BY Fast Company Contributor 5 MINUTE READ

Rogz, an internationally acclaimed brand that designs, manufactures, and distributes pet gear to 90 countries, took top place in the toys category

A South African entrepreneurial company has just been named “Brand of the Year” at the World Branding Awards 2021-2022 Animalis Edition. Over 115 000 consumers worldwide nominate their favourite brand and, Rogz, an internationally acclaimed brand that designs, manufactures, and distributes pet gear to 90 countries, took top place in the toys category.

The 26-year-old South African company employs 250 people and has recently brought the majority of its manufacturing back to SA. Co-founders Paul Fuller and Irené Raubenheimer say, “It’s an absolute pleasure to win this award. It means Rogz has been able to provide joy and relief to pets (and their owners) in the current difficult environment. For us, it has always been about remaining authentic and doing what we love.”

Danny Pek, Chief Executive, World Branding Forum, says a good brand needs to offer a meaningful experience to its customers, whilst remaining relevant and distinctive. “The world is full of brands, but a truly exceptional business has to ensure that people know what it stands for. The Animalis Edition of the Awards is very competitive.

“To be a winner at the Awards, a brand has shown that they have built themselves up to such a degree that they are placed amongst the best in the world.” Of the 1 100 brands nominated, just 28 are named “Brand of the Year” on a Global Tier.

The Rogz Story

A quarter of a century ago, two young entrepreneurs touched back down in South Africa after having spent a couple of years scrubbing decks in the Caribbean. Unenthused by the looming prospect of a slow and steady slog up the corporate ladder, Paul Fuller and Irené Raubenheimer decided to go into business for themselves. Fast forward 26 years and the idea that started in the spare bedroom of a Blouberg Apartment has grown into one of the world’s favourite pet brands.

“The whole journey started as an outflow of our days when we used to work on yachts and our sunglasses were our most prized possessions. They had those cords around the neck to keep them from falling off your head and we thought that this was a super cool business idea. So, we decided that we were going to come back home and sell them in Greenmarket square,” said Raubenheimer.

Going from working on yachts and having a ‘cool’ idea with your future brother-in-law to being a company with a footprint in more than 90 countries is rarely a straight line. In fact, when Fuller and Raubenheimer first got into business, the idea of producing the world’s coolest pet gear wasn’t even a pipe dream yet.

Back then the name Rogz didn’t even exist. What initially started out as Blue Bay Concepts, a name inspired by the view from their Blouberg apartment, quickly changed to Ratz Strapz, and with the name change came an expansion in the product line. The company began manufacturing a variety of products, including cords for river rafting gear. It was a trip to a trade fair, however, in Milan that changed everything for them.

“Things exploded when we went to Italy. At that stage we were still a tiny little company of about 15 people. We presented our product from our booth and got enquiries from a US company and a couple of others. Because of the volume they required, we had to grow our staff complement from 15 to 150 people within two weeks of the fair. The banks wouldn’t loan us money, so we had to beg, borrow and steal to keep up,” said Fuller.

From there the company started expanding, moving into watch straps. They realised the watch straps could be stretched into dog collars. And it was the dog collars that evolved into the Rogz that we know today.

“At the time, dog collars looked like something you would find at a hardware store. There wasn’t much variety in colours and the material was boring. Our thought was to make better quality products that looked good as well. People’s first responses were really positive,” explained Raubenheimer.

With the global pet industry valued at roughly $223 billion as of last year, they were onto a good thing. The success of the pet gear side of the business prompted a leap of faith by the partners. The company changed its name to Rogz and decided to focus exclusively on pet gear. This change of direction could not have come at a better time as the global pet industry had begun to shift toward treating pets as children rather than just fluffy house guests.

It was the perfect time for a company making trendy, high quality pet gear that emphasised animal wellness to enter the market. They piggybacked off their experience in international distribution and yet another successful trade fair, which saw them sign various deals with partners in 22 countries in three days. Since then, the company has grown steadily, doing business across the world, though South Africa remains their biggest market.

“We have always been very proudly South African and the support we have received here has been fantastic. That is why we were delighted when we were able to bring a lot of our manufacturing processes back home. We are uniquely positioned to be able to design, brand, produce and supply from here. There are not a lot of countries that can do all of those things,” said Fuller.

Covid-19 and the ‘pet boom’

As with almost everyone, the pandemic had a profound impact on the business, though not entirely how one would expect.

“The early period of Covid-19 was rough but before long we got permits to reopen, according to guidelines, and incrementally started to bring our staff back. It was challenging but also rewarding. It felt like 25 years ago. At first, we shifted our focus onto PPE but later on, we began to realise that the pet industry was having a sudden boom in demand and we were pushed hard to expand and grow to keep up. We survived the storm and now riding the crazy wave, ” said Raubenheimer

Profit has never been the sole motive driving how Rogz operates. The company also runs Rogz Academy. A non-profit organisation whose mission is to help people from underserved and disadvantaged communities overcome the challenges they face.

“Here at Rogz, we are a family. Among our staff is a grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter. People enjoy working at Rogz, and I think that is because of our relationship with our staff and the work we put into communities around us,” said Fuller.

“We felt it was imperative that we give back to the families and communities who have helped us become what we are,” added Raubenheimer.

In 2012, Rogz Academy began an English literacy programme in Dunoon, Cape Town and grew from there. It was so successful that the programme helped birth a slew of others focussed on a variety of issues including mentorship, teacher support and numeracy.

“We’re ragingly patriotic and love the people of this country, which is why we would love to start helping to mentor and assist other local entrepreneurs. There are a lot of opportunities here and we would love people to recognise what South Africa has to offer,” said Fuller.

People across the world are certainly recognising what Rogz has to offer as the World Branding Award attests. To win it, a brand must be recognised across three continents, in ten countries or more.

“We never got into this business with the intention of trying to chase awards, so it is a big award for a boy from Milnerton and a boy from Stellenbosch,” said Fuller.

And yes, both Fuller and Raubenheimer have Labradors. Who obviously get first pick of products.