All About Us

All About Us

Chapter One – Humble beginnings

All about us.  Once upon a time, way back in 1998 there was a little dog that liked to laugh and his name was Jack. He was the original scruffy mutt and lived with a girl called Anna Danielle. She was trained as a printed textiles designer but had a passion for illustration and so started her business from the spare bedroom.

Jack provided the ideas and humour with Anna drawing and making the cards. All ran peacefully, if somewhat slowly, until tragedy struck and the little dog passed away. All who had known him felt a terrible sadness but the world continued to turn and the little dog, having lived life to the full would have wanted his loved ones to be happy.

So in the summer of 2001 Anna was joined by Jo, who had a degree in Tourism and Marketing and a cunning knack for ceramic mice making. Friends from the age of five, their chalk and cheese friendship combined common sense, order and neatness in the compact package that is Little Jo and artistic flair, determination and untold amounts of chaos and mess that is Anna Danielle. Added to this mix was Daisy B, a treasure of a mongrel who although rarely laughed continued to inspire and dominate the workplace. The three girls worked long and hard for two years, building the card collections, learning from their mistakes, facing the highs and lows of running a small business and quietly making a success of it.

However, it soon became apparent that there was only so much two girls and one dog could achieve in a working week and a third person was needed, someone who could bring some business experience and much needed structure to the company.

This came in the form of Gavin, Anna’s big brother. Having already provided many of the ideas and captions for the cards, Gavin left a managing directors job at a building company and quit the brick race to put his superior humour to better use.

And this is how you find them today, immersed in cards, bursting with ambition and determined to provide products that make you smile. To do this is an honest, reliable and friendly way is their ultimate goal.

Chapter Two – All about the boys

Just as the three girls had settled down to the idea of a “boy” about the place they were joined by two more. The young pups in question were no strangers to the Little Dog studios but in September 2003 they officially joined the team.

The handsome, whippersnapper Nathan is Anna and Gavin’s baby brother! Having graduated with a first class honours in Construction Management, Nathan opted for a complete change in direction. He now applies his charm and good humour to ensuring orders and stock control run smoothly and the work place is a happy one.

Smiffy on the other hand creates noise and chaos. He is Gavin’s Jack Russell. The busiest little dog with bags of heart but very little brain. He spends his day inspecting visitors and generally overseeing all aspects of the working day.

The business has steadily grown and the personality mix is a good one. The five-day turn around keeps everyone on their toes and technological advancements continue to create headaches and bafflement, however the aim remains the same “to be better than the best”.

Chapter Three – Up, up and away

2004 proved to be a steep learning curve for all at the Little Dog. New products and designs kept Anna very busy with her crayons, a growing customer base kept Jo very busy on the phones, company direction, ideas and financial deals kept Gavin wide awake at night and stock control and five day deliveries kept Nathan from ever going home!

Targets were set and quickly broken, space was made and quickly filled, busy peaks brought everyone to their knees and some important decisions were finally made.

The Little Dog needed a new kennel and another person to join the team, all quite daunting as there was no more family to employ and the old kennels felt like home, but needs must and by 2005 solutions were found.

“Our Natalie” is a little gem of a discovery and we can’t imagine the team without her. She is our Girl Friday, helping in all areas from delivery to invoicing and sales. The new kennels are rather uninspiring from the outside but the joy of copious amounts of space and a “dumb waiter” lift system compensate for the lack of aesthetic beauty.

As the year draws to a close the Little Dog is already thinking ahead and making exciting plans for the future, as well as venturing into the world of fabrics he wants to set up a second company featuring other talented artists with a contemporary design appeal. He has also packed his bag to go in search of new markets in far away foreign lands and maybe, just maybe, if he works long enough and hard enough he will one day have a little space on the high street to call his very own.

Chapter Four – Hard times

2006 probably contained the same amount of challenges, highlights and disappointments consistent with any other year but the personal lows came sudden and hit hard. Our step-dad, Tivey, one of the Little Dog’s biggest fans, business advisor and mentor was diagnosed with a brain tumour in the summer. Despite showing amazing courage and strength, he lost his battle for life four months later. Being a family business, this heartbreaking tragedy affected half the workforce but everyone pulled together and we are extremely grateful to our team for their loyalty and support this year. On the furry front there was also the distressing news that Smiffy had glycoma, tragically resulting in the loss of his left eye. Thankfully, he bounced back into action less than two days after the operation and still has an energy and vitality for life you simply can’t fail to admire.

