Shop Talk Pack And Clowder

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Shop Talk: Pack and Clowder
13th November 2017

By Sandra Pearce

It’s called Pack and Clowder, but this Hackney retailer is affectionately referred to as ‘The Pet Shop’ by locals who appreciate its unique atmosphere and the creative flair of its owners


Fleabag is chief greeter

Fleabag stands watch at the entrance. You wouldn’t think a threadbare toy dog from years gone by would attract so much attention, but Fleabag (who was found abandoned on the streets of nearby Leyton) has found a second life. Owner Jackie Crank said: “Kids who walk by stop to have a look, a lot of older people remember having a similar toy when they were young, and a lot of dogs think it’s a real dog!”
 
Affectionately named Fleabag, he is the silent partner of the shop’s dog duo – Jackie also owns eight-year-old cross-breed Barkley, a right character who she cheerfully admits is the ‘worst shop dog ever’. Barkley, a rescue who lives up to his name and barks a lot, does not like people coming into the shop, does not like flat-faced dogs and does not like people leaving the shop. 

Jackie says Barkley is the worst possible choice for a pet shop dog – but he does like his cuddles!
 
She explained: “Barkley is a guard dog and also a pack dog. He thinks his job is to keep you out, then he thinks his job is to keep you in. He’s got a real reputation with my customers. Luckily all my dog owners know him, and when we are out walking and meet my customers, they say ‘Oh, he’s quite a nice dog actually!’”


 
Once Barkley has re-settled on his bed behind the counter, new customers are often tempted to ask about the shop’s name, Pack and Clowder. She said: “When my partner and I were deciding on what to call the shop, it was very, very hard to find something – we do not do twee! It was really difficult. Then I said, ‘You have a pack of dogs, but what’s the collective for cats? I looked it up and discovered it was ‘clowder’. So far, only one person who has come in has known what clowder is. It’s a talking point.”
 
Pack and Clowder is affectionately referred to as ‘The Pet Shop’ by locals, though Jackie and partner Caroline O’Mahoney also refer to it as the ‘Dog and Cat Shop’ as they cater to only cats and dogs. And if Fleabag, Barkley and its name do not create a strong-enough impression, the shop’s décor and the lines it carries will certainly leave an indelible stamp.


Old ladder is used to display colourful collars
 
Supporting locals
“Every so often I put on a new exhibition,” said Jackie. At the time of visit, the dog portraits by local photographer and artist Victoria Siddle hung on the walls. A little while ago, Jackie was displaying woodcuts by another neighbour artist. Pride of place is a painting of Barkley by yet another resident. “I work with local artists. Besides, it’s nice to put their works up and the design looks nice,” she said.
Both Jackie and Caroline have extensive retail backgrounds and did not want to go the route of traditional pet shops that are piled high, but wanted to create a more spacious atmosphere. She said: “For me and Caroline, because we come from a different retail background, that’s too busy for us. We wanted a pet shop, not a boutique, something which looks nice and where people can come in and buy Pet Munchies and also a local bed made by a local designer.


Shop has loads of eye-catching posters, murals, paintings and other artwork, which includes some by local artists
 
“But that’s also why I put Kong in the window… I do not want people to think we are a fancy boutique, I want everyone to come in and feel welcome.
“If you come in here, you move from one item to the next because it is not all crowded on the shelves and you want to browse, so people end up buying more.” 
 
It may help that Pack and Clowder has music playing all the time – well, unless that BBC Radio 4 staple The Archers is on. Jackie is well-known by customers for her taste in reggae and Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen. “Sometimes I’ll play showtunes. We all have a laugh about my taste in music.”
Jackie makes it her mission to source local products and says Instagram is a great place for coming across such ranges. One of her popular brands is Hiro + Wolf, which has hand-made cat and dog collars and leashes using East African fabrics. Its founders met while walking their dogs Hiro and Wolf in Hackney. 


Vackertass dog beds are made locally by a Swedish woman
 
Jackie is also proud of the Vackertass dog beds, made by a Swedish woman in neighbouring Walthamstow who designs and makes the beds herself. Then there’s Fetch & Follow, also in Hackney, which is described as a ‘lifestyle brand for dog owners and those who love dogs’ with its range of leather collars and leads, beds and bandanas. 
 
