the fulfilment to Britain, that will be the biggest change for ourselves. It’s not terrible because we do have the majority of our customers in Britain so it was probably something that was always on the cards anyway and this whole Brexit thing has probably just sped it up.