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Women in business

Women in business: Meet Melissa Devereaux, founder of Laila and Me

Meet Melissa Devereaux, founder of Laila and Me

If, like me, you’re openly obsessed with your dog, you know how important it is for our fur babies to be healthy, happy, and well-nourished.

As a dedicated (perhaps too dedicated) paw-rent, I want to know that I’m acting in the best interests of my precious pooch, including the ingredients that go into her food and treats.

It was a rude awakening for Melissa Devereaux, founder of Laila and Me, to discover that Australia’s pet food and treat industry is woefully underregulated. Given our high standards for human food and drug safety, she had always assumed that this would also apply to our four-legged friends.

Laila and Me began when Devereaux’s French bulldog, Laila, experienced health issues and allergies.

“The tests began, and we started with a food elimination diet,” Devereaux said.

“But this was tough – I still wanted to give her the occasional treat.”

After a few trips to various pet stores and reading the ingredients list of popular dog treat brands, Devereaux was appalled at the market’s lack of regulation and high-quality products.

Now, she is on a mission to change the pet food industry, one dog treat at a time.

How Laila and Me went from a hobby to a large-scale business

Devereaux quickly found that there were no existing dog treats on the market that she would feel comfortable feeding Laila.

“I couldn’t, and still cannot believe that the pet treat and pet food industry in Australia is completely unregulated,” she said.

“Imagine your supermarket meal was made with out-of-date chicken in a 40-degree warehouse, dropped on the floor then, scooped up in un-gloved hands, then shoved in a container and sent off to you to eat… luckily, this would never happen in Australia.”

As a dedicated dog owner and savvy consumer, Devereaux realised the potential in this huge market gap. She started making her own treats for Laila from her home kitchen, then sharing them with friends and family members and selling her treats at a few market stalls.

The word spread quickly, and Devereaux knew there was a fierce demand for natural, quality dog treats with locally sourced ingredients.

“I focused heavily on building my social media presence, especially Instagram, which grew from a few hundred followers to the 43,000 followers we have today,” she said.

“As the brand started to gain recognition and rapidly grow, we have scaled the business and expanded, opening our second factory in 2021 and bringing manufacturing in-house.”

“Three years later, my hobby had turned into a business that led me to leave my full-time job as National Events Manager at Bunnings,” she said.

Business is booming, and Devereaux now heads a large-scale production manufacturing out of two warehouses in Melbourne and Regional Victoria.

With so few options available for pet products made with regulated, quality, locally sourced ingredients, Devereaux now faces the challenges of further expansion to continue meeting the growing demand.

Meet Melissa Devereaux, founder of Laila and Me

Making her mark among the big dogs

After making the leap and committing to Laila and Me as a business venture, Deveraux experienced her fair share of challenges and barriers.

It was hard to generate profit without compromising on the quality of her ingredients and the integrity of her business model, especially when many of the bigger brands make their margins by importing cheap, low-grade ingredients from overseas.

“Luckily, we are finding that more and more responsible pet parents are understanding the importance of nutrition in the health, wellbeing, and longevity of their pets, and understanding that high quality, Australian-made products cost more, but are very worth it,” she said.

Devereaux is also grappling with the challenge of meeting the demand with her current operations, despite reinvesting every cent possible back into growing the business. She is now seeking private investors to help sustain the growth of her business.

Being a women-led business in a mostly male-dominated industry, Devereaux also faced scepticism and gender bias from others in her sector who underestimated the power of her business vision.

“We face challenges with not being taken seriously by suppliers at first, but once we explain the volume of product we are looking to order, they quickly realise we are a serious business and one they will want to foster a relationship with,” she said.

“We also face smaller (but highly annoying) things, like when male truck drivers come to deliver large deliveries, most of the time on pallets, and they look around for someone who is going to help unload and drive the forklift. Surprise! It’s us girls!

“From being on forklifts, processing meat products to manual handling, our team are not afraid to get our hands dirty, which unfortunately comes as a surprise to a lot of people.”

Meet Melissa Devereaux, founder of Laila and Me
Meet Melissa Devereaux, founder of Laila and Me

Advice to women exploring entrepreneurship

Laila and Me started in Devereaux’s private home kitchen and is now nourishing precious pups around the country.

Her advice to other women who have a great business idea but aren’t sure where to start is to surround yourself with supportive people who can fill any gaps in your personal expertise.

“I have definitely been learning everything as I go and surrounded myself with experts such as vets, pet nutritionists, business and finance coaches to make sure I am on the right track,” she said.

“My biggest piece of advice for women is to focus on what you are doing and fostering your relationship with customers and building a community around your brand. Everything else is just noise and will become overwhelming if you listen to every piece of advice every Tom, Dick, and Harry want to give you!”

Devereaux also encourages business owners to embrace the positive side of competitors and to share knowledge and experience with those whose goals align with their own.

Collaborating with those in your industry who share your values and beliefs can foster meaningful relationships and make your business more robust, resilient, and successful.

Laila and Me proudly demonstrate their commitment to the planet, with a strong focus on sustainability to protect the planet for future generations of humans and dogs alike. They recently joined the one percent for the planet, which involves pledging 1 per cent of their revenue to important issues like tackling climate change, reducing pollution, and protecting threatened wildlife.

Every product sold by Laila and Me is vet approved and made from single-protein ingredients. Laila and Me treats are rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids and always free of artificial preservatives, additives, and chemicals. You can rest easy knowing you are giving your pup the very best while supporting an Australian-owned and woman-led business.

“With health and wellbeing becoming more and more important to us, it is also becoming front of mind for our pets. A happy, healthy pet ensures longer life and lower vet bills,” said Devereaux.

“Laila and Me is working to change the standards in the pet food industry in Australia and transparently educating pet owners on the importance of what they are feeding their pets and what to look for to make sure they are making the best choice for their pets.”

Learn more about Laila and Me’s journey, or shop their unique and delicious doggy treats.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.