Under the trade name DOGTRACE, the company produces, and sells mostly abroad, electronic training aids for dogs. Since its inception, the company has sold about one million pieces. All the ideas and the resulting new products are created in the Czech Republic, in the new registered office of VNT Electronics in Lanškroun. Soon in there will also be a plaque of a Labrador Retriever, without which today's successful company would not exist.
How did you get the idea to produce electronic dog collars?
It was seventeen years ago when we decided to have our own dog. We chose a Labrador Retriever and we bought it in spring of the year 2000. His name was Gordy and he became a member of our family. As he grew up, it became necessary to train him and so I became acquainted with the main training coach who was running the local cynology organization. This is how it got into the company of dog owners and I slowly started to learn more. For all of them it was important to train dogs effectively and quickly, and the local trainer Iveta Skalická brought me to the idea of training collars.
Did you start importing or producing them?
At that time it was possible to buy collars from America, but we embarked on our own production. From the age of ten, I have been dealing with electronics, and although I had a long break and did business in another field, I gradually turned back to electronics. I got one collar. At that time, its price was around CZK 15 000, besides it was technologically outdated. The price appeared ridiculous to me and I knew that it was possible to develop equipment much cheaper and better. Almost everyone discouraged me from such enterprise, nobody believed in possible success of such a product. Anyway, I got to work and I decided to do it more or less overnight.
What can your collars do?
We have a GPS tracking device or training collars that allow behaviour correction by various vibration, sound, or stimulation commands. We are currently working on the d-control AQUA range. It works on the principle of aerosol, which is sprayed from a pressure vessels. In a situation when the dog does not respond, you need to disturb his activities, for example by spraying the aerosol at him from the collar, which will distract him and gives you a chance to call him back.With GPS collars you can track the current position of your dog, it is intended mainly for hunting purposes.
Who are your customers?
We have several segments. There are ordinary owners but also hunters or professional trainers, who take dogs to competitions. It is important for them that the dog obeys perfectly, as accurately as a Swiss watch. This is the only way to get as many points as possible in a competition. The sport has clear rules and accuracy is important there. Likewise, it is necessary for the hunter to train the dog so that it does not chase the game unless it is supposed to. For example, our equipment also helps in the training of assistance dogs for the blind. All products are developed with respect to the needs and experience of various customers. Their opinion is important to us.
Do you sell more on the Czech market or more abroad?
Our business is a success mainly because we managed to get into markets abroad. We currently have offices in 20 countries. We are quite strong in Germany, Spain, where we have good partners. We are mainly driven by demand in Europe. We sell to America, even if these aren't large quantities. Their market is going to be a challenge for us in the future, and it is going to require a lot of work and development.
How do you design your products?
At first, I had only one business partner, who was also very experienced in electronics, so we started the whole idea together. Today we have a 12-member team of mostly engineers who form the development team. We have cutting edge technology. We manufacture and install everything in oursubsidiary Morelli Electronics s.r.o. We have no factory inChina or places like that. We only buy some components from reputable manufacturers.
What does the development of electronic collars demand and what novelties does it bring?
The equipment has similar technology as mobile phones, GPS modules, bluetooth, a powerful radio transmission that can broadcast signal to 20 to 30 kilometres, and a good battery is also important. From the outset, we have made sure that the cost of production remains atsuch level that we can offer good price and quality to the customers, that is the key.We rely on modern technologies from reputable manufacturers. We are constantly reducing our product size and improving their parameters, such as signal reach. For example, we have developed the world's smallest electronic collar. Design also plays an important role.Today, the design software and the 3D printer are a huge asset, so we can print the first products and see everything inreal dimensions. This speeds up work a lot.
How much does the development cost?
We invest millions of crowns every year. It is the responsibility of our ever-growing team of engineers. We are also helped by Ayming company, which understands both technology and legislation vey well. This helps us save a lot of money. They are able to advise on what part of the direct and indirect research costs we can deduce from our taxes. We also like the principle of our cooperation. We pay Ayming a reward only from the real amount of money we save thanks too them. That's responsible approach. We have been cooperating with themsince 2016 and we are satisfied.
