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Shop Talk: Brown’s Natural Pet Store
24th October 2018

By Sandra Pearce

Rob Brown and his partner Holly Ross-Ferring have wanted to open a second store for years with the natural message loud and clear – well, they’ve only gone and done it, says Sandra Pearce


Three years ago, I visited Shoreline Pet Supplies, in Goring by the Sea, for our regular retailer profile. Owner Rob Brown had bought the shop as a going concern but had yanked it firmly into the natural domain and established a reputation for being a raw food and nutrition specialist. He told me then that he’d like to open a second store with an even bigger emphasis on natural – in July, that vision came true when he and his partner Holly Ross-Ferring opened their second shop, Brown’s Natural Pet Store, in Worthing.
“We have wanted to do this for such a long time, and we wanted to be a destination store,” he said. “We also wanted to rebrand the shop to our family name, and we have since rebranded Shoreline as Brown’s Natural Pet Store because our emphasis and focus is on natural products.”


From left: Neil Francis, Sophie Mander, Rob Brown, Holly Ross and Shanice Beard

Rob has taken his inspiration from American stores such as Kriser’s Natural Pet. “I love American products,” he said, “especially American toys. People say we are about five years behind what goes on in America, so I love seeing what’s new there.”



The shop occupies three units with 1,400sq ft and is incredibly spacious with loads of room for expansion – it currently caters to only dogs and cats (wild bird will be introduced soon) and carries about 4,000 products. The premises are a new-build as property developers demolished the previous building and erected a new terraced row with commercial units on the ground floor and flats above. As such, when Rob and Holly bought the units, they had a blank canvas from which to work. “We drew on inspiration from cafés and bakeries, and the design company we used does a lot of work in Dubai and London.”


Yes! We’re here! Holly and Rob on opening day

Every aspect has been carefully thought out and there is meticulous attention to detail, from the custom-built hand-stained birch ply cubby holes to house products to the brown and green colour scheme, from the picket fence in the window to the astro turf patches dotted around the shop.


Cubby holes were custom-built for dry food

And when I say ‘custom built’, I mean exactly that. Cubby holes were measured and designed for the perfect fit of 2kg bags and to hold exactly seven cans of wet food to a height of three cans for optimum visual impact.
“It cost us extra, but it was worth it as it looks so good and there are no gaps,” he said.


The shop’s brand is on display throughout the store

The Brown’s logo is also on display throughout the store, both on the walls as well as on some shelf and counter edges. Rob and Holly would eventually like to open another store, and so brand identity is key. In total they spent about £95,000 fitting out the store and getting products in. “We’ve sunk all our savings and profits into it, but that’s what we do; we’ve always reinvested in the business,” he said.


Meatlove has its own eye-catching display against one wall

Since opening, they have been inundated with praise. “People have gone crazy for it, and all say how lovely the shop is. On our opening day, we had 200 people come in within the first four hours. It was chaos! And that’s good because we do not want people to feel too scared to come in – this is not a boutique. Yes, we are a destination store, but we want this to be a place where people can come in and feel relaxed and talk to us about anything.”


Everything looks so colourful instore

The bigger picture
Most of the food on offer at the new store store is grain-free, said Rob, and products are carefully selected based on the manufacturer’s ethos and corporate philosophy. “We want to deal with companies that are transparent and so we are very careful with whom we deal with and the products we stock. For example, we will not stock products that use meat sourced from China. That’s taboo for us. As far as possible, we will stock from the UK and Europe as we do not want to source from China or China-made items. We also like to support companies that have an ethical standing and do charity work, giving back to the community, like Lily’s Kitchen and Almo Nature. It’s that community feel, which is what we want to create here.”


Trestle table in the front window highlights promotions and seasonal products

Rob keeps a keen eye out for new products – Lickimats and Snuffle Mats have flown since being introduced. Also new are ostrich treats, which are going down well. It’s important to keep refreshing the range, he says, as it keeps interest high. Anything new is signposted, and there is a promotional table for seasonal displays. Due to customer demand, the store offers a section of meat-free treats including fish, cheese and sweet potato products.


Freezes carry the Brown’s branding, reinforcing its specialist nutrition status

Pride of place is the raw food offering – a bank of five upright freezers occupies one complete wall, set into an alcove. The freezers are branded with the Brown’s logo as Rob wanted to promote the shop’s identity. Brown’s offers eight brands including Natures Menu, Natural Instinct, Nutriment, Paleo Ridge and Wolf Tucker. 
“We had the alcove custom-built for the freezers. I measured it three, four, five times to make sure everything would fit perfectly! We are really happy with how it looks. Raw has gone fantastic and is our number one seller in the other store. I have customers who buy 80kg of raw at a time – they probably pool with others to get the bulk discount.”


