OFTEN, the best business innovations occur when people combine practical skill with long-standing passion.
And that’s what turned out for Sheryl Curran and her husband Robert.
Launched just last December, Nurture Animal Housing (NAH) is already causing a stir in the dog world with a canine charity singing the praises of the company’s product.
NAH provides whelping boxes designed to protect puppies during birth and early in life by keeping them safe, protected from the cold and safe from the danger of being crushed or suffocated by the mother. .
Since December, more than 40 units, worth around £ 300 each, have already been sold with growing interest from potential new customers.
After starting her family, Sheryl went to college as a mature student to study to become a building surveyor. She has also been a lifelong animal lover and her passion is now successfully combined with her skills.
She said: “Since my childhood I have been obsessed with animals and their well-being. It has been a pleasure to serve on the committee of a dog breed club and I have been heavily involved in welfare issues all my life.
“A few years ago, in my role as a building expert, I specified and installed children’s play equipment on behalf of Liverpool City Council. As the project was valued at £ 1.5million, we put out a tender for the work and industry leaders showed up to showcase their products.
“During the administration of this contract, I recognized the value of the material used.
“Plastic, a highly technical form of high density polyethylene, is food grade and non-toxic. be bleached, pressure washed, boiled and stored outdoors.
“This is where the two parts of my world collided, the knowledge I gained in materials science allowed me to realize the enormous potential of this building material for animals, especially dogs. .
“I ordered a farrowing unit for my bitch and the business grew from there.”
Sheryl and Robert are currently working from their home in Fairfield in Liverpool, where she grew up, but businesses are now growing to the point where they may need their own premises.
“Manufacturing the units is not a problem,” Sheryl explained. “We are using a large, established manufacturer and they can cope with the increase in volume, but I think we will have to move to another location soon if we continue to grow.”
A major breakthrough for NAH was the endorsement of the national charity, Guide Dogs (formerly known as Guide Dogs for the Blind), which enthusiastically embraced the concept.
Sheryl added, “I gave them a device to see what they thought about it and told them to use it for a few months and come back to me. But they came back to me a few weeks later and told me they loved it.
“I wanted to give something back, but also, of course, that was a good testing ground for the product, so it made sense to do that.
“They have finished testing them and have just installed 12 units, replacing each of their centers with one of ours.
“They are also on the verge of purchasing a lot more this year and replacing all of their units in the field. The head of the breeding center told us that she had “waited 15 years for something so good”, which is a nice reward.
In addition to the guide dog endorsement, the product has also been featured on the children’s TV show, Blue Peter, and Sheryl and Robert have sold one of their units to the owner of the 2014 Crufts Supreme Champion with a deal to approval included.
“It was amazing to see him on Blue Peter, really exciting for us,” she said. “And it happened the same week as the deal with the winner of Crufts too.”
Sheryl sees dog shows and breeders as key ways the company can bring the design to market, which is currently the subject of a pending patent. She claims its design is a big improvement over those already on the market.
She said: “It is a well-certified scientific fact that wooden cutting blocks harbor more bacteria than the average toilet seat, so why do we persist in using wood and derived materials for delivery units? for dogs or whelping boxes?
“A lower quality material is already used on the continent in livestock applications, but I recognized its appeal for farrowing units.
“My reasoning when designing them is that we design them to stay in the breeder’s living room for up to three months, so they have to be aesthetically appealing.
“I believe the only place to raise a litter is within the family and our units really facilitate that philosophy.
“They are colorful, can be personalized with the name of their breeder’s Kennel Club, are easy to assemble because there are no bindings, but above all they are warm, clean and hygienic.
“The units come in five sizes and are strong enough for the owner to step in and reassure and help if needed.
“Because this is a niche market, it is difficult to make accurate sales forecasts at this point, but we hope to sell about six boxes per month in a few months and we are well on our way to achieving that. . “
Like many entrepreneurs, Sheryl and Robert have fully self-funded their business – using a lifetime’s savings – and had no help from any outside agency.
Sheryl says she wishes starting a business would be a little easier if there was a little more support.
“One of our biggest problems is cash flow,” she said. “It can be a real challenge.
“Plus, support for starting a business was hard to come by. My brother recently started his own business, but he was unemployed so there was help available for him through the employment center. When you are already working, there is much less.