What did you do until 2000 before you established your current company?
When I met my former wife, we went into business withperfumes. We opened about six shops, we also had a wholesale and company of about 30 employees. I have been dealing with electronics since I was a child. For example, already during the communist regime, I manufactured amplifiers for musicians. That was close to me because I play the guitar myself. Actually, I have always had playing as a hobby. At the time of the satellite boom, I was dealing with decoders, parabolas, and other things around electronics.In 2000 I started to leave the original company and build a new one.
You must have forgotten a lot of things when you interrupted contact with electronics for eight years. How did the industry change over so long time?
It changed a lot, but I still knew what to do. Today, technology is moving forward at a much faster pace. The big break was twenty years ago when larger-sized components were used, but miniaturization has been going on ever since. I had to study a lot at the time to catch up with the gap, but I had a good foundation, I knew how to think in this profession, I knew how to design printed circuit boards. In addition, I continued to read professional magazines even while doing perfume business, I followed the developments and I never completely abandoned it.
What do you think helped you to start two successful companies in completely different fields?
I think that what made it possible were mainly hours and hours of work. You have to invest all your time into the effort to accomplish the goal. But also, you need to pursue your objective relentlessly. You must have clearly set priorities and stick to them.
What were the beginnings of VNT electronics like?
First, it was important to develop a good product that works and that people want to buy. That was a key stage that lasted quite a long time. It wasn’t until 2004 that me and my first business partner concluded that we really had a product we can offer to our customers. We took it first to the exhibition centre in Letňany, Prague. The product was not perfect yet, but it was in half the price compared to foreign competition. At that time we were only two in the company. The original idea and investment came from me, my companion was an electrical engineer and together we brought the first product to life.
Such a long development of the first product must have been costly, so how did you manage?
I was able to launch this company only because I had financial assets from the previous business. I can't imagine starting the company from nothing. At the same time, however, we have never used any subsidies and we have been working with ourown money only. It was also very time-consuming. When you start developing a new product ina new company, it is hard to guess when something will happen and how far you will get or if you even will be able to sell the outcome so the investment would pay back.
What was the first exhibition like for you?
At the beginning we sold dozens of pieces. Gradually, we started to grow every year to roughly double the previous year. About ten years ago I had the feeling that I need a partner to help me with the commercial part and other activities. I still try to keep an eye on everything but I like development the best. I mean, the technology, how the product is born, this is what I like to devote my time to. My friend joined me, Ing.Jan Horák, with whom we originally played inband. At present, we have about 100 employees in two companies.
Do you know how many products you have sold since the beginning?
It's about a million pieces. We are pleased that nine people out of ten are satisfied when they chose our products. They say they streamline the dog training and improve their approach to dogs. Moreover, today, the products are much more affordable than before. Their price starts from 2 to 3 thousand crowns.
Do you still have a dog?
No, he died a year ago. That was the original from year 2000. He lived with us for 15 years. I still owe him a commemorative plaque in front of the company. If we didn't have this dog then, I wouldn't have entered this business. I am certainly going to get another dog in the future. But I will need to spend more time at home and at the training with the dog. Now I have other work projects ahead of me.
Are you going to slow down the pace?
It doesn't look that way at that moment. Rather, it's getting faster.
Have you thought of selling the company and enjoying life and peace instead?
This will probably come to everyone’s mind sooner or later, but that moment hasn’t come yet for me. In addition, none of my children is going to take over the company and I still enjoy the work. On the other hand, the work in the company is very hard, but I chose this life and my wife helps me a lot. It is also a question of being a person who needs to create something. We were in Mauritius with my wife two years ago, which was great, but I still would not like to catch fish and rest all day. It needs to be balanced. But I try to enjoy free time more, as long as it is possible.
Author: editor/ali | Interviews | 11.09.2017