News Shop Talk Creature Comforts An Eye For Detail



Shop talk: Creature Comforts – An eye for detail
20th February 2019

By Sandra Pearce

Walk into the staff area at Creature Comforts in Rugeley and the walls are clad in a purple honeysuckle wallpaper, while potted flowering plants add extra splashes of colour and interest. It’s like being in the kitchen of a country cottage. The purple theme continues with the staff uniform and the bunting that appears throughout the shop.

Paula (left) and Susie

All is explained when owner Susan Birch (known to everyone as Susie) reveals she is an avid gardener, growing both flowers and vegetables at home.
“Well, we are in work for a long time, more than at home, and if it’s not nice, you do not want to come in. I like things to look aesthetically pleasing and I think it looks pretty,” she said.

Her artistic eye and love of horticulture is evident throughout the shop with artificial vines and flowers decorating shelves and doorways, while its window is ablaze with creativity and imagination.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Creature Comforts was a winner in an Arden Grange window display competition in 2017.

Susie recalls how years ago she was a hairdresser by trade and had a dog, and one day when in her local pet store, said to the owner that if he had a job vacancy, she’d love to work there.
He did, and so she did.

A few years later, Susie had the opportunity to open her own shop in the centre of the Staffordshire market town – her one full-time member of staff Paula Parker has been with her since that time.

Creature Comforts has now been trading for nearly 10 years, but last year a decision was taken to downsize and a smaller unit became available just around the corner, so the move ended up being a very easy one.

Susie said: “It was a very difficult decision but it was the right one in the current economic climate.
“Our overheads have halved but we have retained customer loyalty.”
She added: “The shop was an empty shell when I took it over, and I remember coming in on a Sunday morning and I stood here saying, ‘Where is everything going to go?’ So I took a tape measure and marked out on the floor with masking tape.”

All shopfitting was done inhouse along with her partner Barrie Newton. The shop’s weigh-up bins were specially constructed as many of her customers prefer using these. 

The biggest decision was to reluctantly stop selling livestock – they used to sell a large selection of small animals, birds and fish, but the new premises did not have space to comfortably accommodate them.
However, the animal link remains as she continues to offer animal boarding in the back room.

Less stock, more cash flow
Product-wise she’s kept most of her lines from her first shop and like all pet shops, offers foods, treats and accessories for all animals, but with a main focus being dog-related products.

Lovely selection of natural treats

She said: “I have tried not to replicate what can easily be bought in local supermarkets, but offer good-quality, more natural alternatives. 
“The market has definitely changed over the past 10 years and customers are demanding more holistic and natural food for their pets.”

Wild bird and hedgehog food are also top sellers, and she says that accessories such as cat toys do well. Bigger pet shops tend to focus on deals and bulk, and so do not offer the extensive range of pet toys that she carries.

Artistic touches are found throughout the shop

Seasonal lines are certainly an excellent way to drive sales.
She said: “It comes down to experience, knowing what to stock and when to stock it.
“For example, in the Spring and Summer we sell vast quantities of pond fish food, hedgehog food, and as Autumn approaches, the wild bird feeding season starts with a vengeance.”

She did think about going into own-brand pet food but decided against it.
“Besides, I do not want to push people on to something else if what they’re on is working for them,” she explained. “But we’re happy to give advice, and we have lots of food samples which we give away.”

Livefood for reptiles sells incredibly quickly. 
Paula said: “People cannot get them anywhere else around here. When we place our order, most are regular orders and they go out pretty much the same day. We have such regular customers that we know what they want without them calling to place their orders.”

Flowers brighten up the counter

Community spirit
Having such a big unit first before moving to a smaller unit turned out to be fortuitous, said Susie.
“Because it was so big, more people noticed the shop and were aware of it. And when we knew we were moving, we put a big sign up in our window and all our customers followed us across.”

The Trent and Mersey Canal runs close to town, which brings in many visitors year after year, with many boaters owning pets, especially dogs.
Susie said: “It’s always a pleasure to meet the people who visit on the boats.
“They always have an interesting tale to tell and play a significant part in the success of Creature Comforts.”
“Customers come from all over, and it’s a close-knit town,” added Paula.

A wide range of specialist and natural brands on offer

There are not many empty shops in Rugeley, and apart from the typical high-street chains like Wilkinson’s, there are a large number of quality independents offering a wide variety of services and shops.

An active local business group, Rugeley Action for Businesses, organises events throughout the year; one popular event is Rugeley by the Sea which features a beach theme with sand pits, water slide and bouncy castles.
“We get a lot of people who come in just for a chat who do not even have pets,” said Susie.

“People here are just friendly. We get to know our  customers and their lives; they come in and tell us what they have been doing that day, that week, their holidays, it’s a real social atmosphere.
“We also support local charities and usually give out vouchers as that gets people into the shop.”
She is mindful of the other independent in town, though that retailer has more of an emphasis on raw food and the equine market, she said.

Window display is packed with things to look at

Creature Comforts does sell a lot of raw, but is happy to stick with the one freezer. “I do not want to compete with the other shop – there is room for us both.”

Business is challenging, she said, and so customer service has to be top notch.
She added: “For any independent business owner, these are challenging times.
“However, we pride ourselves on our customer-focussed approach, assisting in queries, health concerns, dietary needs and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on as that’s all people sometimes need.
“Most important we want customers to feel welcome when they are in the shop, a ‘home from home’.