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How I went from selling mice to pet stores to becoming the CEO of Australia’s most awarded pet care brand

Anneke van den Broek, founder and CEO of Australia’s most awarded pet care brand Rufus & Coco, started her entrepreneurial journey at just six years of age, breeding mice and selling them to the local pet shop for 40c each.

This entrepreneurial spirit and an unwavering belief that she could achieve anything she set her mind to, helped when it came time to leave a high-flying corporate career behind to launch her business, taking on the likes of Mars and Nestlé who, at that time, dominated the pet care market.

“At the age of five, my father sat me at the edge of our large pool at home and told me to tell myself five times loudly “I can do anything I want to if I try,” until I was yelling it. That day I swam for the first time to the end of pool and back unaided,” shares Anneke.

With that same passion and determination, she’s taken Rufus & Coco from a startup to a globally successful brand, in stores across nine countries and stocked locally in Coles, Woolworths and select IGA supermarkets, pet specialty stores and online.

Celebrating their 10th Birthday this year, Rufus & Coco are marking the milestone with the launch of their grooming range into 1,459 pet stores across North America.

Success didn’t come easily though. Prior to launching Rufus & Coco, Anneke began her career in the cut-throat fashion industry and by age 23 was single-handedly running 300 David Jones fashion shows across Australia each year.

Executive Management roles soon followed and by age 29, Anneke had secured the position of Marketing Director of Blackmores, leading a large, cross-functional team.

It was during her travels to attend health trade shows around the globe, that Anneke recognised a growing need for natural alternatives in pet care. Having owned more than 40 pets in her life she had struggled to find such products herself.

“The natural health and supplements industry was booming, yet there weren’t many all-natural supplement and grooming options for pets.”

Recognising a gap in the market along with the sweeping global trend towards pet humanization, she set about developing quality ‘Best of Breed’ products that would make a genuine difference in the lives of pets and their owners.

“Like many entrepreneurs, I had a handful of ideas I wanted to bring to life and had to really hone in on what I was most passionate about,” she says. “I grew up with rabbits, turtles, mice, cats – pets were already such a huge part of my life.”

“I remember drawing up a business plan on a napkin while holidaying in Bali and Rufus & Coco was born. It was a longer and tougher journey to success than I could have imagined but any time someone doubted me it made me doggedly determined to succeed.”

“I began operating like a big business from the outset with a strategic mentality, implementing 1, 3 and 5-year plans that laid the foundations for growth.”

“I learnt quickly that when you don’t have the big dollars behind you, it’s harder to get the same doors to open. This is why we are still with many of our earliest suppliers and partners who took a chance on supporting us from the start.”

Rufus & Coco has now received 7 product awards recognizing innovation and product excellence.

“With each success we’ve had, our goalposts have shifted. I honestly believe Rufus & Coco can achieve anything we set out to. With a focus on innovation and creating products that truly solve customer problems, we plan to continue our international expansion and support of pets and their owners, locally and abroad.”


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