News Shop Talk Creature Comforts Personal Touch Is Key To Couple S Business Success

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Shop talk: Creature Comforts – Personal touch is key to couple’s business success
20th July 2021

By Justine Thompson

Husband-and-wife team Graeme and Ann Wilson own the multi-award-winning Creature Comforts pet chain. Here, they tell how they grew fromrunning their first shop to becoming Scotland’s largest family-run pet retailer


Graeme and Ann on a winning streak!

“We set up our first pet shop in Clarkston in 1997, in the suburbs of Glasgow. We had married the year before and thought there was a gap in the market for a quality pet shop. It was a brand new business with no pet shop on the premises, originally.

Before opening the shop Graeme spent several years as a sales executive and Ann, after graduating, was an energy business analyst – but we knew we wanted a change and with Graeme’s background in sales and Ann’s background in business, our ambition was always to open our own pet business.
We started our family in 2000 and soon afterwards Ann became full time in the business. It was perfect timing as the opportunity arose to expand into the next-door unit, enabling us to double the size of our shop. Its success encouraged us to develop the business further.

We looked for similar areas around Glasgow and we have since grown the Creature Comforts family with the opening of a second shop in Milngavie in 2002, Shawlands in 2011 and more recently Burnside in 2017.

There is nearby competition from national chain and other independents next to all of our branches, but we manage this through offering a wide portfolio of products, including other services such as dog grooming and even a small animal holiday boarding service. Plus, we always offer first-class customer service, competitive prices, free local home delivery and own-brand quality pet food – and we are open seven days a week with a knowledgeable team and our own e-commerce website.


The Burnside shop opportunity came along in 2017

We are unique in that we provide everything customers need for their pets – including the pets!
Our wealth of experience gained over the past 24 years is also invaluable. We are small enough that Graeme is on hand to deal with all customers but big enough to source everything our customers need at competitive prices.

TOUCH AND FEEL

Each branch has their own local market and tailors their products accordingly.
It’s true that the competition we face from large online retailers is always going to be an issue and possibly more so into the future. But, we can offer the important  ‘touch and feel’ element in the buying process; customers want to touch and feel the products and get advice on the most appropriate product and we can offer that.

For example, we can fit your dog with the right sized collar and you don’t have to wait in long queues at the Post Office to return it to the online retailer when it’s either not what you expected or it doesn’t fit.

Over 24 years in business, we’ve managed to build up a very loyal customer base. We offer many loyalty schemes to benefit our customers financially and we pride ourselves in offering a first-class customer service.

We’re really proud that, over the years, we’ve won a variety of awards: Best Family Business, Best Independent Business and finalist in in the Pet Industry Federation’s UK Independent Retailer of the Year 2020 (the only Scottish finalist). We find personal recommendation is the best way to grow our customer base and that’s why we work so hard to give our customers what they want.


The couple can’t wait to hold more special events

As part of our efforts to support our customers we hold a number of events and competitions every year. Pre-pandemic, we promoted our business in the community by hosting our annual Charity Fun Pet Show, which was well supported and helped to encourage responsible pet ownership. We also provided the small animal tent at the Glasgow Vet School Annual Fundraiser. Every year Glasgow University’s vet students use the event to raise money for animal welfare-related organisations. We hosted the small animal and reptile tent, enabling visitors to handle pets ranging from rabbits to snakes and more.

We also regularly attend local groups such as Brownies, Cubs and Guides for badge nights and visit local schools and nurseries as part of their curriculum studies.

SOCIAL MEDIA

During the pandemic we had to improvise, so we held competitions on our social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, rather than-face-to-face events. We even held one with the local radio station!

Social media is important to our business and we regularly update our channels and have our own website. These showcase our branches but also act as an e-commerce facility to enable our customers to order when branches are closed or if they are unable to get there for any reason.



Our home delivery service is another customer favourite. For local deliveries throughout Glasgow and its surrounding areas we have our own fleet of delivery vans and our service is free. For further afield, we use courier services.

To keep the customers happy it’s really important to have great staff and we have 18 team members working alongside us across the four branches. We have a variety of staff and the majority have been with us for many years and are equally as important to our dynamics. Our own three children are now old enough to work part time in the business too.

We hold various qualifications, attained over the years. We’ve undertaken SSPCA-approved courses, reptile training courses and manufacturer-specific nutritional training courses. We must also be licenced by the local council authorities, which provide strict guidelines that are reviewed annually.
We sell a diverse range of well-sourced pets from rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters to reptiles, birds and fish. This is becoming a unique selling point and sets us apart from our online and high street competitors. It is hard work, but is incredibly rewarding when our customers research what is involved in welcoming a pet to their family and we are privileged to help them further and be part of their journey, hopefully for the rest of the pet’s life.


The shops have eye-catching green and yellow branding

At the heart of our business is the welfare of pets and, truly, we find them all fascinating and love nothing better than when they come into our shops for a visit. At home, we currently have our dog, Tilly, our rabbit, Winnie, our tortoise, Speedy and our snake, Niblets.

As for the future, our vision is to continue to provide quality pets and pet supplies, with a first-class personalised customer service, while adapting to the ever-changing and competitive business environment and changing customers’ needs. It sounds busy but we know we can and do achieve it.