Signs everywhere highlight a product’s usp

Going out on a limb
“We are so blessed with the support we’ve had from locals,” said Holly. “We went out on a limb by going completely natural, and we have had to carefully explain why we do not stock certain brands. It’s about giving our customers the knowledge so that they can then make an educated, informed choice. It’s sparking that conversation, so we can get them to see what we do and why. It may mean asking certain questions, like how is their dog’s health? And then offering to help with this or that issue, whether it’s nutrition, behavior, training or canine enrichment.
“We just find that people are now more curious about what they can do to keep their dogs active and healthy mentally, which is why we’ve found brain training and activity-based products like Lickimat are going very well. Education is a massive part of this, and we want to make this a priority, especially with the younger children.”

In line with this, Rob and Holly have plans to offer a programme of talks for customers on a variety of topics including nutrition, behavior and canine massage.
“We also want to get school kids in here and talk about how to look after pets. There is so much misinformation out there about proper pet care, and we want to help correct this and help people grow in their knowledge,” Rob said.


How to make an attractive display for wet food

Most of their staff have pets and specialist areas of interest. For instance, one of their groomers wants to go into behavior. “We support all our staff who want to explore and learn about other areas of expertise and we get them on courses,” he said. “Some show interest in nutrition, others in behavior and training.
“We are happy to go in the direction they want to – we want our staff to be the best that they can be, and this will only make the shop and our service better. Ultimately, we are keen on education, providing a good-looking shop and great products.”


All lined up in a row…

Game changer
“I underestimated the power of social media,” says Rob honestly. “But we now have so many followers on Facebook, then we went into Instagram and also Twitter. We did a marketing campaign on Facebook and through it, reached about 30,000 local people. It was unbelievable.”


Counter is set up perfectly to encourage last-minute sales!

An old friend of Rob’s, Neil Francis, has joined Brown’s as business development manager and runs the social media aspect. Rob said: “We want people to be familiar with our brand, and we want to reach out and find new customers. We need social media to do this. Everyone who gets a puppy, we need to get into Browns.
“Up to now, our typical customer has been female, aged 30 to 50 years, but the younger age group is growing, and they are massive on social media – and they want natural. It’s about channeling the business to areas where it’s relevant.”
“You know, we are always talking about the business,” said Holly. “We put 100% into this business because it is so important. Yes, you have to make a sacrifice, but the success and what you want to achieve and the type of business is dependent on what you put into it. We hired our staff before this shop was even ready. We sold them our dream that was in our heads. We told them, and they believed us.”


Enticing treats display

Brown’s Natural Pet Store is now delivering on that dream.
Rob added: “We want customers to come in and know that they do not have to worry about what they are buying. We want to take out that worry and so people can come in here and know that it’s all good, that we have chosen the best products that they could want.”


Shop is spacious and airy - loads of room to expand!

Looking good!
It’s always been an ambition to offer a grooming service, but there was absolutely no space at the previous shop, which is about 500sq ft. Having 1,400sg ft at this second site meant this is now a reality.
Within days of opening, their grooming diary was booked three weeks in advance, and people were walking in off the street looking for immediate slots, said Holly.


Incredible attention to detail has been paid to the shop’s theme and décor

In line with the pet store, their dog spa has a strict ethical, natural policy. For one, it operates a no cage/crate policy and owners are called shortly before the dog is finished so is not kept waiting. If the owner runs late, the dog can stay on a bed. “We want them waiting about for as little as possible,” said Holly. “We also want to keep dogs as calm as possible and use Pet Remedy, which is natural.”


Spa lets dogs be dogs!

Their shampoos and conditioners are from For All Dogkind, which has ethical accreditation.
“I use the shampoo on my children,” says Holly. “They’ve got no chemicals, no parabens and are tear free. And if they’re good enough for my children, they’re good enough to use here.
“We are also conscious of our water intake, so because it’s a good-quality shampoo, we only do one shampoo and not two, and there’s no rubbish going down the drains!”

Brown’s does not offer a massive menu, she said, but is ‘classic and to the point’. There are also plans to play classical music and install a vaporiser with natural scents.
 “The main thing that we are offering is that a dog should be a dog; a clean dog is a happy dog, and we are not one for putting bows in their hair or painting nails. Dogs want to be clean and fresh, and they do not want to come out smelling of chemicals and fake fragrances – a lot of scents can be overpowering to dogs, which have a much more sensitive sense of smell.
“They come out instead smelling more like a fresh meadow, and are happy – it’s got to be a calm, happy experience.”


Brown’s wants everyone to feel welcome

All the way from Canada
Rob had spent a long while looking for a natural baked pet treat that he was happy with, and eventually found the Darford range of hand-baked dog treats made in Canada – and is now distributor for the UK and Europe.



Darford has been making premium dog treats for more than 30 years – its treats use natural ingredients, and have no meat by-products, corn, soy, artificial colours, flavours or salt. Browns is distributing the Zero G, Grain Free, Naturals and Mega Bones brands, which offer different flavours and come in various sizes.



Rob said: “I have searched literally many years to find a complementary dog treat biscuit that has ingredients like these.
“Having fresh meat as a number one ingredient is extremely unusual in biscuit-based treats. They are also excellent for sensitive tummies. We can’t wait to start seeing dogs gobble these treats up and for the owners to see the benefits for healthy feeding treats.”

The Darford treats are available to customers from £1.25 and trade prices are available on request.
 


Notice the lighting…