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November 17, 2020
My name is Holly and i have always loved rabbits.....
My life has been a whirlwind. I grew up in the 80s. The ups & downs have been intense. The universe has thrown some really crappy things at me however i've also been beyond blessed with others. This week marks 3 full years since the beginning of Smooshie Face Treats, i'm about to embark on the 4th year to which i'm beyond excited for.
I get a bit nostalgic around this time every year as the second half of most of my years have had significant events that have molded who i am today. So as a bit of therapy i thought id reflect back & share with you all how Smooshie Face Treats came to life - the long way around :)
As a youngster i lived with my Dad & brother Ryan, Mum & Dad spilt when i was 2, Mum had two older children so it was best we stayed with Dad. My Dad owned an agistment farm in the Ferguson Valley which he bought after retiring from actual farming... here i learnt how to drive tractors, cut wood, build fences & round up sheep/cattle. We travelled every inch of Western Australia, camping, 4wding, caravaning in every moment spare. I spent most of my childhood in Bunbury however spent time with Mum in Broome, Melbourne & Cairns throughout the years as she travelled around a lot. But i can honestly say i had a great childhood, Mum's new partner had 2 little girls Lisa & Bobbie to whom we became best friends. We had such a big, crazy family but we all loved each other & still do.
I had always had plushy bunnies from the day i was born. But my first experience with real life bunnies I'm horrified to say was at a family friends ''rabbit farm'' They farmed white rabbits for meat export to china. I had no idea as such a young child what this place was, only that i got to play with bunnies! Remember this was the 80s. I do believe it shut down not long after it's establishment due to virus or a slump in export.....at no time during my visits was i ever exposed to rabbits being harmed so it went over my head. It was only when i got older i had flashbacks and realized my memories contained such a place which now i'm wholehearted disgusted in the notion.
Now that i've admitted that memory i'll share with you a happier one....I remember the day i got my first Rabbit. I was doing farm duty at my school (yep we had a school farm) The gardener had asked me to help him in the rabbit pen to change out the hay. We discovered a bunch of baby bunnies - that was it, i had to have one! When they were big enough to leave i handed over $2 of my hard earned pocket money and took home my beautiful baby bun to Dad - who didn't know what i had purchased hahaha! Well i convinced Dad to let me keep Patch, who grew into a whoopa 6 - 7kg bun. Patch was beautiful, intelligent, aggressive, dug holes everywhere and would chase me to bite my ankles. Even chased me up onto a picnic table. Back then no one really knew much about keeping buns, how castration would help with attitude etc He got so bad i had to make the heart breaking decision to rehome him to carry out his ''dreams'' of being a father... a lovely lady took him in who had a girlfriend for him - only now i know sadly she was a breeder but that was the norm back then...
I really did love Patch... One day in the near future we were walking thru Mandurah forum, in the pet shop was the sweetest little bun id ever seen. Dad took one look and to my brother & i's amazement he said we could choose one. Cheeky (Dutch Dwarf) came to live with us that very day. Cheeky was amazing! Dad taught him how to come when whistled, do tricks etc, he free roamed the yard. He was more Dads bun than ours. Sadly Cheeky got out the yard oneday and a neighbour rough handled him when trying to catch him - if only he knew that he could of just whistled :( His back was broken and we had to put him to sleep. Even the vet cried. It was so sad.
My next bun came from a local wildlife park, i adopted Lily rabbit (white with red eyes) after the lady who ran the park said if they don't go she'll have them put down as the park was going to be closing. So Lily came home with me & two other buns Pippa & Suzy went with my step sisters. Lily was a runt, i had to feed her with an eye dropper for many weeks. I'm not sure how she survived but to my delight we became inseparable. Lily was the bun who stole my heart. Our connection was incredible. I'd spend every moment with her until dark. She learned to walk on a lead, would meet me with Dad at the end of street after school & we would literally run home together. Sometimes she was allowed to come inside which i thought was the best thing ever! We watched TV together, played barbies & lego. At night she lived in the yard in a cage made from recycled fridge racks & free ranged through the day. I had her many years until tragically she passed as a result of a stupid accident out on the farm. I was left devastated and my heart still hurts to think of that horrible day.
After Lily, i did own another bun for a short time - her name was Rabbie Gurl. She was a cashmere mix, a sweet little bun who was eventually given to a friend as my trips away became more frequent and i couldn't keep her.
