The team of Mops Shmops took part in the Biz4all-2 social entrepreneurship training school, and we are always happy to follow up with our participants to see how they are growing and succeeding. Natallia Bublei and Vitaly Paulahradsky, who set up the Mops Shmops social enterprise in Minsk, originally conceived it to be a place that sells tasty and healthy dog treats. Natallia says that a year after they started selling they realized that they should not get stuck on deserts only. The entrepreneurs now plan to open a shop of environmentally friendly goods for dogs, and Mops Shmops has added biodegradable paper dog poo bags and environmentally friendly dog toys to their range of products.
We already covered this social enterprise a year ago: Healthy Dog Treats “Mops Shmops”: How Well-Off Dogs Help Poor Ones. Then, Natallia and Vitaly spoke to us about their pugs, Mozart and Erica. They got Mozart from an unscrupulous breeder, who had caused the dog to lose a paw. Natallia says that they have managed to find out more about Mozart’s pedigree: it turned out that he is a purebred. They have had paw prosthetics made for him in St. Petersburg, which are now being modified. Erica has starred in a cell carrier commercial and is a diligent student of the School of Obedient Dogs. As we can see, pugs are doing well, so what has changed in the social business over the past year?
Paper bags as a way to care about environment
Even though the entrepreneurs had the idea to produce and sell biodegradable paper dog poo bags in Belarus for a long time, they only started to sell the paper bags early this year. The paper bags were sold through zerro.by packaging free store, which we covered here: First packaging free store in Belarus zerro.by: what should Belarus be like in 5-10 years? Natallia remembers: “We were looking into production opportunities and were looking for partners. In the end, only two Belarusian companies agreed to produce such bags. At the same time, we also thought about ways to put the paper bags into market. We discussed a crowdfunding campaign with experts and potential partners, but finally decided to abandon the idea because the topic was such a niche one”.
It took a lot of time to make test batches of paper bags, because the initial production costs were very high. Incidentally, this is one of the most common criticisms aimed at such a product — how can an ordinary paper bag cost so much? As of now, 10 packets with scoops (27 × 13 cm) cost 3.5 BYN, and 10 bags with handles cost 4.5 BYN. The bags are produced by the Belarusian social enterprise “ArtIdea" from recycled craft paper (Class A Kraft — 85% waste paper, 15% unbleached pulp).
Vitaly says: “When we use social media to raise the problem of picking up after dogs, we see a lot of response from the pet owners and from others. However, the most environmentally friendly way to clean up dog faeces now worries far fewer people. These are people who take a conscious approach to environment and environmental protection. However, we see that there is interest and demand, although it is still quite small. It is important for us to receive feedback. People write to us: “I never thought about cleaning after my dog and why” or “we never thought how to best clean up after our dog.” We see that after our posts these people became interested in the topic”.
“Buy Belarusian” – environmentally friendly dog toys
In our interview with co-founders of the first in Belarus store without packaging zerro.by, the entrepreneurs emphasized that they were trying to look for environmentally friendly Belarusian goods and give preference to them when possible. If something is not produced Belarus yet, then they will be looking for someone who can fill the gap. This is what happened with environmentally friendly dog toys by Mops Shmops.
Natalia says that they got acquainted with Sviatlana Hatalskaya, one of the store co-founders, when they were taking part in SocialWeekend 10. “When we heard about the opening of this store, we immediately thought that we could cooperate. Our collaboration began with the sales of biodegradable paper bags for dogs. When we talked with Svetlana, she suggested that we think about producing other eco-friendly goods for pets, for example, dog toys. We also knew from our customer surveys, which we did as part of the Biz4all social entrepreneurship school, that animal owners give their pets birthday presents: treats and toys. We began to collect information, study the European and American markets, and saw that toys could be made from hemp — natural fibre from technical hemp stems. We liked that, unlike cotton toys which are present in the Belarusian market, they are completely eco-friendly, no chemicals are used to produce them, they are 100% biodegradable, and dogs really like them.”
Today, Mops Shmops orders their hemp toys from the Club House “Open Soul “OO “BASR” for people with mental illnesses. The team trained people from the Club House in simple rope toy weaving techniques, and the first batch of 14 different products for all dog breeds has already been produced. The toys cost from 3 to 15 BYN. The toys are about to be launched in zerro.by, on the platform of craftcentr.by. You can also order these products directly from Mops Shmops.
Sviatlana Hatalskaya, co-founder of zerro.by packaging-free store, describes the moment she had an idea for cooperation: “I am the person responsible for the range of product we stock, so I googled a lot, looking into the eco-trends all over the world, and found a lot of alternative dog bowls, foods and toys. I shared what I found with the Mops Shmops guys, just in case they got interested in producing alternative items for dogs. Especially considering that no one does that in Belarus now, so they would be the first. And now we have the first batch of toys”.
Expanding the borders of businesses
In addition to producing and selling things, Mops Shmops as a social enterprise also aims to educate. Entrepreneurs say that they see an increase in demand. Many dog owners make their own dog poo bags out of paper or newspaper, or order biodegradable bags from other countries. However, you can buy them in Belarus now. Vitaly concludes: “Actually, the majority of people still do not pick up after their dogs, don’t know and don’t understand why it is necessary. We still have a pervasive myth that dog poo is a ‘healthy’ fertilizer, so it does not need to be picked up. It is important to not only encourage and oblige people to clean up, but also create a suitable environment, which does not exist now. We have no bio waste recycling system, no free bags, no special bins and no social advertising dedicated to this issue.”
The dog entrepreneurs also tried to launch a line of cat treats, but were not successful. Cats are really picky, so it is difficult to please them.
Sviatlana Hatalskaya, co-founder of zerro.by, says: “We say in every interview that we need to cooperate with each other and do cool stuff in Belarus. In fact, this works. We already have two companies: Mops Shmops have started to produce paper bags and toys, and another company has started to make drinking straws from metal. These will be first Belarusian metal straws, so you won’t have to order them from China. Let us expand the boundaries of our business, look at it from different angles, and find new ways to reach new audiences. Now is the time to think about making the world without plastic a reality.”
Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk
|The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.|
The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.