Jackie points out the Edwyn range of hand-made bandanas, made by a local resident who owns Welsh terrier Edwyn. “I want things other people do not have, I want to support locals,” she said.
From slightly further afield in Norfolk but with the same emphasis on quality is the Pooch’s range of hand-made dog treats. “It’s two women who run it,” said Jackie. “They bake the treats to order – you place an order and have to wait. But it’s worth it, the treats are just such good quality. I like working and supporting cool companies.”


Pack and Clowder is known for its unique lines
 
Products are all natural, some organic, and many have eco-credentials. The Simply Fido toys use organic cotton, while the Earthbound beds offer sturdy, classic lines. Dog beer does very well in summer, and the recent heat wave saw sales of doggy ices soar. “It’s all about stocking stuff I believe in,” she said. Best-selling pet foods are Barking Heads, Lily’s Kitchen and Orijen, while frozen raw does so well that the shop has two freezers stocking Natures Menu and Natural Instinct, with two little extra storage freezers in the basement. 
 
“I worked in food – I like eating the right things, and I want my dog to eat healthily too, so will only sell what I trust,” she said.


Pet food is arranged along the back of the shop – note the cat mural on the wall

Unlike many retailers, Jackie says cat is a big seller. “When we opened, we totally underestimated the cat owner – in the first weekend, we sold out of everything. We have tonnes of cats around here, living in the flats to the old Victorian houses. Lots of people tell us they got cats because of mice and rats in the old Victorian houses. The cat people love their cats, and around here are a lot of creatives, people in media and design, and they are all looking for more modern cat stuff.”
Which Pack and Clowder obligingly tracks down and puts on display.


This shop is not big!
 
A pepperpot mix
Hackney is a complete and utter demographic pepperpot, says Jackie. From the young and trendy artistic, creative crowd to those on social housing, from schoolchildren to grandparents, all her customers are ‘amazing’. “People around here, they believe in and want to support local businesses. They like us and want us to do well. I have never had someone come in and compare my prices with the internet.”
 

When leashes become art!

Close by are the Hackney Marshes, a huge grassland area on the western bank of the River Lea that is a magnet for dog walkers. “We get a lot of people coming by for long walks, and all the pubs and restaurants around here accept dogs,” she said.
 
The marshes have actually become the best form of advertising for Pack and Clowder. “We sell millions of Chuckit! balls,” she said. “When owners are out walking with the ball, they are often asked ‘Where did you get that from’ and they then say, ‘Oh, Pack and Clowder on Chatsworth Road’. Or if people see someone walking with one of our leads, they comment on how nice they look. That’s how it spreads, it really is word of mouth.” 


Jackie only sells what she’d feed to her own dog
 
Jackie says she is very confident talking about dog and cat nutrition, having researched the topic thoroughly. “I love talking to people about everything. If someone picks a product up and I think it’s not suitable, I will tell them I do not think you should buy that. It’s honest retailing, and my customers appreciate that.”
 
Each September the street is closed for a dog show – which Pack and Clowder sponsors – and a community party. “It’s not Best in Breed, it’s titles like Dog Who Looks Most Like Their Owner.
“It’s chaotic, everyone has a laugh, you see a dog dressed up to look like superman, it’s fun, it’s happy.”
 

Everything is arranged with a keen eye on presentation

Busiest days are Saturday and Sunday, and Caroline comes in to help on the Sunday as Jackie works alone. Though the shop is closed on Mondays, a groomer takes over the unit then and transforms it into a salon. Jackie said: “We move stuff out of the way and the groomer then wheels her stuff out and takes over the shop.”
 
Pack and Clowder has started offering puppy-training classes, run by dog owner and local resident Anna Webb, who is one half of the Barking Blondes radio show presenters on BBC London’s Barking At The Moon. 


Compact healthcare range
 
Pack and Clowder celebrates its second birthday this year, and Jackie and Caroline would like to one day open a second store. For now, business is doing well and moving ‘in a pleasing direction’ every month. “We are a pet shop but with a modern twist,” said Jackie, who has no regrets about taking on her own business. “I was very successful in my previous job; I worked bloody hard, was bloody stressed and thought, why am I doing all this for someone else? It’s about time I use my skills for me in an area I love.
 
“Now I am not accountable to anyone else. After years of working for other people, having to deal with office politics, I’m now free. But the customers really make my job so special. They are amazing. They are always bringing things in, like home-made cakes and elderflower cordial. It is such a community, and we’ve become good friends with many of them.”
 

Artistic flair is evident throughout the shop