In Conversation With Pet Parent and Entrepreneur Izzy Concepcion
The founder of Ollie Bowls chatted with us about how her business started and why pets and fur parents are loving her breakthrough products
“I like to think now that a lot of things do happen for a reason, because if there was no pandemic, there’d be no Ollie. No Ollie, there’s no Ollie Bowls,” Izzy Concepcion reflects. The global health crisis badly affected people all over the world, but there’s also no denying that there are positive things that have come out of this unprecedented situation.
For many, it allowed them to discover new things to love and be passionate about. For Izzy, this phase inspired her to embrace new roles: as a pet parent and an entrepreneur.
Both are not entirely new to her, but this is the first time she has truly nurtured these sides of her, and she couldn’t be happier. “I’ve had pets since I was a kid, but they were never really my pets. They’re family pets,” she shares. Izzy also grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, with a father who always taught her to work hard for something she wants.
Her first taste of entrepreneurship, in fact, traces back to when she was as young as 10, when she would sell to her friends the Lip Smacker lip balms she purchased in the US. With a big sweet tooth, Izzy also started a cupcake business from when she was 11 until she reached 14. “I was doing that because my dad told me that if I wanted an electric guitar, I had to buy it myself,” she recalls. “So I always grew up with that mindset. If I want something, I have to work for it. It was never given to me.”
From those adorable, humble beginnings, it’s clear that business is never just about the profitable aspect for Izzy. It’s interlaced with passion and a purpose to create something with meaning. She brought this interest with her all the way to college, where she took up a double major in Business and French at King’s College London. “In my senior year, I signed up for a lot of classes in marketing strategy, entrepreneurship, digital marketing and brand marketing. But the most effective education is being able to apply the theory to real life and go do it yourself,” she shares.
Izzy was intending to work there in London, but her move back to the Philippines coincided with the start of the COVID-caused lockdowns. She had to stay in Manila, and little did she know she’d discover a business venture here that’s close to her heart. She smiles, “Things really worked out for a reason, and for that, I’m very grateful.”
New beginnings with Ollie
Looking for ways to cope with the pandemic, Izzy realized she wanted a dog. It’s no secret how pets can have positive benefits on their owners’ health and well-being, especially during uncertain times like the pandemic. “I wanted to dedicate a lot of my free time into something, you know, loving something and nurturing something,” she says.
So in October 2020, Izzy got a golden retriever, and she named it Ollie. “I was so obsessed with him,” Izzy gushes. An excited new pet parent, she would read about everything pet dogs need and buy all the essentials and then some.
“When you’re a new pet parent, you get so excited and go all out shopping for all the chews, the toys,” she shares. “When I was shopping for my dog’s bowls, I discovered that there wasn’t much variety available. It wasn’t much of a big deal, really. Until I actually got my dog and saw how he eats.” Since Ollie was a fast eater, he’d often make a mess whenever he eats because his bowl would slide and topple all over the kitchen and he’d chase it in his attempt to get every bit of food or every drop of water in the bowl. Izzy shares, “The kibble would fly everywhere, water would splash all over the place. It was no fun cleaning up after him all the time.”
It seems like that isn’t that big of a problem, but when it happens often or every mealtime, it could consequently affect the eating habits, health, and wellness of a pet. Mess issue aside, Izzy’s pet Ollie also has preferences when it comes to the temperature of his drinking water一something plastic and thin metal bowls in the market can’t address. “[The water] would become lukewarm quickly and he didn’t like that,” this doting pet parent points out.
Izzy couldn’t find bowls that cater to these unrealized and unanswered needs, so she decided to develop a brand that produces them instead. “Everything happened pretty spontaneously because it was primarily for my own convenience as a pet parent and for my dog Ollie’s benefit,” she shares. At first, she was hesitant to turn her idea into a business, saying, “There was a lot of fear there. ‘Oh, will people still take care of their dogs as much as they do now?’ But the good thing that came out of that is that no matter what situation we’re in, people still love their dogs and their pets and they still would want to invest in a good quality bowl for them.”
Inspired by Ollie, it was a no-brainer to name her business venture after her dear fur baby.
Introducing Ollie Bowls
Just about two months into her journey as a pet parent, Izzy thought of putting up her business, with pet bowls as her main offering. “I am really my first customer. Then I thought I couldn’t possibly be the only pet parent having these problems. I’m sure there are so many others who share the experience,” she tells Metro.Style.
After five months of planning, research, and product development, Ollie Bowls was launched in May 2021 with a cute photo shoot starring none other than Ollie and his furry friends (the other golden retrievers of Izzy’s family, as well as her friends’ dogs).
Ollie Bowls are customizable, double wall stainless steel pet bowls that are also powder-coated. As Izzy puts it, “Think of us as your favorite water bottle, but for your pet.”
On what makes Ollie Bowls special, Izzy details, “Ollie Bowls are deeper and wider than what’s commonly available, so water/food don’t spill so easily. They are quite heavy, so they’re very stable, it takes effort to topple them. The bowls are constructed with a silicone anti-slip base so they don’t slide around even if your dog gobbles up food or laps up water too quickly. The bowls have food grade double stainless-steel walls that prevent heat transfer so water stays cold longer. The material is non-corrosive and doesn’t rust so the bowls are very sturdy and easy to clean. Unlike plastic and ceramic, it is non-porous which means there is no place for bacteria and fungus to settle in. A recent study by scientists at Hartpury University revealed that over time, plastic and ceramic bowls develop the highest levels of E. coli and Salmonella.”