When i left high school i moved to Dunsborough to work on a protea farm (exporting cut flowers to Japan), vineyards & cleaning hotels, i dabbled in art & jewelry making, i was always selling my creations at markets. I never really knew what i wanted to be when i grew up so i figured doing a bit of everything was the best bet, at one stage i wanted to study viticulture (the making of wine from vine to bottle) i tried it for a bit but pulling canes (vine cuttings) for hours on end wasn't at all fun, then i thought i'd be a mechanic..... I took off on an adventure to see more of Australia ending up on the Gold Coast working in a surf shop. Eventually I did came back to WA, then once again i got itchy feet & found myself in Cairns to be close to Mum who had been living there for sometime - i was 19. I worked at Myer doing store signage, store accounts & working the layby - which was amusing as im super dyslexic and these jobs required maths & good spelling hahaha! . However WA always called me home....
At 21 met my best friend Mark who became my husband at 23. He is a wonderful man, my rock. He has always supported my adventures & has been there when i need a shoulder to cry on. I can get pretty out there sometimes. I go from the sublime to the ridiculous & back again - that's what my Mum would say haha!
A little while before i married Mark i moved to Perth & found a job at Toys R Us, a job i held for 6 years. Who wouldn't want to work with toys right?! I started as a night filler & worked my way up to be the store manager. I was proud of my achievements within the company but was pushed to the limit with exhaustion and it felt like only numbers mattered. I guess that's just retail and i knew it wasn't for me anymore. The day i left the relief was immense.
Another job soon came up to merchandise flower displays, having worked on a flower farm in my early years i thought yes! this is it. Once again i started from the bottom & worked my way up to become an area manager for the company. I got to work alongside my Mum who we employed for the south west - she had recently returned from QLD to look after her parents. It was a cool job. However after sometime the super early mornings & long days took their toll on me. I became uninterested working for a company who only cared once again about numbers not employees.
Whilst working at the flower job i discovered a niche, a lot of people didn't want to buy flowers, they wanted potted plants. I had studied horticulture in my school years, i adored gardening! After a trip to Europe & seeing the plant markets in Paris i decided to open a plant & terrarium shop. It started small with sales through people i knew, i did market days every weekend, shopping center setups, then opened my store front. This little venture became my life & i thought it was what i would do forever.....
For years i had wanted to get another Rabbit, id spoken to Mark about it often but he'd brushed it off - he worked FIFO so owning pets seemed out of the question. But he knew how much i loved having a bunny. So Valentine's Day in 2014 he told me my gift was a bunny. Roo was the bun id been waiting to meet since the day Lily left me - it was like she came back. He had all her quirks - followed me everywhere. I was so happy! and Mark loved him too. Little did i know he would change my life.
My beautiful Mum was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2014, and soon after my father with prostate cancer. My world fell apart. Dad went into remission after intensive treatment that saved his life. Sadly in 2016 Mum lost her battle, she fought hard for us but the world had other plans. Throughout everything my little mate Roo was always by my side, he came along for every trip to Bunbury to care for Mum, he came to my shop on weekends, he was waiting for me with his happy little spirit to lift mine when they were low.
After losing Mum my passion for the plant business disappeared. It was a really hard decision to make but i decided to close up. I needed to grieve. I was lost. Mark had a really good job so i was able to take some time off. When i felt ready to work again i did merchandising - the mindlessness of it was soothing. A year past and i found another job working in a candle supplies warehouse. I had wonderful bosses, they looked after me and it was generally a nice place to work. However after sometime my brain kicked off again wondering what i was doing with my life, once you've worked for yourself it's hard to earn money for other people again.......It was a 40 degree day. I was lugging around 25kg boxes of wax & glassware when i had a grounding moment. That day i decided to quit my job and follow a new dream that had been bubbling away in the back of mind for sometime.
I must mention during my time off before starting at warehouse i adopted Oliver Smoosh who was found wandering the streets near where i live, Roo hated Oliver, but Oli seemed sad on his own, so then came along Archie. Arch & Oli became instant friends and Roo remained my little buddy. All my buns where house trained & eventually became free range indoors.
I had been playing around with creating homemade treats for the buns because what i saw at pet shops & supermarkets weren't what i would consider a safe diet for my pets. It was actually horrifying. Grains, corn, starchy junk laiden with dried fruit & seeds. All no no's. Very cheap to say the least. On the day i quit my job i came home and said to Mark, what do you think about me selling my treats online? the buns seem to really like them... He said like always.... ''What have you got to lose? go for it :)''
So 3 years ago i began learning about websites, social media, packaging, ingredients, lab testing. The journey has been wonderful, challenging, exciting! It's given me hope, purpose and i've felt more motivated about life than ever before. I've had to step outside my comfort zone so many times, i've made many mistakes. But i look back on my journey so far & wouldn't change a thing. I started with a tiny dehydrator which ran 24 hours a day, it would make 64 treats at a time, i bought 2 more dehydrators and had them all going. Recipe invention days were my favourite, but let me say this A LOT of treats did not turn out before i got it right.
