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Turn pain to opportunity to passion

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

When the Royal Bank of Canada transferred Shelley Gunton and Brian Connolly to Hong Kong in 1985, their beloved pointer-lab mix Joey languished in quarantine for six months as a precaution against rabies. Dogs in quarantine were fed table scraps and ground horse meat. Joey’s owners saw deterioration in his skin and coat and started hunting for better food, but found nothing that measured up to his former Iams diet.

Undeterred, the couple began ordering crates of food from an Iams distributor in Singapore, reselling much of it to other dog owners. “Here we are in our nice living room with stacks of dog food all over the place,” Gunton says.

After getting home from work, they’d drag 40-pound bags of dog food down the elevator and make deliveries. Eventually, they persuaded an Iams senior vice president to come to Hong Kong and discuss starting a distributorship. Launched in 1988, it took off and they quit their day jobs.

In prestige-mad Hong Kong, Gunton and Connolly learned to advertise Iams as an elite food, showing a pooch in the back seat of a Rolls. They also honored superstitions, using lucky numbers for their business phone. They even fended off the Hong Kong mafia.

Iams liked the couple’s sales growth and expanded their territory to South Korea and Taiwan. Then in 1993, the pair came home and took over an Iams distributorship in Portland, Ore. But when Procter & Gamble bought Iams in 2000, the two decided to start their own firm, Castor & Pollux Pet Works.

At last, they were able to indulge their obsession with premium chow, introducing a 70 percent-organic pet food, Organix, and Ultramix, a dry food with a resealable packet of raw fruit and veggies in each bag. Business is booming, with Organix pushing revenues to more than $1 million in 2004 and a TV partnership with “Animal Planet” expected to kick revenues past $5 million this year.

Lesson: If there’s a gap you badly want filled, fill it.

— Adapted from “Pet Project,” Susan Hauser, FSB: Fortune Small Business.

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