Shop Talk Posh Petz



Shop Talk: Posh Petz
12th March 2018

By Sandra Pearce

One thing’s for certain, pet store owners Elise Sandiford and Mel Randle have made their mark on Posh Petz in Peterborough, taking the description ‘unique’ to a whole new level

Chances are you have never seen a tree in a shop – and we’re not talking Christmas trees either but a real, full-size, once-living tree. When workers were cutting down some roadside trees nearby, Posh Petz owners Elise Sandiford and Mel Randle managed to convince them to let them have one, and then it was a ‘simple task’ of getting their husbands to help them mount it securely in the shop.
“We did not want our shop to be bog standard,” said Elise, “otherwise it would not be different. We were looking for something to make a big display, and this just fell into place.”

Mel Randle (left) and Elise Sandiford started Posh Petz as a trial in 2011

It unquestionably makes a startling display, and wild bird feeders hang from its leafless branches while cat trees and scratching posts sit below. It helps that Posh Petz is located in a vast showroom on an industrial estate within minutes of Peterborough’s busy city centre, and so space is certainly not an issue for the owners.

Cable drums make useful display area

Elise and Mel have also shunned the usual racks-and-shelves merchandising option in favour of creating standalone stations throughout the store. Some are free-standing displays provided by manufacturers and suppliers while others have been built by themselves. These home-spun creations include the creative use of electric cable drums turned on to their side and painted a mahogany brown on which they display their products.
“We did not want metal in the shop,” said Mel. “We wanted to promote the natural theme, and felt this was more in keeping with nature. Besides, the layout also encourages browsing. And because it’s such a big shop, we can keep adding displays as needed.”

Mel and Elise are long-time friends – Mel had been a driving instructor while Elise was in HR – and a casual conversation revealed that they were both keen to one day own a pet shop. Elise said: “There it blossomed and we started talking about it and what we would do. We both have a passion for natural products and all the goodness that comes with following a natural diet, and we agreed that natural would be our point of difference.”

Yes, that’s a tree…

In 2011, the two took on a promotional stand space in the main walkway of the Serpentine Green shopping complex as a trial and sold pet products and food from it while keeping their jobs. In 2012, they moved to an industrial unit and resigned their jobs in order to fully commit to the shop. In August 2014, they secured a five-year lease and moved across the road to the much bigger present unit. “All things going well, we want to stay on here when the lease comes up,” she said. “It works for us, and our customers know where we are.”
Growing awareness
Frozen raw is incredibly popular with customers, said Elise. They started out with one freezer, and now have six freezers for food on the shop floor, a seventh for frozen yogurts and iced treats, and four more out back for storage. At the moment they stock Natural Instinct, Nutriment and Cotswold RAW as these brands are not stocked in Pets at Home. “We get deliveries every week. From Natural Instinct we can get 180kg at a time, Nutriment we get 150kg. We get our deliveries and stock up and think, oh, we’re nice and full, and then a few days later, it’s ‘Where has it all gone?’ Frozen treats like marrow bones and chews are also doing very well.”

Coats on parade

A main reason for this is that pet owners are researching nutrition more. “They’re not just accepting the value of a brand name or simply accepting what a vet says – they are looking up for themselves. There are also so many Facebook breed groups talking about what’s best for the breed. We often have customers come in and talk about what they’ve seen on the websites,” she said.

Pick and mix treats and chews looks inviting

Many owners come in looking for solutions to issues like allergies, and Elise says customers have given feedback that raw feeding has alleviated various ailments. “It’s about finding out what works best for the dog.”

For new pet owners or owners who are looking to try a new food, they offer samples. “This is very popular as it gives them an idea of what to expect, and it means they do not have to buy a bag and then have uneaten food if it does not work. It’s the best way of getting someone on to a new food.”

Raw food is a strong seller

Eden Holistic Pet Foods has flown since it was introduced. She said: “I had two customers who came in asking for it, and the company had been in touch, saying they were looking for an independent to stock it in the area. I researched it and liked what I saw, and it’s scored five stars on the allaboutdogfood website, so we agreed to give it go. And it’s flying out the door. I think it’s popular because if people do not get on with raw, it’s the closest you can get to raw at 80/20.”

With a strong emphasis on natural, brands stocked include Canagan, Forthglade, Carnilove, Green Pantry and Symply – both partners went on nutrition courses run by the Pet Industry Federation and have taken up training modules offered by manufacturers. And they read and conduct their own research.

Hydraulic bath is a plus point for dog owners

Because of their shop’s location on the outskirts of the city centre, they do not benefit from passing shoppers, therefore people who walk through the door will generally have come specifically to them.  Due to this, if they have queries or concerns, they are receptive to advice and change. She explained: “I do not however push people on to a certain brand. I will say to them, ‘I recommend this, but what’s your budget?’ We offer a range of food for different budgets, but they are all natural, good-quality brands.”

Posh Petz also sees many customers come in for the PerfectFit harnesses by Dog Games, of which it is the local stockist in the area. These harnesses come in three pieces, and so its modular design allows a secure fit for pretty much any size and shape of dog. “It’s great for training,” said Elise – two local trainers recommend the harness and send their clients to them for fitting. “People like the colours and designs, and the personal fitting.” service we offer,” she added.

Iced treats by counter help impulse sales

While dog as a whole is a big seller, cat is slowly growing as owners become more aware of grain-free options and raw feeding. Wild bird, however, is very slow – too many non-pet retailers in Peterborough are selling budget wild bird food, she said, and customers do not realise there is such a difference in quality.

Covering all bases
When they started, Elise and Mel were thinking about introducing a self-service dog wash but opted instead to offer a professional grooming service. However, this did not catch on and so when the groomer left, they revisited their original plan and introduced a dog wash service using a hydraulic bath.
The service is popular with dog walkers and owners of big dogs as the hydraulic bath makes it easier to get the dogs in and out. It costs £10 and everything is provided. Elise said: “We tend to get Labradors, Newfoundlands, and then a pug comes in! It’s getting very popular especially if you do not have the facility at home to do it.”

Green Pantry was installing new display at the time of visit

Posh Petz offers free local delivery on orders over £10. In a back room, they host parties and special events for dogs and their owners, raising money for local charities. Because they have this space, they’d like to host regular puppy training classes and socialisation classes, and run one-off courses such as first-aid for pets. Elise says their biggest challenge now is growing their customer base and raising their shop’s profile so more people are aware of its existence. In the early days, they invested into advertising and radio, but this did not pay off as well as they’d hoped, and attending local dog shows worked better.

Now they focus their efforts on distributing flyers and harnessing the power of Facebook. Facebook works well for them, said Elise, though word-of-mouth referrals are the best. Many customers have also found them through using stockist finders on manufacturers’ websites.

Space is not an issue

It’s about building up a strong, loyal customer base – she was pleased when a customer came in and told her he could buy a product cheaper somewhere else, but was choosing to stick with Posh Petz – selling below RRP only ‘devalues the brand’, she noted.
So the partners try as far as possible to stock only brands that are committed to the independent specialist. “It is massively important to find stuff that is unique to us and not that our customers can find everywhere else. Which is why we have our own brand as well, and offer a loyalty card. We want to create loyal customers who come to us. We support and look for strong independent brands – there’s no point stocking products that they can get from national pet retailers. We want to offer specialist customer service and customer experience.

Fish4Dogs treats are a strong seller

“We keep Lily’s Kitchen because we have some customers who want it, but we don’t promote it any longer because you can now find it everywhere.
“There’s a lot of faith riding on the brands we carry, because if they do not remain true to the independent, well, we will not be here.”

Individual stands become eye-catching displays

Ample room for beds