On a happier note we gained two new members to the team and underwent a general fine tuning of job responsibilities. The first addition was the lovely Linda who joined us at the end of 2005 and who is never without a smile. She assists our Natalie in the packing and distribution office and is a wonder at the retail shows. It’s a delight to have her on board. The role of Company PA was filled by the glamorous, bargain hunting Miss Anderson. Not only is Esther a whiz on the computer, a fantastic researcher and incredibly quick to learn the ropes, her arrival has made a massive difference to the rest of the company.

Jo is now able to fully concentrate on keeping customer accounts up dated, deal with invoice queries and master the intricacies of the sage computer package. Her neat orderly mind means the accounts area is a working dream and data can be retrieved within minutes. Nathan’s new responsibilities include company management, overall stock control, distribution and product ordering. He organises all the trade and retail shows and somehow makes Anna’s stand visions a reality. He’s also convinced he’s the best van driver in the company! Gavin is the energy and driving force behind the business and fully deserves to sit in the BIG chair, order tea and leave the kitchen in a mess. Esther’s assistance has allowed Gavin the time and freedom to concentrate on company direction, keeping the business moving forward with new ideas, products and deals. Anna divides her time between designing and having babies, her son arrived in September 2005 and loves running riot in the warehouse, playing with the loose fill and turning the computers on and off. He has over taken Smiffy as the chief office disrupter and his visits are kept to a bare minimum! Dearest Daisy B is now profoundly deaf and visibly sighs with relief when the busy toddler has a nap, she is still very much part of the business and has maintained her talent for blocking everyone’s walk way.

2006 also saw the launch of “the little dog really likes”, our attempt to design cards for a younger, contemporary market. This new company features other artists and designers and sets out to promote work that is refreshing and different. Really likes is our answer to staying creatively fresh, testing our business skills and broadening our appeal. We’ll know by the end of the year if we really shouldn’t have tested those skills!

Another positive came at the end of the year when the website finally went e–commerce, something we had been working towards for what seemed like forever.

It is now Esther’s job to love and nurture our little bit of space on the virtual high street and we are very flattered and grateful for your comments and suggestions. It has been an emotionally hard year and a real test of confidence and abilities, but we have a strong, talented team around us and in honour of Tivey’s memory we are determined to get our heads down, work hard and make 2007 a year he’d have been thrilled to boast about.

Chapter Five – A long year

Maybe it was the emotional trauma of the year before but it felt like every good bit of news was swiftly followed by bad.

We had the funeral of our “Nan F” just seven weeks after our step dad, Tivs, passed away.

Ethel was a feisty, straight talking Londoner who believed and wholeheartedly supported us from the very start, wrapping ribbon around dog bones and ceramic mice, cutting labels and sending stock parcels every week. Granny labour was essential in those early days; Ethel was always there for advice, wisdom and mints! She encouraged and nurtured Anna’s creative talent from a very early age and will never be forgotten.

Then in the May, Gavin, the “big cheese” and driving force behind the Little Dog became seriously ill. Rapidly loosing weight and blood he was rushed into hospital. After an agonising wait for all, he was finally diagnosed with acute Ulcerative Colitis. Almost a year on, he is learning to manage his condition, but his absence during those weeks was a frightening realisation as to just how important he is to our family and the business.

Esther, our Company PA also had some emotional demons to deal with and it is a tribute to the rest of the team that her work duties were covered during her absence. It is at this point that Minty, a rescued Patterdale terrier cross, entered Esther’s life. Minty is her very own beloved Scruffy Mutt and true soul healer.

We mention all this personal detail as it is impossible to keep it separate from work life when you are part of a small family firm.

On the work front, a number of key products that had taken a long time to develop, finally arrived in stock. Unfortunately, they were damaged and poorly made leaving us with no choice but to cancel the order. This resulted in us having very little new products to offer our customers. Disastrous.

The economic slowdown was becoming apparent in the rate of reorders and the new company Really Likes continually needed investment and development. Belief, confidence and nerves were all required, in abundance, on an hourly basis!

However, there were lots of happy moments and we celebrated these little rays of hope with enthusiasm.

Anna had her second baby boy, a much calmer version of his older brother. She also began a very exciting project with Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and realised one of her life’s ambitions, to illustrate her very own book.

There were two new furry members to the team. The afore mentioned Minty and also Spike the Beagle, possibly the handsomest dog you’ll ever meet and the new bundle of vocal trouble in Jo’s life. Both visit the office but only when the territorial Smify is on his hols.

It was a relief to say goodbye to 2007 and start 2008 with a birthday celebration, the Little Dogs 10th year in trading.