The brand initially offered two sizes of bowls: Small (32 oz/4 cups capacity, 2.5″ deep, 7.6” wide, weighing 1 lb. for small dogs like terrier and shih tzu) and Large (64 oz/8 cups capacity, 3″ deep, 8” wide, weighing 1.3 lbs. for medium to large dogs like corgi, golden retriever, and border collie). Recently, they added Mini (24 oz/3 cups, 2” deep, 6.8” wide, weighing 800 grams for mini dogs, cats, even bunnies and birds).
Especially for your pet
What further sets Ollie Bowls apart from the usual in the market are the wide range of colors to choose from and their offerings for customization. Each and every product is Instagrammable, appealing to this platform’s dog community and social media-savvy pet parents who couldn’t get enough of taking photos of their pets enjoying food in their Ollie Bowls. Izzy has unique products and she packages them beautifully in a craft box, complete with care guides and free stickers.
The bowls are stackable and may be customized and laser-engraved with names, logos, and/or drawings. Izzy says, “Some customers have sent us their own doodles to use. We also have a roster of exclusive artist partners who can draw your pet’s face and engrave on your Ollie Bowls, the list of artists includes: Henlohooman, Furdoodles.ph, Facedit.ph, Pawtraits by Art Commission PH, Portraits by Gusabi, and Peach Canvas.”
Izzy was right when she conceptualized her business. Many pet parents can indeed relate to her concerns regarding pet bowls, but the overwhelming response to her brand was something she didn’t quite expect.
Ollie Bowls celebrated its first anniversary last month, and new products were introduced to mark this milestone and cater to more pet lovers. The Slow Feeders are durable puzzle-type attachments that can easily be installed in your Ollie Bowls during feeding time. According to Izzy, “The slow feeder makes it more challenging for dogs to eat therefore slows them down. This reduces bloat, a life-threatening condition that can happen in dogs when eating too fast. It also provides good mental stimulation.” They also offer nine exclusively-designed Ollie Bowls mats that are 20 x 12 inches in size; these not only keep feeding time clean, but also jazz up the feeding space.
Elevating the brand into a lifestyle
Ollie Bowls has grown so much since it was born last year, and Izzy has impressively expanded her brand to become a part of people’s lifestyles.
Izzy reflects, “It’s pretty amazing actually because I brought it in, of course, wanting to bring in an excellent product to the market that hasn’t been there before. But what I was really surprised about is how it affected the dogs’ lifestyle changes. So there was a dog with bad separation anxiety一I’ll never forget this一the dog wouldn’t eat if the mom wasn’t watching her. And then one day, the mom wasn’t in the room and then the dog finished all the food. And ever since she was able to eat alone. There were dogs who had problems with drinking enough water, so there were dogs who would fall into heat stroke every summer. And for some reason now, they love drinking from their Ollie Bowls and they won’t stop. And it’s really cute.”
“I also got feedback recently from a customer who said Ollie Bowls inspired her to feed her dog better. Because we have a campaign called ‘What’s in your ollie bowls?’ and it shows, like the plating, what’s in your ollie bowls, what you feed your dog. And that mom said it really encouraged her to reassess what she’s feeding her dog and choose the right diet, choose the right food, be more conscious of what she’s actually feeding her dog, because that’s what’s important to her.”
Izzy started out her business through social media and a website. Ollie Bowls branched out into collaborations with other brands like Havaianas and Lara’s Ark (a Philippine animal shelter and sanctuary). Pet-friendly restaurants like Lusso, Toyo Eatery, A Mano, Grace Park, Wildflour, Three Squares Cafe + Bar, and Kiwami also have customized Ollie Bowls for their clients’ fur babies.
These bowls are now available in brick-and-mortar stores like CommonThread Rockwell and Greenbelt, and at Wildflour Pantry in BGC as well.
What’s more, Ollie Bowls has something for fur parents too! Part of their product folio are the cool walkies caps that are made of 100% brush twill with a metal fastener, embroidered with the brand’s logo.
“What’s interesting with the pandemic is it caused a big demand in pets and pet products. And people are buying pets and appreciating pets more,” Izzy says. Through Ollie Bowls, she not only gets to pursue a newfound passion and purpose, she also gets to help her fellow pet parents care more about their pets and their needs.
A one-woman team for the most part, Izzy now gets some help from her sister in running the business. Through Ollie Bowls, she also met young fans of the brand who offered to help her in terms of content and even selling at a recent pet fair.
“That’s actually what’s really nice with Ollie Bowls that I didn’t expect,” says Izzy, who currently juggles marketing responsibilities at her day job in Smeg Philippines with her own business. “You could kind of reach out to the younger audience also and inspire people in a way and kind of teach them. It’s just interesting because when I was their age, I was always looking at an opportunity to learn from someone and maybe be like that person. So now, it’s really nice that I’m able to kind of show them the way and kind of guide them in that way.”
Ollie and Ollie Bowls have grown so much, but so did its founder. Izzy brought her vision to fruition in the middle of the pandemic一who knows what lengths this goal-getter could still go to show her deep love for pets when things are so much better?!