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February 21, 2020
Everyone walks thousands of miles in a lifetime, along the way sometimes you are lucky to meet people who you instantly feel connected too. They help put a hop in your step, bring your mind inspiration & a smile to your face. Robyn Cooper is one of those people to me.
Ive only met Robyn a half a dozen times but I feel like i've known her for years. Maybe because we can both talk 1000 miles an hour, or that although we have been on different journeys our paths have been very similar in regard to trying on at lot of hats. She's a straight talker, down to earth & and all round good bird.
Who is she? Robyn is the owner of Deano Designs (Handmade fleece bedding & cage accessories for small animals), hoomin mother of one gorgeous son & six piggies, Perth's very own pop up piggy parlour extraordinaire & the creator of the group ''Poop for Plants''. I asked Robyn to share her story with us as i believe this blog may spark inspiration in people who have always wanted to start a small business. That even later in life trying something new might end up being the very best job you've ever had.
I have many hats in my collection, but you can’t see them. I wear a different one for all the jobs and responsibilities I juggle from week to week.
The hats each day can vary - I’m a mum to a very bright 10 year old son, shop assistant at a local pet store, seamstress with my own business making fleece bedding, guinea pig groomer, and owner of a ‘Poop Group” .
I’ve worked in many roles and in several fields since leaving school in the 80’s. And over the years, I learned that having a varied and mixed skill set could indeed be an asset. When I was young, it was proper to have a long term employment record, not skipping from this one to that one, as it was seen to mean you could not stay still and work your way up.
I’ve sold power tools, stationery, packaging, safety equipment, paper, industrial fasteners, woodworking machinery, run pet stores, and found it easy to adapt to each change. Along the way I collected more skills – the feathers for my hats.
In 1995 I spent a year in Cairns, North Queensland. I spent my weekends and days off exploring the rainforest, mountains and beaches - photographing anything that moved, flowers, rock formations etc
When I was 32 I decided to take a year off from working, and went to the local TAFE college to study Certificate 3 in Applied Environmental Practice. This was basically a course that would be a prerequisite for working for the Dept of Environment or similar now. Learning about ecosystems, revegetation, agricultural land management, resource management, waste management, recycling etc, were included. I loved it. A green hat perhaps.
I volunteered with some local landcare groups and took part in monitoring, sample collections etc over the next few years, and my interest in the environmental changes around me grew.
I met my partner Rob, and our son arrived when I was in my mid 40’s. Brave to some, a miracle to others. This event brought a baby blue hat, for my collection.
I continued to work part time, firstly for a friend with a 4x4 accessory store. It wasn’t really the right fit for me. Doing accounts payable in a back office I found a bit boring. So, I took the plunge. I put an ad on Gumtree that I was looking for a job. I went about it kinda like this:
“Gen X and looking for 1-2 days work in pet store or similar. I can make good coffee, send a text, use Google or a UBD, can speak to people face to face, use an alarm clock, and drive myself to work. There’s nothing hanging out of my face that should not be there, and I have no nasty words written on my body.”
To my surprise, I got a call from my local pet store, they did not know if I was a woman or a guy by my advert. I have been working there for nine years now . I have known the owners of the store for 20 years, so they are a bit like extended family. We’re good friends, so it’s not like going to ''work'' really.
There was a time whilst working at the pet store, we could not buy ferret hammocks from the regular suppliers. So I offered to try and make some. I would never have considered myself a seamstress – far from it. I made half a dozen square hammocks and took them to the store. They sold in a few days, so I made some more.
Deano Designs Perth was born. It all started with a dozen handmade cotton hammocks in a cardboard box.
I registered the business in June 2013, and the roller coaster ride began. Hammocks were followed by more hammocks, tunnels, little bags, pocket beds, more tunnels, cuddle sacks, double decker hammocks - the box became two boxes on the shelf.
One day, a regular customer named Sandra came in and started asking me about fleece liners, and could I make them for her. I had no idea what she was on about as I had not heard of them. She gave me some google info and some website to check out, all of which were in the USA or UK. I was amazed at what I found, the cogs in my head went crazy.
Over the next few months, I tried several kinds of fabrics, inner layers, fleece types to get the mix just right. I took two into the store for the boss to try out on her bunnies. You wouldn’t believe it – one of the liners got stolen within an hour of it going into the store. We had video footage of this woman picking it up and walking out the door. Probably thought she had a nice doggy bed.
The liners got the tick of approval, and I started making cage liners, and getting my website started to sell online. My liner size range grew and the website too shape. The pet store wanted me to sell them there too, so I supplied a small three shelf bookcase around a metre tall. The Deano train was picking up speed.
Over the next year my house turned into a fleece zone, it was all over the place. I cut orders out on my kitchen table for two years. I sewed at a study desk in the corner of the family room. When that got too cluttered with rolls, I moved into the home theatre room.
In 2015 my partner Rob built me a workshop at home – a 9mx3m shed – insulated, air conditioned, lighting, custom made wooden benches and all.
During this time my customer base was building. I was getting to know how people looked after their animals at home. What they liked and disliked, what worked, what didn’t and what cost a lot more than it should. I loved finding ways to help people save money, limit waste, and reuse wherever possible. I kept my pricing reasonable, made good quality products, and expanded my product range even further.
While speaking with people on Facebook groups, through the Deano page, and of course, in the pet store, I learned more about guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets and rats. When I was young my sister had a guinea pig, I can only remember it was white. But rabbits were illegal to keep til the 90’s.