People often ask me how did i come up with the name Smooshie Face Treats.... Well i haven't told too many people this but it started with Oliver, when we were searching for his owners we just just call him Smoosh - we thought someone would claim him surely.... Eventually his name became Oliver but the 'Smoosh'' stuck. Then ''Smooshie Face'' ended up as a nickname for Mum. Please know we maintained wonderful sense of humour even during the toughest of times.... so let me explain, during mums treatment she was taking steroids which made her face swell up a little.... so she was called ''Smooshie Face''. We laughed and laughed. How could i not honor the name & my mum, it was meant to be :)
Within the first 12 months of starting Smooshie Face Treats i felt positive i was onto something, i had years of knowledge about keeping rabbits and was immersed in the evolution of them becoming more than just an outdoor pet. All the research was coming together, i joined every group about rabbits that i could. I spent hours reading about ingredients, bun health & exploring endless ideas. I upgraded all my machinery to commercial quality, found suppliers of local fruit & veg to deliver to my door. My eyes became open to the issues within the rabbit community about backyard breeders which i admittedly been ignorant too. The abundance of health conditions in house rabbits, in particular gut problems alongside terrible diet options, all this become astoundingly clear to me, & that all the rescues across Australia were overwhelmed with rabbits. This little idea i had about making treats quickly became so much more. That year i was approached by The Unusual Pet Vets to supply them with my treats, i couldn't believe it - I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Having them as a stockist was one of my dreams for the future and it was happening!
My stockist list grew, my treats started selling internationally. Sydney Exotics contacted me to be a stockist - i just was so overwhelmed and excited about my future. I was then making over 1600 treats a day. I felt like i was living my best life, but the universe once again had other plans for me. I received the worst phone call of my life right in the middle of a massive wholesale order, my brother had taken his life on a remote mine site in far North QLD. I dropped to the ground. I just couldn't believe it.
For anyone who knew my brother, they'd say he was adventurous, a great mate, outgoing, smart. Not someone who would take his own life. But mental health is often a silent battle for many, i always knew he struggled but didn't think he would do that. Depression runs in the family & i too have had some serious down time but i thought we all had a certain grit to pull ourselves out, he had just decided life had got to much - or more so, he'd done so much that he was done with this life now. Coming to terms with losing Ryan was undeniably the hardest thing i've ever faced.
My darling Roo crossed the rainbow bridge not too long after Ryan, unbelievably on the day of his 5th birthday, no reason, no lead up. I found him that morning peacefully asleep in his favourite spot. It again felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest, but the little fire that burns inside me kept flickering somehow. He had helped me through so much & now it was his time. All i could do was work, so i made treats..... so many treats, at this time i was making over 2000 pcs per day, i did double loads, one in the morning, one in the arvo.... i worked until my wrists hurt. Overtime i let the grief in & allowed my heart to heal bit by bit. It's been almost 2 years and some days i still struggle but i my passion & determination is bigger than ever. Through it all my buns, Mark & close friends/family consoled me, they kept me strong and were there when i fell completely apart. My business helped keep my mind busy. I took a step back from social media (as in groups), i got some much needed counseling which has guided me back to being at peace.
Im now 35, turning 36 in December. I've so many plans to carry out for the future of Smooshie Face Treats & life in general. I will continue to grow this business for as far as my inspiration will take me. For this 4th year of trade i will be concentrating on sharing information & knowledge. We now share our home with 5 free ranging buns. Abit over a year ago beautiful Rosie was gifted to me from a darling friend and we adopted Logan & Aria from Romeo's Rabbit Rescue & Lost Souls Rabbit Refuge. Each of our buns have different personalities and i want to share with the world how amazing these creatures are and how they can become apart of your family. Our treats will continue to evolve with many new recipes on the horizon & proudly our Wishes Project (helping rescue organizations) will expand also.
If i could share a couple of learnings it would be to not be afraid to try something new.... you just never know when you may discover that thing that really makes your heart sing. And that when life knocks you to the ground, don't give up, get up and try again - you got this!!! A massive thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past 3 years, i just couldn't imagine doing anything else with my life, i've a surreal feeling that i've found the path that was always waiting for me. Thank you for trusting me to create treats for your Smooshie Faces it really means the world to me. Here's cheers to the next decade, i can't wait to see what happens.
Onwards & Upwards!!
Big Love Holly xx