New shop in Chesterfield takes its lead from couple's experience with rescue dogs
A couple’s experience with rescue dogs has led to the opening of a new shop in Chesterfield selling natural food products, handmade collars, birthday boxes and pet portraits.
Barkworthy Dog Emporium is the brainchild of Tony and Carole Foster who have launched their niche business in Theatre Yard.
Tony said: “The reason we chose the dog emporium was because Carole is a trustee of the charity Reach that rescues and rehomes sled dogs and Northern breeds, which she has been involved with for six years. Part of her job was fundraising and she would go to all the shows where she got to know a lot of pet type suppliers so we got to educate ourselves about the types of food and treats and natural products that are good for dogs and the remedies and things that we can do to enhance their lives."
The couple have a five-year-old Alaskan Malamute sled dog and have previously owned two others. Tony said: “The breed looks like huskies but are generally taller and wider than huskies. They require a lot of exercise which is part of the reason why people can’t manage them any more. Malamutes are notoriously finicky with food – they have no grain in their diet. A lot of dog food and dog treats contain fillers, grain is put in there to bulk it out which is bad for our particular breed and many others. We’ve had to tailor the diet and nutrition to the breed that we were looking after and we realised that it applies almost universally to other dogs.
"Natural treats are a speciality in our shop and we pride ourselves on knowing a bit about nutrition and health.”
That first-hand knowledge benefits customers looking for the best products for dogs that have issues such as skin conditions.
The treats on sale in Barkworth Dog Emporium are not only good for pets but are also branded and packaged to appeal to their owners. Tony said: “We’ve got deli treats with quaint names like Barkwell tarts rigged up to look like Bakewell tarts."
Dog birthdays are big business, a fact which doesn’t go unrecognised in the new shop where there are birthday boxes containing a woofin (the doggie equivalent of a muffin), a doggie doughnut and a cake as well as a bowl. Tony said: "We also do birthday bandanas and party hats which we’ve been cooing over!”
Handmade collars are another speciality. Tony said: “People want something unique for their pets. The collars are made from different and unusual fabrics such as Harris tweed or ribbon sewn onto mesh. If someone sees a material that they particularly like, a collar can be custom made from it.
"People coming into the shop are looking for quality stuff, they want to see and feel what they are buying. We’ve sourced what we know are good quality, reliable products.”
During lockdown dogs got used to having their owners at home every day which made Tony and Carole think about items that could occupy pets when their humans returned to the office. Tony said: "We’ve got a lot of products that we’ve sourced from America which are a bit unusual, well made and the sort of thing you don’t see over here. For example, we have Starbarks – a coffee cup-shaped plush toy.
“There is one product called the Lickimat which is a silicone mat that you can put peanut butter on and then sprinkle with treats."
Self-taught artist Tony, 58, is offering pet portraits as part of the business. He said: “I have my easel in a well-lit corner of the shop and I’m doing the portraits as the shoppers are walking by so that attracts quite a lot of interest.”
Working from photos and using pastels, Tony spends up to 30 hours on each portrait and charges £65 for an A4 sized framed picture and £85 for an A3 sized one.
Much-missed pets can be honoured in pastel portraits and on mugs personalised with photos and words. Tony said: “There was nothing for the memoralisation of pets that you could buy and celebrate their lives so we invested in some of those products when we set up the emporium.”
Tony and Carole are keen to hear feedback from customers on what they would like to see in the Barkworthy Dog Emporium. Tony said: “We’ve had to go in with what we think will sell. We’re going to tailor our products more to what kind of dogs we get in the shop, what specific items owners want for their dogs and gear it around a personal experience….every owner is different, every dog is different.”
The couple, who have three grown-up children, moved to Palterton from Manchester in July. Carole, 61, worked as a graphic artist for a cosmetics company and Tony worked in an office for 30 years before taking a degree in creative writing.
Tony said: “We were looking to escape the crowded city life. We wanted a quieter lifestyle and one where we could be our own bosses and control what we did.
"We wanted to start a niche business, bring something a bit different to town and Theatre Yard is meant to be a creative space.
"We were impressed that the council was so proactive and kept us appraised at all stages. If you’re opening a business, you’re thinking about how you’re going to be supported by the local authority and Chesterfield stood out for us in that sense.
"I could also see that the council was making efforts to entice shoppers back to the area – there were stilt walkers, colourful displays and entertainment.”