In the last four years since launching her own business, Beth James has only ever taken one working day off.
In fact, it would be fair to say that since leaving school at 16 as a straight-A student to forge her own path, the 30-year-old simply hasn’t stopped.
Formerly a veterinary receptionist before starting afresh, over the span of her career Beth has tried her hand at everything from cattle herding to gun dog training to helping run the smallholding where she lives with her dad and two sons in the Carmarthenshire village of Llandyfaelog.
And while the pandemic has posed a problem for many businesses forced to stop in their tracks, Beth’s successful pet food company has continued to grow from strength to strength, alongside home-educating her boys.
Founded in 2017, TP Feeds now sells dog and cat food to retailers across the UK. At its heart is Beth, a one-woman team - owner, marketing director, purchasing officer, web designer, customer service manager and any other title you can think of.
While in the past it was almost a confession that it was just her doing it all, now she wears that fact as a badge of pride.
Beth said: "When I first set up the business it felt like an admission to tell people that it was just me, it was just me behind the scenes, not a big company, not staff in an office or a lot of people working for me or anything, if felt like a confession if you like.
"But I managed to convince myself that I nehomed to admit that because at the end of the day people buy from people, they know who they’re buying from and they know the story of who they’re buying from and it’s that personal touch. But it did feel like a confession that I wasn’t a big company.
"When people buy from me they buy into me too, they buy the service behind me, behind the business. People email me and they'll get a response, often within 10 minutes but more likely within the hour."
While easygoing and happy to chat, it doesn't take long to tell that Beth is the kind of person who will just throw herself in headfirst to whatever she's doing.
It turns out it's a skill that she's carried with her through life from a young age, when at 16 the Bury Grammar School student surprised everyone by taking on a farm role despite having never been inside a milking parlour before.
"I’ve been working since I was 16. I went to a very posh English grammar school for girls and I did well in school, straight A student. And much to my headmistress’s horror I decided not to carry on and do my A Levels. I got sick of the sort of conveyor belt of academia, having it shoved down your throat constantly, told that 'this is what you should be doing, this is the route for you - you’re an intelligent girl you must therefore become a doctor or a lawyer'. I wanted to enjoy life, I wanted to be happy, that’s the key, to do something that's worthwhile and something you’re going to enjoy and that you’re going to wake up each day wanting to do it not just because it’s going to put money in the bank," she said.
"Bearing in mind I went to an inner city grammar school I became a relief herdswoman on a big dairy farm milking about 220 cows. I worked there for about nine months doing an apprenticeship but worked my way up until I was in charge of the young stock and quite often in charge of milking.
"I started there as an apprentice, I’d never worked on a farm before, I’d never seen a milking parlour before. I just went there and got stuck in but that’s pretty much the story of my life. Once I get an idea in my head I just go for it and I will throw myself in wholeheartedly. Brave, crazy, stubborn, call it what you want."
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Skip forward a few years and Beth was barely 18 when she and her father Ryan made the decision to move from England to their native Carmarthenshire to take on their own smallholding business. While Ryan's first "purchase" was a Tamworth sow swapped in exchange for a bottle of whisky, since then they've taken on cade lambs and goats before now owning their own flock of sheep.
It was around that time that Beth also took on a project of her own, gun dog training, alongside helping as she still does now with the administrate side of the farm.
Despite quickly gaining a name for herself in trails and competitions it's something she understandably has less time for now, although she did take in a dog for training whilst heavily pregnant and preparing for an imminent C-section with her youngest son before strapping on her newborn and heading straight back out the door.
Looking back, it was adapting to motherhood that inspired Beth to shake everything up and start afresh with her own line of pet food.
Beth, who was also working as a veterinary receptionist at the time, said: "I had my first child and I was on maternity leave and I was thinking 'what’s the next step, where do I go from here, what do I want to do that’s going to fit in with how I want my life to look'?
"I had been working at a vets for a while before that and decided I didn’t want to be going back to a full-time nine to five job. In a way I think it’s a bit of a stereotypical new mum thing, I didn’t want to be leaving my child five days a week. Even before I had him when I was working in that job I was sat there thinking is this my life? Is this what it is now just every week for the rest of my life here, the same old routine? That’s not a life, that’s not living.