Christmas 2013 I brought a young guinea pig home from the store who was found suffering with mites. I treated him twice, but he did not improve. He spent the days hiding under the cubby house, feeling miserable. So, I decided the only way to really help, and to stop him being flyblown in the warm weather, was to bring him home for some one-on-one care.
We named this piggy Snowy. He was a young piggy, and my son was delighted that he had come to our house to get better. I put a post on the Deano facebook page, asking my group how I should go about caring for this little pig. The input was amazing, from far and wide. Within a few days the improvement had begun, and he was on the mend. I learned a lot from those piggy owners who followed my page. I put regular posts up of Snowys’ progress.
When Snowy was better, had healed completely, it was time for him to go back to the store, and to find his forever home. My son Dean sat on the big chair in our carport and said “No one will ever love Snowy like we do mummy. Can he stay with us?” Snowy found his forever home that day, and soon we got him a friend, from Sandra – our boy Turbo.
Snowy would be the first of many guinea pigs that would come to stay for a while, then move on to other homes, over the next few years. Piggies that were dumped at the store with skin problems, pregnant piggies, piggies with health issues – many of them have been at my house for some ‘time out’ to recover and get ready for the next phase of their lives.
There’s been over 40 babies born at our house. I have a maternity area setup for when it is needed. Dean has witnessed the miracle of seeing these creatures born, and sadly, he has seen them pass over the bridge here at home too. He has cradled babies, smooched the mummy pigs, and snuggled with his favourites.
We’ve had our share of guinea pigs that have been our own pets, and they’ve passed away for whichever reason. Then we’ve needed to find the remaining one a friend, so we understand that no piggy is left to live alone (unless they’re really antisocial and just can’t have any friends).
Fleece bedding has been a big part of my life for the last seven years. Sewing was never my forte, but I have now made it my career. I took a chance and took my best shot at something new. I could have never foreseen how big it all got. At this stage in my life, it suits me to work for myself, be a hands on mum for my son, and still have some room for a day at the pet store each week. It’s my day to go chat to others, help customers find the best solutions to their queries, and of course, cuddle the guinea pigs.
Customers started asking about where they could take their guinea pigs for haircuts, nail clipping etc as many vets quoted big prices for these services. I started doing grooming on a Saturday morning at my home. This became The Popup Piggy Pamper Parlour. I enjoy meeting piggies and their owners. It’s nice to chat about them, help owners with their concerns, and sometimes there’s coffee and a biscuit.
My latest ‘fixit’ project is to try and get people to think about their flippant long term use of puppy pads with small animals. These pads go to landfill after disposal, where they can take several hundred years to break down – alongside all those disposable nappies we’ve sent there. I’m not getting on this wagon to sell my bedding – far from it – I simply feel that we should be talking about this plastic wastage, that’s unnecessary. Puppy pads were made for when you brought the new pup home, and toilet trained it for a few weeks to do it’s business in the right place. Short term use.
But I see on so many guinea pig and rabbit sites, dog sites too, people use them so carelessly. A layer of puppy pads, then a towel, puppy pads and carefresh, then puppy pads and wood shavings, so many layers, and so much waste just heading for the bin, week after week, for years.
We’ve all accepted that plastic shopping bags can be an environmental disaster. But no one talks about the puppy pads. There are better options, sustainable options, we need to talk about it instead of just ignoring it – once in the bin, forgotten. Big stores selling a pack of 50 for $8 – it’s gotta start somewhere!
So I am hoping that my bringing it up, leads to discussion, not shaming, but discussion among adults that go shopping, do laundry, and pay for rubbish disposal. Can you imagine what state the planet would be in if we kept our kids in disposable nappies til they were 10?
In 2018 created a Facebook group called POOP FOR PLANTS – the idea came to me after hearing so many people on rabbit and guinea pig groups talking about the amounts of hay and waste they were throwing away in their council bins each week. All that manure and garden goodness, off to the tip, and going to waste. What if there was a way to have folks that need to offload this stuff, get it to gardeners that could use it for their veggie gardens, worm farms or compost piles? A Light bulb kinda moment.
The Poop for Plants WA page had 100 members on the first day! Over the next few weeks I placed posts on some gardening pages, and the numbers grew. I then got enquiries from other states, so created Poop for Plants VIC, SA, NSW and QLD too. – then I thought, what about those people that don’t use Facebook, don’t like Facebook, don’t trust Facebook…….. hmmm WWW!
I had my IT guy that looks after the Deano Designs Perth website, start creating a website so folks could place an ad for the poops they had available, and other members that had joined up could contact them. So it gave everyone control over privacy, like phone number or address.
Andrew worked for weeks on getting it right, as no one had done it before, we really were flying blind trying to make it do things we needed. The website cost me some good coin, and I was going to charge people $5 or $10 a year to be a member, so 20c a week. But upon launch there was debate, some nasty personal messages and it seemed no one thought charging either side was fair – so I made it FREE for everyone to use.
So I call it my community gift - to the gardeners who need it, and pet owners to offload it.
If you’d like to join, and either advertise the poops you have, or to find poops in your area www.poopforplants.com.au – if you save some cash on manure, feel free to buy me a coffee with the donate button.
I’m passionate about the world we all have to live in. Things we do today have an effect on our future, and our children's future. Discussion leads to action, every journey starts with a single step.
We have an obligation to our pets to care for their needs properly, to our family to provide a safe home, and to make the changes needed to lessen our environmental impact on a global scale.
Robyn Cooper :)