When Claire Wilkinson brought home two pet bunnies, she had no inkling that these gorgeous fluffy pet rabbits would ultimately lead to starting her own business.

As a proud new bunny owner, making sure her pets were well looked after was Claire’s top priority. She scoured the web in search of products made with natural ingredients and sustainable materials but struggled to find anything in New Zealand. That’s when she had her ‘aha!’ moment. If she couldn’t find the products, why not just make them herself?

Turning an idea into reality

Claire started to gather advice and help from her nearest and dearest. Her Dad taught her how to use woodworking tools and posted hand sawn willow wood up from Marlborough. Her Mum offered moral support, giving Claire the confidence to take the leap to start HopStuff – creating and selling pet treats and toys made from natural ingredients and organic produce.

With just one dollar in her account, Claire listed her first product on TradeMe. Since then the business has grown organically and, some weeks, Claire struggles to meet demand.

“It hasn’t been easy. I work full-time as well as running HopStuff. Everything takes five times longer than you initially think it will and it can be hard to shut off sometimes. You want to be there for your customers 24/7 and it’s hard to strike a balance,” says Claire.

To help with some of the challenges of starting a business, Claire recently completed an eight-week PowerUp CO.STARTERS programme – a collaboration between Soda and Venture Taranaki. Claire was one of 50 budding entrepreneurs that attended the workshop series helping participants build their business plan and learn about starting and growing an enterprise.

“CO.STARTERS was perfect timing and exactly what I needed. It gave me a breakdown of all of the aspects of running a business,” says Claire.

“The biggest benefit was meeting other people and being able to talk through the business and support each other. Everyone was so supportive,” she adds.

Big business plans

This is just the beginning for HopStuff which launched in October 2020. Claire plans on outsourcing some of the manufacturing so that she can make more products and get them out to more customers.

“I’d love to have a bigger range of products and be the one-stop shop for entertainment and enrichment products for rabbits. But my ultimate goal is to have a rabbit rescue. I’d love to be able to run the rabbit rescue and have a whole team of talented crafters making a range of products for rabbits and other furry friends,” says Claire.

Check out HopStuff here.

Applications are open now for Soda’s next CO.STARTERS programme which starts in August 2021. Find out more.