Unbelievable, ten whole years in business!

Chapter Six – And it just keeps coming

We feel awful starting this chapter with yet more sad news, but to not mention those we have loved and lost in 2008 feels disrespectful to the memory and importance they had on the lives of those at the Little Dog.

Dear old Daisy B took her final breath on Jan 17th. A sweet, faithful dog, who rarely left Anna’s side, she slipped away quickly having suffered with kidney failure. She was a quiet, unassuming mongrel, who loved riding up front, chasing squirrels and hogging the bed. Despite never being complimented on her beauty, Daisy assumed the role of artists’ muse with grace and dignity, providing the company with many design ideas. She was a delight to know and a fine ambassador for all canines, always winning over the hearts of those who were nervous around dogs. She was Anna’s furry shadow and much loved dog.

Eight weeks later, Anna’s father in law, John Dickens lost his battle with cancer. A truly exceptional husband, father and teacher, John’s personality and character influenced many lives for the better. He was a voice of calm, reason and logic. His death was heartbreaking for the family, many within the community and those at the Little Dog. He was Daisy B’s favourite human and their ashes will be cast together ensuring she gets regular walks and he gets the dog he planned for his retirement.

With regards to the business, it was another tough economic year but we’ll highlight the positives for fear of sending all those who read this into a deep depression!

February was our 10th year in business and we celebrated with an impressive birthday stand at the Spring Fair. It was a moment to feel proud; especially as three weeks prior to the show we had no new products to exhibit. Once again our long awaited cushion designs arrived looking truly awful. It was very possible we’d be a laughing stock, standing in front of huge, expensive empty stand. Thankfully, there is nothing like a bit of pressure to bring forth the creative inspiration and by returning to the good ‘ole days of “make your own”, we created amongst other items, key racks and memo boards that proved such a hit we quickly put them into production.

The Battersea project was finally completed despite life events trying their utmost to make the deadline seem impossible. It was the hardest yet most rewarding project the company had been involved in and displaying its first published book was another memorable moment.

The young Really Likes Company turned a small profit in its second year thanks to an in-house idea that resulted in the range, Blatant Lies. A collection inspired by our late Nan Ethel who proved you are never too old to tell little fibs and huge, harmless whoppers to get you through the day! It has been an exciting challenge establishing Really Likes but an emotional rollercoaster producing and launching collections.

It was with much sadness that we said goodbye to Esther, who left us to embark on a new career as a maths teacher. With such a sharp brain for figures and a warm, happy personality, we know she’ll be a great success in her new profession and wish her all the best. Thankfully, this is not the end of our relationship and Esther happily returns for shows and exhibitions whenever her training and work schedule allows.

With one gone, we gained another. The young freelance designer, Ashley, her self taught talents on the Apple Mac have been essential to speeding up the design process and with a fantastic work ethic, she is a true asset to the team.

In the last quarter of 2008, we had the joy of officially facing our first recession and the hard facts that greeting cards and gifts are not a necessity when money, jobs and the high street are disappearing. However, just when you begin to loose heart and doubt the value of your work, an email will come through from someone who is also having a hard time but has just had their day brightened by receiving one of our cards. It is these little moments of kindness that strengthen our resolve to be like Forest Gump’s Bubba Gump shrimp boat, a lone survivor after the storm. So our survival tactics for 2009 are too turn down the volume on the doom and gloom media, concentrate on producing quality designs and continue to improve our products and service. Wish us luck!

Chapter Seven – Recessions and rabbits

There is nothing quite like a recession to dampen the spirits, make you doubt your design abilities and turn the working week into an arduous uphill muddy crawl. These are the obvious effects of a recession and 2009 has been one long slog but there is only so long you can stay down before that British Dunkirk spirit kicks in and you decide that giving up without a fight is quite simply not an option.

Bubba Gump’s shrimp boat has been our mantra for the year and if you look hard enough you can always find little positives tucked behind big fat negatives!

A complete overhaul and nuts and bolts study of your business is always a good thing and it definitely sharpens the brain knowing there is no margin for error.

With a quiet phone, slow re ordering and cautious buyers placing cautious orders it affords you the time to tackle the problems and jobs you neglect when business is crazy. The recession has also highlighted the strength of our banking decisions and prudence in the early boom years, so in truth this little family firm found itself in a relatively healthy position despite having to make some tough business decisions. On the team front we said a very sad farewell to Little Jo who moved onto fresh challenges and pastures new. It’s impossible to replace the irreplaceable and we miss her dearly but we did welcome Jackson “bomb head” Smith into the fold, Nathan’s newly adopted Jack Russell cross.

