Life is cool for Marie and her canine friends

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Reaching into the freezer for some doggy iced treats, Marie Sawle is the first to admit that she spoils her pets.

But you could say that the Labradors with furiously wagging tails and eager, glistening eyes have done a lot to earn their keep.

Marie Sawle with her Labrador Margot

Marie Sawle with her Labrador Margot

For instance, three-year-old Margot – now enjoying a tub of honey and banana flavour – helped her owner when she delivered a business pitch on TV show Dragons’ Den.

While Marie was trying to impress the programme’s panel of business tycoons with her idea for an ice cream-style treat for dogs, some of the product spilled on to Hilary Devey’s skirt.

As Marie was trying to persuade the entrepreneur and her fellow ‘Dragons’ to invest in the doggie goods, she thought she’d blown her chances.

But then Margot, who was on the set, revealed her sales skill.

‘We started again and Margot licked the semi-liquid contents happily from a tub and the questions began. But my mind went completely blank,’ says the Hambledon businesswoman.

‘The distraction of Margot turning on her back, legs in the air and going to sleep made everyone laugh and gave me a few moments to gather my thoughts.’

Margot and her mummy (Marie’s happy to admit she thinks of her pets as her children) accepted a deal with Den star Deborah Meaden, who received 40 per cent of the business for an investment.

A year later and 43-year-old Marie is making a huge success of her blossoming company Billy and Margot.

Producing and selling the delicious iced treats, as well as some other nutritious snacks, the business has deals with 367 stockists across the country.

Explaining that the product spilled because someone had put it in the fridge instead of the freezer, Marie says standing before the panel of investors was terrifying.

But since accepting her business idea, Meaden has been incredibly supportive.

‘The men didn’t really get my idea but Hilary and Deborah made some offers. I went with Deborah because her views for the future of the business were absolutely identical to mine.

‘She’s very understanding and supportive. But she lets me get on with it because she can see I’m putting everything into it.’

Marie regularly labours into the evenings, but working from home allows her to be flexible and Margot and chocolate Labrador Louie get their regular walks.

The devoted dogs follow their owner everywhere and are regular companions in her office and – not surprisingly – kitchen.

But the whole idea started with a different dog – black Lab Billy, who died a couple of years ago.

Billy was a very special pet who would accompany Marie and fiancé Andrew to work.

Andrew owns the Freeborn group of motor dealerships, Marie ran the sales operation and Billy became a favourite among the customers.

The commercially-minded canine even insisted on joining in on business meetings.

‘I was in a meeting with the bank manager once and Billy was sat next to him with his head in his lap fast asleep,’ laughs Marie.

Customers and staff would feed Billy and he loved lapping up the ice creams they bought from the local van.

Reflecting that dogs adore cold playing and eating things but ice cream isn’t really good for them at all (particularly as some are lactose intolerant), Marie came up with her idea for a nutritious iced treat and named her business after Billy and Margot.

It’s a great example of a product idea that stems from home life. Marie started experimenting in the kitchen and now works with an animal nutritionist and vets.

The treat is produced by New Forest Ice Cream, can be consumed by humans and contains only ingredients that are beneficial or not harmful to dogs.

The sorbet helps them cool down in hot weather – very important as our furry friends can be susceptible to heatstroke.

‘But there is also this phenomenon called the humanisation of pets. People love to treat their pets, giving them presents and nice food. But sometimes they get it wrong. Chocolate is toxic for dogs and ice cream can give them a poorly tummy,’ says Marie.

The businesswoman is as passionate about her product as she is about her pets.

As well as the iced treats – available in a range of fruit flavours – there are venison snacks and even popcorn.

For Marie the graft continues, but of course she and her sales executive are ably assisted by the shiny-nosed, furry-faced workers.

Although when Louie and Margot show an interest in the locked-up popcorn stores in the back garden, they are deftly turned away.

To find out more about Billy and Margot products and locate stockists, go to billyandmargot.com.