With Persian heritage and having worked all over Europe, global citizen Majid Rajaby has introduced the Swedish pet-food franchise to British animal lovers
In 1987, Majid Rajaby, an Iranian-born animal lover who had come to Europe earlier that decade, was studying for his degree in veterinary medicine at the University of Nantes in France. At the same time, Swedish entrepreneur Tom Eliasson had just founded Husse, a line of pet food that was made from superior ingredients and designed to be more nutritious. Almost 20 years later, Rajaby would help the company make its first foray into the British market and introduce the Swedish line of pet food to four-legged creatures in homes across the country.
Throughout his career, Rajaby has channelled his passion for animals into working as a vet – with a specialism in fish – and consulting for companies like Biomar, which supplies feed for fish farming. His career has taken him all over Europe to the Netherlands, France and Belgium. And it was while giving pet owners advice on animal nutrition that he first came across Husse. “I’ve always been passionate about helping pets and making them healthier so Husse caught my attention – it was different from a lot of the other products out there,” he says.
But it wasn’t until 2012, after getting his masters in aquatic veterinary science from Stirling University, that Rajaby considered joining the Husse franchising family. “I saw an ad saying that the brand was looking for a master franchisee in the UK and, since I was already familiar with the product and trusted it, the opportunity excited me,” he says. Husse’s international reputation and long history also meant that while the brand wasn’t familiar to the average Brit, Rajaby was confident it would take off on these shores. What’s more, having spent several years in Scotland, Rajaby had established a life in the UK and was keen to stay on rather than return to France. All things considered, buying the master franchise seemed like the perfect fit.
Rajaby tentatively got in touch to request an information pack but rather than taking the details provided by the franchisor at face value, he did some investigating of his own. Having spent years as an academic combing through books on marine biology, he threw himself into the task of researching every angle of the opportunity. There were several reasons for this diligence: not only would he be introducing a European brand to the British market for the first time but he’d only spent a few years getting to know the country and had never worked in the franchising industry. “I really looked at the franchise model, the UK market opportunity and the business’s performance around the world until I was confident that it was a good opportunity,” he says. His deep-dive into the UK market threw up some encouraging statistics: as a nation of dog and cat lovers, Brits were spending over £2bn a year on pet food at the time.
What’s more, Rajaby noted that there was a wider health movement under way. Brits were starting to become more conscious of what they were putting into their bodies – and that healthy mindset extended to the nutrition of their pets. “Over the last few years, people have become increasingly interested in making healthier choices for their pets,” says Rajaby. “When people buy pet food, they look closely at the carbs, protein and energy.” And given that Husse promises a pet food range that’s crafted by nutritionists and made from healthy ingredients, Rajaby was sure that the timing was perfect for the brand to make its entrance.
And so after six months of thorough research, Rajaby took the plunge and bought the master franchising rights for Husse in the UK. But rather than staying on in Sterling, the master franchisee set up shop in London – which seemed like the natural choice. “It was obvious to me that London was the best place to be as it’s easier for people from across the country to visit us here,” he says. “It’s the centre of everything.”
Having spent the first three months getting the business ready and sorting out the proper documentation, the first major task the master franchisee poured his energy into was finding his first franchisee. To this end, Rajaby invested in a marketing campaign, with a focus on advertising on well-known franchising websites. “The response we got and the leads generated by online ads was unbelievable so it’s something we’ve continued to do over the years,” he says. And while some franchises find it can take a long time to get their first franchisee on board, within a month of the first ad going live a couple in Bristol had signed up to become Husse’s first UK franchisees. They were soon followed by a second and third as positive word of mouth and more online ads helped to create a buzz around the business.
But as he extended the Husse family, Rajaby was mindful of picking the right people and ensuring that franchisees were armed with all the information they would need to make an informed decision. “It’s so important that franchisees take their time to study the information pack, test the product out on their – or a friend's – pet back home and really consider whether our projections match their expectations of what they’ll earn,” he says. “Meeting them in person also gives us a chance to see how they are with people: a large part of the job involves interacting with customers and being personable.” It also helps if they’re passionate about animals. “They don’t have to own a pet but they need to care about animal welfare and helping animals stay healthy,” he adds.
Once on board, franchisees undergo a thorough induction, learning everything from how to manage their online presence to getting to know the product range. And it doesn’t stop there: franchisees can log into a monthly webinar organised by head office where they can tap into the wisdom of nutritionists and business managers. “The Swedish head office is great at transferring knowledge and encouraging the global network to share its expertise,” he says.
As for helping his franchisees win business and find clients, Rajaby has deliberately highlighted the brand’s Swedish origins, rather than trying to tweak it to feel like a British-born company. “People in the UK are in love with all things Scandinavian and Swedish,” he says. “The country’s cuisine is known for being healthy and that association helps when it comes to educating people about Husse’s healthy Swedish recipes.” In fact, Rajaby believes Husse’s connection with Sweden and its 30-year history has helped it stand out from competitors with a longer track record of trading in the UK.
However, while Husse didn’t require much localisation for the British market, one thing that’s been important to Rajaby from the start is making sure the franchise was properly accredited in the UK. This is why he’s taken all the necessary steps to become a full member of the bfa – something he’s hugely proud of. “Being recognised by the bfa for complying with their standards has been so important to us and it’s helped build trust among customers and potential franchisees,” he says.
This approach has seen Husse’s UK network grow to include over 50 franchisees spread across England and Scotland, with new franchisees being brought on at a rate of around 12 per year. And Rajaby has plans to make even more inroads in the country. “Our calculations show we can have as many as 200 franchises,” he says. And despite the fact that Brexit is causing a degree of uncertainty and making some EU nationals feel slightly hesitant about their future in the UK, Rajaby isn’t shaken. “London was my first choice to set up a franchise five years ago and that’s still the case today,” he says. “We’ve recruited franchisees at an even faster rate this year and I'm confident that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, Husse can be become a market leader in its category in Britain very soon.”