Frank Woodhouse has been running pet and grocery stalls in a Derby market for a long, long time. We meet to find out what it’s like having a pet stall in a market
Frank and Kate are self-confessed workaholics, and say there is a strong community feel in the marketplace
You could say it’s in his blood – Frank Woodhouse was brought up working with his father and grandfather at the family’s fruit stall in a Derby market. Both died soon after each other when he was 16 and 17 years old, which led to his leaving school and taking over the business.
‘Stall’ is possibly a bit of an understatement as it had a 60ft frontage. “It was too big,” he recalled, “so I turned 30ft into a pet stall.”
His motivation? He’d bought two rottweilers – at a time when rottweilers were not well known – but could not find the quality food or accessories he wanted to give them. “That’s what I wanted for my dogs, why I started in the first place. I wanted the best for them, but I could not get it for them.
Toys in every shape and colour capture the attention of the passing trade
“For example, I could not find big toys. I now sell a lot of big toys – people want to see a selection of products, not just one or two.”
Sixteen years ago the market moved to its present indoor location in Eagle Market, and Frank, who now has three cats, carried on with his successful mix of greengrocery and pet. He’s up at 4.45am every day to visit the wholesale market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for the day, and both stalls are ready to open at 8am. “I love working and am a workaholic,” he says, and although in his early sixties, has absolutely no plans to retire.
Frank runs the pet stall with Kate Drummond, while his son Josh and the sister of Kate, Sarah, are on the vegetable stall. His wife Kay does the bookwork, and Frank’s cousins run other nut and fruit stalls on the market – it’s a real family affair.
Products are also put on display in the corridor outside the stall
The market is a community, said Kate. “We know everyone, all the traders, and we all have a laugh. People will stand in for each other and mind each other’s stalls. How many high street stores know their neighbours?”
Making every inch count
With an approximate footprint of 26ft x 14ft, space at The Pet Superstore is at an absolute premium. There is not a single inch of free space anywhere and the stall is literally bursting at its seams with pet food and products. Yet somehow Frank has managed to stock everything anyone could want. And if they do not have it, they’ll order it in and chances are it’s ready the next day.
Both Frank and Kate are constantly re-stocking the shelves – and they have plenty of storage on-site. This comprises three locked warehouse units, a nearby empty stall and Frank also stores pallets at other locations within the building that are trader-access only.
“We always try and buy in bulk,” he said. “And we always sell products as cheap as we can. To get the good price, you have to buy a lot of them, so I always buy as much as possible by pallets! We never go on RRP. Instead, we base the price on what it’s cost us, and what we can sell it for.”
The store is small so Frank and Kate have to stock to very high densities, but the shop does not feel overcrowded or claustrophobic
For example, when a wild bird food manufacturer was relaunching its fat-ball packaging, Frank bought pallets in the old design. His customers are always pleasantly surprised to compare his prices with Pets at Home, in some cases, his prices are less than half the price than at Pets at Home.
Yes, buying in such large quantities might mean they still have stock remaining in nine months’ time, but that does not matter because it will sell, and at the margin he wants.
With Brexit, he expects rubber and rope products to go up in price. So he’s keeping an eye on these and with his bulk-buying habit, hopes to keep prices down.
If the store does not have what is wanted, they can order it in, often by the next day
Although he keeps a keen eye on price, Frank will not compete with the many local pound shops. “We sell quality,” he said.
“We are always trying new lines, and if something does not sell, we offer it at half price to clear and then try something else.”
Frank and Kate are also always changing things around. “Sometimes just moving a display from one place to another does the trick and gets the product selling. How that can make a difference I don’t know, but it does,” said Kate. “It also keeps interest alive,” she added.
Over the years certain things have changed, such as there is now little demand for 20kg dog food bags, and demand has risen for accessories and toys.
Frank stocks an extensive range of pet care products and supplements
Smaller grab-and-go items do best – no one wants to walk through the market lugging heavy 20kg bags, he points out.
He’s never considered selling livefood – can you imagine what would happen if a tub of crickets escaped in the market, where there are food stalls? And he won’t consider frozen raw as the freezers would take up too much space.
This may be a market stall, but they have a computer with internet on the counter-top, and the two have jumped on the bandwagon with contactless payments. “We love contactless! It’s so quick and easy,” he said.
And Frank sells online, fulfilling easily 100 or so orders a day. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it,” he said. “Do you know what is the biggest threat? Amazon. We are teaching Amazon the trade, we are teaching them what sells, when it sells and how many.”
Many customers have birds
When Amazon sold out of a particular dog product, Frank sold hundreds through his website. The only way to beat Amazon is to stay ahead with new products that the giant retailer is not stocking. “That’s why we like new lines,” he said. The stall is incredibly busy with a constant stream of people. And both Frank and Kate have noticed that more and more people are asking for natural products. “People want the best for their pets,” said Kate.
Change is also in the air for the market traders. For some time now, the council has been in negotiations with Intu Derby to take over the management of the market. Intu Derby, owned by Intu Properties, is a three-storey shopping complex with cinema and eateries, three car parks, and Eagle Market adjoins the centre. Market stallholders have welcomed the news, especially as Intu has a good track record of turning markets into thriving businesses. Frank said: “They have made a success of the market over in Nottingham, and they want to bring this one back to life.”
Relationships are key
So many years on the market has resulted in a large group of loyal customers. Many come daily – there is one woman who buys a new toy for her dog every day – though others might come once a year from outside of the county for their annual Christmas shopping trip. But they continue to come.
One customer, an elderly man, comes in on his mobility scooter and buys £300 worth of wild bird food every time. “We have loads and loads of regulars,” said Frank, many of whom will stop by for a quick chat and catch-up. Markets breed that community feel.
“Supermarkets could never do what we do,” he said. It’s not just the product offering, it’s the atmosphere, advice they give and relationships that have formed.
Demand is growing for natural chews and treats
Those relationships carry across to their suppliers – they have very good relationships with Pedigree Wholesale, Ancol, Burns, Happy Pet and Hem and Boo. “The service we get from Pedigree is fantastic,” said Frank, who attends the Pedigree Wholesale and Happy Pet trade shows.
Has he ever thought about heading to the high street? “I’ve never been tempted to open a bricks-and-mortar shop. I built up this trade over all these years, and if I left, someone else would just come in. No, I like it the way it is.”