It’s hard to believe that a chat around the kitchen table could change your life, but that’s exactly what happened to Gill and Alan Dickison. After working in agriculture for over 30 years, they set up Pyon Products to sell anything grown or made on their smallholding. That is, until their son had another idea.
A family business born from one conversation
Gill says: “Our sons are very practically minded. James is a chartered mechanical engineer and Joe’s a carpenter.
“We were reminiscing about our old method of feeding calves on cold milk and reverting to feeding them warm milk twice a day in winter. James said if we’d put a heat exchanger in the line, we could have fed them warm milk all year round to improve their health. From this, the idea of the Heatwave was born.”
Having spent years looking after calves, Gill realised James was on to something. She’d seen the evidence first hand that a diet of warm milk in the first eight weeks of a calf’s life is highly beneficial. She also knew Heatwave would be ideal for other types of animals too.
She says: “We said from the start that it had to be affordable so it would be attractive to sheep and goat farmers as well as beef and dairy. James set about designing a prototype, making sure it was easy to maintain and practical to use.”
Tapping into years of experience
Gill and Andy have always wanted to work in agriculture. Gill says: “Neither of us come from a farming background, although we were both interested in life sciences and keeping animals from an early age. After attending Myerscough College, we developed an interest in dairy, calves and animal nutrition.”
After graduating, Gill and Alan realised there were few opportunities to get into farming with their limited capital. But this didn’t deter them, instead they set up on their own.
Gill says: “We moved to Hereford in 1982 and set up an intensive calf-rearing unit on a small acreage. This gave us an opportunity to run a small farm and generate a good cash flow.”
Just a year later, Gill and Alan saw an opportunity to get involved with another area of agriculture. Gill says: “We started an animal health and nutrition business, selling products and giving advice to livestock farmers. In 2007, our business was acquired by Wynnstay as they expanded into Herefordshire.
“We’re both registered to sell animal medicines and I’m a registered feed adviser. Wynnstay tasked Alan to establish a new store in Leominster and I worked as the company calf specialist, training staff and advising on calf rearing. In 2015, we decided we wanted to be self-sufficient again so we set up Pyon Products.”
The start of international success
With Gill and Alan’s decades of experience and passion for animal health, Pyon Products had a roaring start. Heatwave won the Innovation Award at the RABDF Livestock Event in 2015, bringing Gill and Alan well-deserved success.
Gill says: “When we started our first business in 1983 we barely had a phone line. Today we are lucky to be in a part of Herefordshire with super-fast broadband. The internet is a wonderful thing!
“Soon after we launched Heatwave, we designed our website which included a video. The video proved very popular on social media and enquiries started to come in from Scandinavia and Europe.”
A helping hand to achieve their global ambitions
To capitalise on this burst of international exposure, Gill and Alan have been working with DIT, receiving practical support.
Gill says: “DIT is great at signposting. So far, the team has guided us through IP, trademarking and putting together an agreement for exclusivity. Recently, we’ve also been grappling with an export to Turkey and DIT signposted us to the Chamber of Commerce for help with the paperwork.
“We also received a grant to travel to a trade show in New Zealand, where we exhibited at a major agricultural show and established two new dealers. We now have distributors in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Benelux, Italy, Ireland and Australia.
We also export directly to farmers in Greece, Turkey, Bavaria, South Africa, Switzerland and Slovakia. Without DIT, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Keeping innovation at the core of Pyon Products
It’s the positive feedback from farmers that spurs the Pyon Products team to keep coming up with new creations. Gill says: “It’s the farmer’s wife who traditionally looks after pet lambs. Heatwave means she is freed up at lambing time and the lambs benefit from better nutrition. It’s a win-win situation.
“Farmers tell us that the calves fed on ad-lib milk fetch better prices in the market, their health is better and the product saves labour. We always listen to our customers’ problems and have products in research and development that will help to make life easier for them.”
What inspires the team at Pyon Products to think up new ideas? For Gill, the answer is easy. She says: “We’ve always believed that if you look after animals and give them a good life and good nutrition then they will look after you.”
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