The Datesand Story – Part 3

The power of innovation

2001 offered an opportunity for Datesand to gain a real advantage over its competitors – a completely unique and highly innovative product to add to its growing range. Pete Willan of Leicester University had designed the remarkable NestPak. This was a nesting and enrichment device for laboratory animals with precise, measured amounts of bedding encased in a food grade paper sachet which the laboratory animal would open itself. Pete came to us with the heart and belief that Datesand could make this a success and offered us the first opportunity to manufacture and market the ground-breaking product. Jonathon jumped at the chance to add this unique item to our catalogue and took decisive action to have the product patented. This development turned out to be a real spark, a definite catalyst which set the tone for the future and put Datesand on the road to becoming one of the leading innovators in the sector.

Jonathon had also started travelling to AALAS conventions in the USA from 1999 to meet new people, scope out new products and look for potential new partnerships. This became a fantastic opportunity to expand Datesand and its products into a whole new market. W F Fisher, based in New Jersey, became Datesand’s first official US distributor. Like us, they are a family business and after setting up a close partnership with the company, they received a license agreement from Datesand to manufacture and distribute Nestpaks in the US.

In March 2004, Simon became officially a full-time Datesand team member. International sales really began to kick off from this point onwards and a key focus was shifted onto animal enrichment – something that wasn’t viewed as important in our sector before the noughties but which was increasingly seen as vital to the animals’ well-being.  It could be exported more easily than bedding and certainly lent itself more closely to Datesand’s innovative instinct.


New happiness, new responsibilities


Jonathon married the love of his life, Claire, around this time. Despite not officially working for the company Claire had supported Jonathon and his family in keeping the business alive back in the early 2000s. To add to the family’s happiness, Claire gave birth to their two beautiful daughters, Amber in 2005 and Sophie in 2008.  Jonathon now had even more to work for of course and unfortunately found himself seeing his family only on weekends after travelling around the country throughout the week.

With the strong desire to achieve more of a work-life balance and be able to spend more time with his beloved family, Jonathon began to expand the Datesand team, bringing in more sales staff and eventually introducing the Senior Management Team to share the load and to organise and run the business more efficiently. This also required a move to even larger premises in 2008 to allow the business to grow in roomier and more suitable surroundings.

Safetygel ‘bursts’ onto the scene

In the midst of an already pretty busy growth spurt, an amazing opportunity for Datesand to spread its wings and indeed its product range arrived in 2007. It came in the shape of an invitation to tender to supply superabsorbent sachets and granules to the NHS Supply Chain. The products would be used to absorb unwanted and dangerous liquids in hospital wards, operating theatres and a whole host of medical situations where infection might spread if liquids such as blood and urine were spilt. Feeling a little out of their depth, but never the kind to back away from a challenge, Jonathon and Simon set about designing a self-opening sachet, a granules shaker and even an absorbent tablet which would meet these very real clinical needs. To their amazement and great pleasure, they won the contract against a lot of very experienced competition. There then followed a race against time to finalise the sachet design (making sure it did actually burst open on contact with a liquid) and to find manufacturing partners for the packaging, presentation and logistics to ensure prompt delivery to NHS Supply Chain depots all across the country. With one or two ‘hiccoughs’ and a few tweaks along the way, Datesand were able proudly to join the ranks of key suppliers to the NHS Supply Chain and have been successfully supplying millions of units of Safetygel sachets, granules and absorbent pads ever since.

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