Ask any parent about the woes of feeding their child and they’ll readily tell you about the cries and protests they hear back in return. And, it’s no secret that your child loves what’s on your plate much more than what you feed him / her. That is when most parents understand that necessity is the mother of all inventions and come up with innovative ideas – find new ways of feeding their child, or cook up dishes that hold their interest.
For pet parents, Ishmeet Singh Chandiok and his wife Nicola, it was no different, except that their experiences with Harley, led them to set up Harley’s Corner, a company that makes ready-to-eat moist dog food. Founded in August 2012, their story goes something like this:
In December 2009, the couple adopted two-month old Harley (Yes, the company is named after the little fellow), a regular Indian street mongrel, from a construction site in Mumbai. “Just like any other pet parent, we were feeding him the regular dry kibbles food from brands like Pedigree, Royal Canin and so on,” recalls Chandiok. But, Harley would eat them reluctantly. They noticed that Harley was more keen on grabbing a bite from their plate than on his own food. This set Chandiok thinking on how he would react if he made fresh food exclusively for him. “I began researching on canine nutrition. After reading through, I started preparing food for him at home. He took to this food like a fish to water,” says Chandiok. After he started making food exclusively for Harley, he would wait in the kitchen for him to prepare his food and give it to him. After three to four months, he was taken for his physical examination and the doctor said he was in the best shape a dog could be, attributing his excellent health to the diet he was on.
This culinary expertise was not just for Harley’s benefit. The entire canine community benefitted from it. “As we live in a very highly pet populated housing society, we started preparing food for other dogs to sample as well. This led to great feedback and we launched Harley’s Corner from there,” says a proud Chandiok.
But this was not an easy decision for Chandiok. It took a lot of determination for him to set up this business. “Being part of Kingfisher Airlines, which has defaulted on salaries since mid-2011, I convinced my friends, family and well wishers to fund this business,” says Chandiok.
“When people ask me, how’s life? I say, gone to the dogs… and loving it,” jokes Chadiok. For someone whose life has gone to the dogs, Chandiok is enjoying every moment of his entrepreneurial journey. A Mumbai-bred Chandiok comes from a family of professionals and is the first one from his family to venture into entrepreneurship after over 12 years of experience in the hospitality industry with brands such as The Hyatt, The Marriott and Kingfisher Airlines.
By his own admission, Chandiok is a motorcycling addict and has travelled all around Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat, on his faithful Royal Enfield. He is also an avid dog lover. His love for bikes and dogs made him name his first dog Harley, who has now become the inspiration and the reason behind the launch of this company.
A qualified food production professional from the Institute of Hotel management, Mumbai, Chandiok is currently pursuing a diploma from a leading Canine Nutritionist in the United States. “I aim to make Harley’s Corner an international brand. With this diploma, I’ll probably be the only certified canine nutritionist in India in the next three to four months,” states he.
Using his culinary expertise
Harley’s Corner aims to ensure that pets have a long and healthy life based on the nutrition they receive. And hence, Ishmeet, a trained chef, and his wife shortlist all the recipes for Harley’s Corner based on flavour and nutritional value. In fact, Chandiok states, “Since the food is prepared using human grade ingredients, couple of our customers have tasted it and order those items for themselves and for their dogs.”
Harley’s Corner provides a four-course menu for a dog – starters, soups, main course and dessert. It also caters to specific requirements of a pet especially for dogs with health conditions. Hence, it has launched its therapeutic range of renal failure diet, obesity management diet and hypo allergen meals.
Working out the finer details
The duo initially began distributing food items across the city through the Mumbai Dabbawala Association. “With the growing feedback and need for such food, we planned to get the food packaged,” shares Chandiok. As most of the preservatives used today are sodium-based, he had to ensure that the food did not have any preservatives as sodium is dangerous for a dog. “This led us to explore the Retort process. Once we managed to ensure the shelf life and stability of the food, we began launching this across the city,” says Chandiok. The food has a 12-month shelf life.
In the last 15 months, he has expanded to Mumbai, Pune, Gujarat, Goa and Karnataka. The company is also exporting to South Africa and soon plans to enter Bahrain.
Not without challenges
The toughest challenge that Chandiok has faced is funding. “Since Kingfisher has not even paid TDS, I do not have valid IT returns filed, hence no banks or institutions are willing to fund me,” admits he. The other challenge has been to educate the market regarding the benefits of ready- to-eat wet dog food. “As there were no other brands in the market when we launched, it has been an uphill task to convert users from dry food to wet food,” states he. But this is something which is seen more as an investment, as the pet food industry is growing and this will benefit us in the future,” says he.
The company has a processing unit based in South India. “This is the current focus of the company and will revolutionise the dog food industry in the years to come,” states Chandiok.
As far as its marketing activities go, Harley’s Corner offers sample distribution to Vets, pet shops; participates in dog and pet related events. They also advertise in pet shops, public places with a high density of dogs and through the Internet and social media. When quizzed about differentiating their product from those available currently in the market, Chandiok says, “Our products are made without any preservatives or additives. There are a lot of vets who recommend the use of fresh wet food than dry food.”
Chandiok has big plans for Harley’s Corner. To scale his business, he plans to introduce ready-to-eat wet cat food in the next three months and is seeking debt funding for this expansion. “The next five years should see us establish a national footprint with an equally strong export market,” says he as he signs off.
ALL FOR A WOOF!
WHO’S THE OFFICIAL TASTER FOR YOUR DISHES – Harley, my pet dog. No recipe goes into production without his approval
HOW DOES HE DISAPPROVE THE DISHES – He just sniffs and walks away. Does not even taste the food.
HOW DOES HE APPROVE THE DISHES – His nose is buried in his food bowl and he will not breathe until the bowl is wiped clean. Then he jumps up on the sofa or bed to rub his whickers into the covers to dry them
WHAT’S A PERFECT DAY FOR YOU – The perfect day is spending it at home with Harley and Pixie (my second doggy) doing nothing but playing with them, taking them for a drive (they love it) and then walking them in the night
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS BUSINESS THAT ANY OTHER REGULAR ENTREPRENEUR WON’T HAVE?
It combines my three passions, dogs, food and bikes. Being an avid biker and owning a couple of Bullets, my passion for bikes is what made me name my dog Harley. Besides that, Harley is like my son, I no longer call him my pet, and having a business, which is inspired by your own child and has the most rewarding customers ever, is something no other entrepreneur will have. The rewards are constant tail wagging, big licks and warm nuzzles.