Learn how she’s transforming the pet industry in Thailand.
By Ashima Sethi
They always say there’s no love more unconditional than that of the love we share with our pets, as although we have a life beyond being a pet parent, we remain at the centre of the universe for our four-legged friends. As time goes by and pet parenting trends begin to shift, more and more pet owners are starting to realise that it’s our job to make sure that our pets are living the best life possible, beginning with making sure we’re giving them the right care.
One professional who truly believes in this idea is Malika Phichitsingh, founder of Nutritional Pets, a brand that supplies wellness products for dogs to over 20 storefronts in Thailand with plans to expand in the near future. I met up with Malika at one of the city’s leading dog parks, Trail and Tail, to better understand what it’s like to work in the country’s up-and-coming pet industry.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing?
I was born and raised in Bangkok where I attended the International School of Bangkok (ISB). After I graduated, I enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston, U.S. to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing. Since I was young, I always knew that I wanted to work in business and become an entrepreneur, so it seemed like a good fit for me. After my higher education, I completed a two month entrepreneurship course with MIT where I worked with people from various backgrounds, CEOs, new graduates, and it ended up being the extra motivation I needed to start my own company.
Before joining the pet industry, you were involved in several professional ventures. What were they?
As business majors at Northeastern University, we were required to work during our time at school, so I did two co-op experiences. I worked at a travel company in Boston before moving to New York to work in events for Travel + Leisure Magazine. After graduating, I moved back to Bangkok and worked in eCommerce for two years. My first job was at Zalora focusing on SEO, and then I decided to partner with a friend and we specialised in selling jewellery and furniture. While working in all my professional positions, I was always on the lookout for the right business idea to start my own company.
Have you always loved dogs?
The funny thing is I used to be so scared of dogs; I would run away if anyone’s dog came near me. Over time, I became more comfortable with my friends’ dogs and that’s how I overcame my fear, and it’s what led me to get my French bulldog, Ollie. Now, I can’t imagine not having a dog!
The pet industry is quite a niche market, what made you want to transform your love for dogs into something professional?
After getting Ollie, I was constantly searching for the best quality products for him, but found that I’d almost always have to order them from the U.S. or Singapore, as there were not enough options for pet owners in Thailand. So my idea stemmed from a struggle I was facing as someone who wanted to provide the best for my furry companion.
So what exactly is your business?
I’m the founder of a company called Nutritional Pets, we’re the exclusive distributor for the Natural Dog Company in Thailand. Our product range includes five different types of organic and vegan balms and three vitamin supplements. Each balm targets different concerns, such as skin issues, dry paws, dry noses, and more. I decided on wanting to import these products because I had used them on Ollie and was amazed at how effective they were at soothing certain conditions. Two years ago, there was nothing of the sort available in Thailand. I felt like holistic healing for pets was really lacking, so I saw an opportunity in the market and our balms became the first of their kind to be sold in the country.
Typically, importing goods can be a tricky process. What kind of challenges did you face?
Because I’m dealing with pet products, the importing process has a lot of logistics to consider, from allergens to certain ingredients that are banned from the country altogether. At the beginning, the first six months were very intensive and I had to hire the right professionals to help me navigate the process and to help teach me about the import regulations and laws in Thailand. I met with professionals from the FDA and the Department of Animal Control, and it was definitely trial and error for a while. However, now I know all the rules, the taxing, and the ins and outs a lot better.
Do you think there’s been a shift in the way owners are caring for their dogs? Are more people embracing holistic approaches?
Definitely! I think pet humanisation has become huge in Thailand. Pet parents are treating their pets like their own children, they’re more proactive and doing more research before purchasing products, and are willing to spend on their pets to ensure they live the best life possible. Now, more people are realising that options in the market are filled with preservatives and unhealthy additives that can harm their pets in the long run, so they’re actively looking for alternatives. Just like how humans are opting for holistic healing methods and eating clean and healthy, it’s our responsibility as pet parents to do the same for our pets.
As an industry insider, what are some trends that are on the rise?
Consumers are always on the lookout for effective healing solutions that don’t just involve going to the vet. For example, skin issues in dogs are a huge concern for most owners and if you’re currently using medication, steroids, and injections to manage your pet’s skin problems, I highly suggest trying an organic regime.
Moreover, it’s important to feed your dog good, nutritious food. Some owners think it is okay to feed their dogs what they’re eating but this leads to a lot of dogs becoming obese. This can lead to joint problems, heart issues, and can shorten their lifespan.
10 to 15 years ago, people used to think of a dog as property or as a means of guarding the house. Now, the mentality has really shifted, and you can see that across the board, within the community and in general. It’s become common to take dogs out for exercise and to socialise them, more people are also taking them on holiday.
Bangkok has never been the most dog friendly city, but recently we’ve seen the introduction of more dog-friendly spaces. Do you think this trend will continue?
I definitely think there’s a huge demand for dog-friendly spaces as more owners are starting to embrace going out with their pets daily. Some of the places I recommend include hotels like the Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok and Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, restaurants like D’ARK and Luka Bangkok, and of course, my favourite park is Trail and Tail. I think from a business standpoint, having a dog-friendly space is valuable because it’s likely to lead to returning customers.
Thailand is also known for being home to many street dogs, do you have any advice on how we can support them?
Indeed the country is home to many of them and the numbers keep going up because a lot of them aren’t sterilised. However, there’s a lot we can do to help these dogs. Recently, I had an experience where I was driving down Asok and I saw a relatively old-looking dog who didn’t look well. She looked like she needed help, so after my meeting I returned to the location with food and water but she was gone. I drove around for a bit looking for her, and when I finally found her, I did whatever I could to help get her to a vet.
When she was finally checked up, it turned out she had a condition that required medication. I posted about her on a Facebook group called Bangkok Pet Lovers and it turned out that someone else had posted about how she was missing. So, via Facebook and with help from some volunteers, I was able to reunite her with her owner. It’s just proof that everyone can do their small part to help dogs. There’s a lot of resources and groups that can help you; the dog lovers’ community is so well- connected here.
How do you plan to expand your business in the near future?
As of right now my retail channels include LINE, Instagram, Shopee, Lazada, and 20 storefront locations in Bangkok, including pet shops, hospitals, and parks. I plan to expand by adding my products in more storefront locations and moving onto other provinces. In the future, I’d also like to diversify my product range, focusing on dog healthcare. I’m fully committed to my business and can see myself working in the industry well into the future.
Any additional comments you’d like to add?
The core aspects of my business are providing customers with great service and helping to educate pet parents to the best of my ability. So, if you’re planning on adopting a dog or need advice for anything related to your dog’s well-being, nutrition, skincare, do feel free to get in touch via my platforms (@nutritionalpets). I would be more than happy to help. Having a dog is one of the best decisions you can ever make, it’s a big responsibility but it’s so rewarding and the best kind of unconditional love there is!