As a pet parent, Rashi Narang wanted to ensure that she got the best treats, toys, and grooming products for her furry baby, Sara, a Labrador. However, the woeful lack of quality pet products in the market made Rashi realize there was a huge, untapped potential in the Indian pet-care market.
And 12 years down the line, her venture Heads Up For Tails, India’s first retail pet care brand, has become the touchstone for quality in the pet paraphernalia space.
‘Nobody could understand what I was doing’
Rashi, an alumnus of the London School of Economics, had quit her cushy corporate job to research and ideating about high quality, stylish products that could solve pet-parenting problems. “Everything in the market was so basic and shoddily made; we wanted to combine functionality with design,” she says.
In a country where pet adoption has only been a recent trend, many pet parents are not armed with the knowhow required for the upkeep of their pets. Pets are still viewed as creatures whose needs are limited to being fed and taken for walks a few times a day. Consequently, Rashi’s business idea was not perceived with seriousness by her friends and family members in 2008.
She recalls, “Initially my friends and family members were a little skeptical – not enough to deter me though. The hardest part was finding someone to help build the product. The vendors and tailors would be offended and say they won’t make dog products. Finally, one tailor agreed; but I had no reference point, as there were no such products in the market.”
Rashi herself had to get measurements of different dog breeds with the help of her friends who had dogs. ”We also had to consider flexibility and things like the jacket should not get wet when the dogs pee. We started with dog bedding, winter jackets, toys, collars leashes,” she tells MAKERS India.
Getting pet stores to enlist her products was a hurdle too. In fact, her merchandise was rejected by more than 200 pet stores in India. She recollects, “Since the products were so unique, I was expecting a positive response; but contrary to my expectations, they said no one would buy my products. That was very demotivating. I decided to participate in flea markets and pop-up exhibitions in Delhi to showcase my collection and the response was completely opposite.”
For Rashi, it cemented her conviction that indeed there were people who could become loyal clients, and set up a kiosk at Select City Walk in Delhi for two days. “The management had said that the minimum was one month and a contract for two days was not possible. Eventually they agreed, and the response we got was very encouraging. Now we have a shop there,” she smiles.
But just as Rashi started building a clientele, her husband was posted in Singapore and she had to move there with him in 2009. She says, “Thankfully, we live in the era of internet, and things did not come to a complete standstill. However, running a business remotely without a team and in a space in which I had no experience was challenging and it slowed our growth. I would come to India 3-4 times in a year and try to create new products and collections to retain my limited clientele.”
In 2015, Rashi and her husband moved back to India. She narrates, “During our time in Singapore, we had met a lot of high net worth individuals (HNIs) and investors who were keen to invest. We raised $1 million and we merged with Paws The Pet Store in Bengaluru and set up our first store and worked on our online presence.”
The Victory Lap
Currently, Heads Up For Tails – which has raised $13 million - has more than 5000 products in its catalogue and 31 stores across the country. Rashi claims that many of their products were those which were never seen before in Indian market – including healthy treats, orthopedic beds, and sustainable toys.
“Our products are aligned closely to our customers’ needs. For instance, there was a client who approached me saying if I could make a special feeding bowl because she had a cocker spaniel and every time the dog would eat, its ears would get dirty. So we created a special feeding bowl for such dogs.”
Winner of Lufthansa Runway to Success Season 4 in 2016, Rashi has also been felicitated with the India Business Awards 2019, World Branding Awards 2019, National Leadership Summit on Women and Education 2019, Most Impactful Social Innovator by Global CSR Award in 2018 (Women Economic Forum) to name a few.
HUFT set up Heads Up For Tails Foundation last year that has been actively working towards the cause of stray animals. “We have been urging people to adopt and not shop and we work closely with shelters. We have been involved in spaying the stray population and feeding drives. Last year we sponsored 20,000 meals for street dogs,” Rashi says.
Mother to a seven-year-old girl, Rashi walks the talk on her furry friends while quietly establishing herself as an entrepreneur with a kind heart.
(Edited by Athira Nair)