He is an endearing little chap but competely mad. It’s been hugely entertaining watching Nat test out his Cesar Millan theories and Jackson foil every single one! Anna also had her third (and final) baby boy, who is a true delight and adored by all who bear witness to his smiles.

Our Girl Friday, Natalie has gone from strength to strength and made herself indispensible within the work place and the young Ashley has time and again proved her value in the design studio. Gavin’s unquashable enthusiasm for life and leadership has been called upon daily over the year and he has constantly risen to the challenge.

Creatively, 2009 saw the birth of Rufus Rabbit ‘s Did You Know collection, an in house idea inspired by a Wetherspoon’s father’s day menu and Anna’s annoying habit of making up statistics to prove her point. The range features humorous and endearing but completely made up facts based loosely on real life.

We were so thrilled with Rufus we launched him with forty eight designs, quite crazy considering the norm is twelve but thankfully our enthusiasm seems to have been justified as lots of other people think he’s the bees knees too.

We quickly realised we would need to separate Rufus from the Really Likes range as he would over power the other collections. We have worked so hard to try and produce card collections that are fresh and different and it’s important to us that Really Likes continues to develop as a company that can offer this.

The Little Dog’s loyal following of admirers have helped keep spirits up and the stories and emails we receive are a constant delight. The pet range launched at the end of 2008 has proved extremely popular and sold out in record time so we’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has bought and enjoyed our designs over the years. And so, as we head into 2010 and what looks set to be an even tougher economic year despite being told the country is out of the recession, we have armed ourselves with a brand new mantra “Come on Rabbit”. Remember where you saw Rufus first!

Chapter Eight – Belief in the bunny.

What do you do when money is tight, businesses are going to the wall, people are losing their jobs and the media seems determined to worry the country into a double dip recession?

Answer… spend lots redesigning your trade stand, your website, change your company name and logo, invest lots of money in a rabbit, continue developing your other brands and keep everything crossed that the economy picks up before you run out of energy and pennies!

Our belief in Rufus Rabbit’s potential forced us to make some very costly choices starting with our trade stand.

The trade shows are our main platform to generate orders, showcase new products and meet potential customers. Our existing stand was only two years old and we had assumed it would last a good five years and therefore pay for its development. Wrong!

After much debate we decided to open up the whole stand area and put over three hundred card designs into portfolios. This allowed us to dedicate areas to each brand and Gavin to have his own bar area for handing out brochures and gin and tonics! (He has always hankered after running his own “Cheers” style bar)

We showcased our new look at the Birmingham Spring Fair and thankfully the buyers were happy to sit and browse through the portfolios, rumours ran the halls that the Little Dog was back on top form and our Really Likes ranges saw a massive boost in sales. Hoorah all round!

Next we tackled our website, again only two years old and certainly not due for a revamp but with all the new added products the whole site was very jumbled and confused.

The Little Dog presents Rufus Rabbit baby
We realised we needed a new company name to act as an umbrella for our three brands but felt it would be foolish and disloyal to stray too far from the humorous mutt who had got us this far so we finally agreed on a font change, new logo, shortening our name to The Little Dog and adding the tag line “One company, three nice brands! ”

Alongside all of the above we began putting our rabbit plans into action. Rufus was perfect to develop into a baby range and after millions of design hours, numerous disappointments, launch date set backs we think we might be onto a winner, hope you agree!

So apart from all that it has been a rather quiet year, no dramas, no illnesses, no sadness, just lots of development, improvements and positivity to carry us through into 2011 – the Chinese year of the rabbit ….”Come on Rabbit”!!!

Chapter Nine – Nominations, knockbacks and doesn’t time fly when you are having fun!

2011 has flown by and will be remembered by us as the year we received three nominations in the greeting card industry awards, the prestigious Henries. Absolutely amazing as we’d never even won a £1 on a scratch card. We were up for Best Cute Range and Best Words and Sentiments with Rufus Rabbit and Best Fun, Trend or Graphic Range for our Silver Screen collection. Unfortunately we returned empty handed but were genuinely delighted to have been nominated and it gave us such a thrill to see our Little Dog logo popping up on the big screen alongside industry giants.

Other highlights included the reaction to our baby collection at the Autumn Fair which smashed all previous show records. Despite having previewed Little Rufus in the February it was early July before the bulk of the collection made it into the shops. Waiting months for the delayed stock to arrive was incredibly frustrating but the sell through and reorder response was truly uplifting and the team worked so hard to get all the stock out. It’s phenomenal what can be achieved by four dedicated individuals.