"Having run a previous online store selling all these different foods, small brands and big brands you get a good sense of what the good recipes are and what dogs actually benefit from. More often than not it’s not the big brands. I wanted to create a brand that would be simple, straightforward, tells you how it is, can explain it to you, is very personable and not at a ridiculous price which most of the premium brands are."
Today, Beth and TP Feeds sells to independent stores across the UK. As someone who avoids the big country stores, supermarkets and pet shop chains, she knows everything there is to know about who she sells her pet food and treats to - from the zero-waste shop that has recently opened in Cornwall to a village shop in Carmarthenshire that has been a loyal customer for years.
She prides herself on the recipes she has brought to life, even the most basic has meat as its first ingredient compared to many competitors, all tried and tested by her four own Labradors.
"In the last six months I’ve taken on another seven customers," she said.
"When I started my first orders went out to retailers, so I had three retailers to start with. I like to work with independent stores because you’ve still got that ethos that carries though. If you want to sell to the big country stores, chains or supermarkets you instantly lose that connection, you’re just another brand on the shelf whereas when you’re selling through independents you pass on your knowledge of the product which they can pass onto their customers. You’re speaking directly to the person who will be speaking directly to your customers."
Asked whether she was nervous about the launch, she laughs and adds: "I just cracked on. Without being crude it’s s*** or bust, just go for it. There’s no point doing anything by halves and if you’re launching a new business there’s no point in creeping up and saying you’ve got a new business, you’ve got to come on the scene and tell people who you are.
"This last year has been bizarre for everyone obviously but I’ve still grown, just not as much as my other years. From my first year to my second year I had 210% growth and then the year after then another 70%. Last year during Covid we saw 12% growth. This year we’re aiming for about 50% growth and that’s not taking into account the fact that I’m expanding."
That expansion in question is a new branch of Beth's business offering raw meals and raw diets for dogs. A fast-growing sector of the pet food industry, she is keen for her product to be as sustainable as possible by using wool insulation and packaging that is all environmental friendly and re-usable.
And if that's not keeping her busy enough Beth is also a single mother who permanently home-schools her two boys, five-year-old Teilo and three-year-old Cybi.
She said: "If you’d have asked me before I had kids about home educating I was quite stereotypical. I would say it was just for hippies and kids that had been kicked out of school and have no other options. I would never have thought of if as an option.
"I realised how early they go to school in Wales and I was just like I’m not sending my three-year-old off to school. The concept of home education popped up while I was researching and it all made sense. The more I looked into it the more I thought it fits into our lifestyle and how I believe that children should be raised and should be educated and how they can keep that love of learning."
After a decision that even took her by surprise before she started researching it, Beth now lets Teilo have a say in what he's learning by picking a different topic every month. This month it's electricity, which will see him make his own circuit boards, while last month it was Japan, learning about the festivals and culture and perfecting his Katsu curry. (Plus that's not taking into account the kickboxing, ballet, science club and cricket he does on top in normal circumstances when he's not helping to look after the animals.)
So with all that in mind, how does Beth do it all? Unsurprisingly it turns out there's no magic trick, just a lot of hard work and determination.
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Beth said: "I live life at 100mph. If someone gave me an hour and said I could do anything I just wouldn’t know what to do. I tried to have a bath once, a relaxing typical bath that you see on the films. I’m not sure I know how to relax, I like doing things and being productive.
"Obviously I do get the typical mum guilt, if I’m working I should be with the kids, if I’m with the kids I should be working, you can’t win, your brain will never let you win, but you keep going.
"We went away for the bank holiday weekend, my father came with us as well and we just went up to north Wales to a cottage for the weekend. I had to close the business on the Friday which was a big deal. If i’m not there I can’t send out orders so it was the first time I’ve ever closed the business on a working day, it’s not the done thing. All my customers have been warned for the last month or two letting them know that the bank holiday weekend will be even longer at TP Feeds and to be fair no-one quibbled whatsoever, everyone got their orders in in advance."