For many dog owners, a night or two away without their four-legged friend in tow requires a bit of pre planning, someone’s got to feed them their evening tucker. But what if it didn’t have to be an actual human that gave the dog a bone? It’s definitely food for thought, and as explained to Erin Harrison, was the light bulb moment for Gerard Richards to create Durafeed.
A few years ago, Richards wanted the night off the farm to go fishing, but because there was no one to feed the dogs – he had to cancel his plans. However, all was not lost for the Manawatu farmer, as what he did do was spend a lot of the weekend looking online for a solution for his problem. Surely he wasn’t the only one who had experienced this situation on the farm and surely someone had already invented a product that could help?
Nope, and also, nope.
Well, actually there were a couple of automatic feeders in the market, but none of them were heavy duty enough to withstand the big breeds, like huntaways, alsatians and hungry labradors. Richards knew they just wouldn’t survive on the farm.
“They were made of plastic and even if the dogs couldn’t get into them, they wouldn’t last in New Zealand’s harsh weather conditions – from the scorching heat of the summer to the wind, rain and snow in the winter.”
“And so I got tinkering in my shed as a bit of a hobby, knowing that it didn’t need to be complicated. It just needed a time delay that the user would set, with the food going in the top and dropping out the bottom when it was dinner time.”
There were a few other requirements the feeder had to meet too. It needed to be secure from not only dogs, but pests too. It would also need to administer a wide range of food – from dry biscuits to meat from the freezer – and it also needed to be hygienic and dog friendly (so even if the dogs did try to ‘have a go’, they wouldn’t hurt themselves).
While Richards was working away on a prototype, he got talking to a few friends and family members about what he was inventing, all of whom asked ‘can you make me one too?’
Which is when he realised that the issue he was trying to solve was actually a lot bigger than him.
“It turned out that I could potentially help a lot of other people too, farmers and everyday dog owners who just wanted a little bit more freedom in their lifestyle to head away for the night and know that their dog would still be taken care of. It was also about improving mental health, particularly for farmers who often feel ‘tied’ to the farm.”
But after investing a lot of his own personal funds into the project, he needed some help to take things further. So Richards got in touch with the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA), who were able to point him in the direction of all the right people to partner with – from intellectual property lawyers, to organisations providing grants for the type of thing he was doing.
“Peter Ellingham from CEDA has been amazing, everything he has done for me is gold and I couldn’t have done it without his help. In fact, if I have one learning from this whole process, it would be that I should’ve got in touch with the experts much sooner. I didn’t know how much support there was out there, and I’ve just been blown away really.”
“And if anyone else is sitting on an idea, I highly recommend talking to people about it. There is a lot of funding being pumped into innovation, and it could help you get your idea from the farm to the shelves. I also think people need to realise that innovation isn’t always about making a brand new product, sometimes it can simply be about making a product better.”
While the farmer turned entrepreneur is well on his way to business success (with the product almost ready for manufacturing), he certainly hasn’t got there without his fair share of challenges. With perhaps the biggest one having to spend all day on the farm, and then his evenings in front of the computer.
“There was a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ paperwork, and it just wasn’t something I was used to doing. So I had to really motivate myself to make sure I got everything crossed off my list.”
“But I made it through by having faith that it would be worth it in the end, and by reminding myself that there is only one way to eat an elephant, and that’s by taking it one bite at a time.”
Earlier this year, Richards did a ‘soft launch’ of the product at Fieldays, and if the response from those four days was anything to go by, the only issue may be that manufacturing won’t be able to keep up with demand. He had people practically begging him to buy the prototype right then and there, so you could say the overall response was very positive.
There are just a couple more tests to be carried out on the final prototype and Richards is hoping the single feeder will be ready to sell to the general public by Christmas,with the double feeder available sometime next year.
Story created in partnership with Central Economic Development Agency.