Nice & nat­u­ral

The lit­tle North­land com­pany Wash­bar is tak­ing on the world with its all-nat­u­ral skin and coat care prod­ucts for horses and hounds, as HELEN FIRTH dis­cov­ers

NZ Horse & Pony - - Business Time -

Some­times the best busi­nesses blos­som from just one sim­ple idea. That’s what hap­pened when Wash­bar founder Jules Smith was ap­proached by a friend with an ex­tremely itchy dog. Jules, who had been play­ing around with soap-mak­ing as a hobby, came up with a recipe she thought might just soothe se­vere flea der­mati­tis. She sent the bar off and thought noth­ing much of it, un­til her friend con­tacted her a cou­ple of weeks later to say the stuff was amaz­ing. Jules, who didn’t even own a dog at the time, started ask­ing around and dis­cov­ered itchy skin was an ex­tremely com­mon ca­nine com­plaint, and so the Whangarei-based com­pany Wash­bar was born.

That soap de­vised by Jules con­tained sooth­ing, all-nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, such as le­mon-scented tea tree and neem to re­pel fleas and ticks. It’s the same recipe that to­day sells as the Orig­i­nal Wash­bar Soap for Dogs. How­ever, things have grown ex­po­nen­tially since Jules started play­ing around at home; Wash­bar is now the sin­gle big­gest-sell­ing dog wash prod­uct in New Zealand, and ex­ports to nine coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Hong Kong, China and Swe­den.

Although Jules hand-made that first bar of soap her­self, she re­alised she could only pro­duce 20 bars at a time, which wasn’t re­ally a busi­ness, so she found a con­tract man­u­fac­turer to make up her recipe. The min­i­mum vol­ume was 2000 bars and when the first or­der ar­rived, Jules wasn’t too sure what to do with it all. She be­gan to phone re­tail­ers around the coun­try, but one of the first shops she ap­proached told her no­body would ever wash a dog with a bar of soap. “I got off the phone and thought, I’m so lucky my neigh­bour has a dig­ger, be­cause now we can bury the whole lot and I can get back to my life!” she laughs. How­ever, Jules is clearly tena­cious and with a back­ground in sales and mar­ket­ing she had sold her soap into 70 re­tail stores around New Zealand within three months.

It’s been a huge life­style change for Jules, who moved from Auckland to North­land 10 years ago, af­ter work­ing in ‘cor­po­rate land’ at Hewlett Packard. She and hus­band Pete Gre­gory live on a beau­ti­ful 40-acre block at Kokopu, west of Whangarei, where they are com­pletely off the grid; they rely on so­lar power, grow their own veg­eta­bles and have a herd of goats. Two years af­ter Jules es­tab­lished Wash­bar, the busi­ness be­came big­ger than she could man­age on her own, and Pete left his job as an agri­cul­tural fenc­ing con­trac­tor to work with her in the com­pany.

Nat­u­rally, most horse own­ers are also dog own­ers, and when horse peo­ple started us­ing the orig­i­nal bar on their equines as well, the feed­back was pos­i­tive. Jules and Pete (who both used to ride and at one time owned seven horses) brought out the larger-size Horse & Hound Sham­poo Bar in re­sponse. Jules is in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about in­gre­di­ents and for­mu­lated some­thing that, be­sides clean­ing, would help keep the ticks at bay; what she didn’t re­alise was that her par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion of in­gre­di­ents would do many more things than she had ever imag­ined. “The Horse & Hound bar helps sort out mud fever, ring­worm, lice, ticks and rain scald, plus it makes white horses re­ally white,” says Jules.

Amus­ingly, all of Wash­bar’s prod­ucts are

tested on hu­mans, be­fore they go any­where near an an­i­mal. Pete uses the Horse & Hound soap him­self, to shave with. “It lath­ers up well and I don’t get shav­ing rashes like I used to with shav­ing gels,” he says. “There is noth­ing an­i­mal-grade about any­thing we do. The con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers we use are mak­ing some of the top-end nat­u­ral cos­metic brands in New Zealand.”

The other thing, says Jules, is the soap is ex­tremely eco­nom­i­cal. “We gave the Wil­son sis­ters a bar of our soap – they found they got as many washes out of one bar of soap as from a litre of sham­poo. So we ba­si­cally say it’s a litre of sham­poo in a brown pa­per bag.” Great Bar­rier and would put the oil in his kayak and pad­dle it round to the boat to bring it over to the main­land for us. It used to turn up in re­cy­cled whiskey bot­tles!” Now they source their kanuka oil from the Coro­man­del, and manuka from an iwi-based col­lec­tive on the East Coast, be­cause it con­tains the high­est level of ac­tives avail­able. are ex­pen­sive in­gre­di­ents, but the cou­ple love that the bulk of the money goes back to the indigenous peo­ple.

“It’s not enough for us that our prod­ucts work,” she ex­plains. “The in­gre­di­ents also have to be as nat­u­ral as we can pos­si­bly make them, and ideally bought di­rect from the growers. We want to make sure the land hasn’t been plun­dered, and that it’s fair trade.

“It’s big­ger than us. It sounds a bit naff, but we talk about Wash­bar love. It’s more than just a prod­uct – it’s about nur­tur­ing the com­mu­nity and the land.”

Wash­bar also sup­ports sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions and has been a ma­jor spon­sor of the Kaimanawa Stal­lion Chal­lenges, as well as work­ing with Mo­bil­ity Dogs, four SPCAS and Free as a Bird (a bat­tery hen and poul­try res­cue).

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