Duncan has one of the most important jobs in the world (at least he thinks so). His days include running errands, R&D, quality control, modeling apparel, waste management, networking with his colleagues (Bella, Maddie, Dexter, Molly and Romie), cuddling and, of course, warning everyone about the extreme danger each time the UPS delivery person arrives at the office.
Duncan is a pug mix, and he and his ‘colleagues’ (Bella, Maddie, Dexter, Molly and Romie) are the other dogs that roam the offices of Canada Pooch, Toronto’s up-and-coming dog apparel company.
Canada Pooch was founded in 2011 by Jacqueline Prehogan, an accountant by trade, and a dog lover at heart. She and her partner Isaac Langleben saw the demand for quality winter parkas was on the rise, but there was nothing comparable for our furry four-legged friends.
“Even dogs can hate the cold,” jokes Perhogan. “Everywhere I looked I could see this great winter gear, but it was really difficult to find something good for my dogs.” Prehogan set out to design a line of apparel that was functional, stylish and would help pups enjoy those long winter walks.
With limited knowledge about apparel design Prehogan sought help the way any millennial entrepreneur would: through Craigslist. Out of all the responses she received to her ad, she chose one from a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD); a dog lover as well of course. After a few mock ups and trials they had the first sample of their signature Winter Wilderness Jacket and were ready to start selling.
Sit. Speak. Good dog.
Just like dog training, starting a business takes a lot of patience and practice. Prehogan and Langleben were already pretty savvy on the financial side and they knew they had a great product, but now they needed to find distributers. As many entrepreneurs know, sometimes there’s only one way to get the word out and that’s persistence; Prehogan began cold calling. “I can’t even remember how many calls we made, it seemed endless,” she says.
But it was worth it. Canada Pooch caught the eye of some big industry players, and soon the company was off to the races.
Adventures in exporting
Because of the seasonality of their product Canada Pooch knew they would have to look outside of Canada if they were going to continue to grow. When they met their first export client at a trade show in 2012, a Russian pet goods distributer, they were thrilled at the prospect.
“We were new to the business, so it was really tough the first time,” says Prehogan. “There were a lot of customs’ challenges getting into Russia. We had to ship our samples through Finland, and there was a language barrier with the company. Overall though it was a great learning experience.”
Canada Pooch has since grown their export portfolio to include a few European countries but their primary focus is the U.S. “The U.S. economy is growing again and it’s a great opportunity for us to expand our business there,” says Prehogan. They’ve already secured contracts with some big industry players and they’re now focused of getting a stronger market presence.
To help them with their expansion Canada Pooch got in touch with Export Development Canada (EDC). Canada Pooch apparel has to be produced at least four months in advance of delivery. This put a lot of financial demands on the company and uses up a lot of working capital. EDC was able to partner with their house bank through the export guarantee program (EGP), which provided Canada Pooch with access to the additional working capital required. This allowed them to continue to advance production and meet the growing order demands from their customers.
“What’s really impressive about Canada Pooch and their team is how savvy they are,” says Shannon McLuhan, EDC Account Manager. “They’re a really youthful company that has a good pulse on the market and what consumers want. We’re pleased to be able to support their growth and see what’s next for the company.”
“The guarantee from EDC really gave us added comfort in expanding the business,” says Perhogan. “We’re now looking at even more markets like South Korea. It’s been a great adventure so far.”