So much time, emotion and money has been invested in the young Rufus Rabbit and there is still a huge amount of work to be done but when we received the news that he’d been shortlisted in the baby category for the 2012 Gift of the Year awards we felt another surge of joy that we must be doing something right and as double bubble Brucie bonus our Little Dog pet treat tins became a finalist in the kitchen dining category.

And now for the knockbacks just in case you thought we were getting a little too full of ourselves! Our decade long relationship with the National Trust finally came to an end, sadly none of our new collections appealed. We were so disappointed but it has been an absolute honour and joy to supply the Trust for all these years and they have been a great company to deal with. Long live the Trust!

Then there was another well know British high street legend who decided after a very long review process that our rabbit rattle was not for them. They felt Little Rufus rabbit wasn’t gorgeous enough. Gutted!

And then of course one mustn’t forget the lowest of the lows when we had to issue our first ever product recall. Despite having trialled our pet collars for six months on our own scruffy mutts without any issues we had two complaints of the collars snapping. With the faulty collars returned we could see that the leather had literally snapped in the most random of places and we immediately suspected that the genuine leather wasn’t quite as genuine as claimed. Days later we received two more complaints and that sealed the issue. All collars were immediately recalled, a process that took over two days of phone calling and weeks of courier collections.

We were devastated. In our entire company’s history we have never put our name on something we didn’t believe was the very best it could be and to recall the collars was costly and shameful but our customers were so kind and understanding and all agreed it wasn’t worth taking a risk with anyone’s furry loved one.

And so the Little Dog enters 2012 with what some may call rather moderate ambitions.

To appear in every beautiful baby boutique around the world, to harness the marketing potential of social networks, (please forgive us our trespasses on Twitter and Facebook,) To master designing on the Applemac and burn to disc, to get married, to have a baby and to see you all safely back here this time next year.

Chapter Ten – The Lympic legacy burns bright at The Little Dog

We’re back and ready to battle our way through 2013 after an Olympic inspired 2012.

With Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony filling our brains with admiration, pride and wonder; with the cheers for Mo and Jess still ringing in our ears and with the amazement of the Games-makers transforming London into a friendly, happy place, Team Little Dog now know that ANYTHING is possible.

2012 was definitely our year for personal development and training. Not on the athletics track but in front of the Applemac. Our lovely Mac-girl Ashley sadly said goodbye to concentrate on her own business forcing this computer design dinosaur to get up to speed and fast.

We also had to eat some humble pie and acknowledge the phenomenal power of social networking as a form of marketing and so the Little Dog joined Facebook and Twitter.

Being previous staunch advocates of keeping our lunch time consumption private, we are now tweeting, posting and blogging with the best of them and must admit to loving it! It is truly addictive and a great way to connect with people who like our work.

We launched our calendar competition via our website and Facebook page making the whole experience of producing twenty four new designs in just three weeks an absolute joy. It is time consuming and we are still pressing buttons which could be making small countries disappear but for feedback, inspiration and daily smiles, it’s brilliant.

The biggest challenge facing the Little Dog this year (I’m not even going to mention the economy, cash flow, childcare, storage or manpower) is that there are only twenty four hours in a day and you can’t work them all. Turns out sleep is fundamental for effective performance.

The NEC Autumn Fair made us face some realities which the brain already knew but the heart did not want to accept. Our previous strength of having a diversity of product was now becoming our weakness. Not enough design time, not enough manpower and not enough money to effectively run all three brands at the same time.

Our funny bunny, Rufus Rabbit has continued to hop from strength to strength and is creating the buzz that our dog range had done in the early days.

Our “little dog laughed” brand still enjoys a very strong and loyal fan base (thank you!) but now needed more time and development spent on it.

This meant that our Really Likes contemporary card brand was the weakest link.

We hadn’t promoted it within the greeting cards section of trade shows for years, relying solely on buyers to remember us as card designers. So the decision was made to freeze investment in Really Likes which would free up cash flow but more importantly give us the much needed space and time to continue with the development of the rabbit and mutts and moggs.

On a design level we will still continue to create new collections but with modern advancements in digital printing it is no longer necessary to commit to large print runs before securing orders. A few tears were silently shed but the right decision had been reached.

And that is about all that happened in 2012 other than the safe and happy arrival of Baby No.4, a jolly summer wedding, a new team member to head up marketing and promotions, our vintage treasure Douglas the Dog and the discovery of nutella with sliced banana in a warm tortilla wrap. Delicious, try it!