News Shop Talk Gosford Pets



Shop Talk: Gosford Pets
23rd March 2016

By Sandra Pearce

The market town of Tring is known for its Natural History Museum, which houses the largest collection of stuffed animals in the world, and how the 2nd Lord Rothschild used to ride around the town in a carriage drawn by zebras. It’s also home to Gosford Pets and its resourceful owner, Laura Bromiley

When Laura Bromiley graduated with an Honours degree in Philosophy in 2009, she thought she’d land a job fairly soon, especially with her interest in business. But the job scene was dire.

Determined not to let that stop her, she decided to investigate the possibility of opening her own business. At the time she was living in the small Hertfordshire market town of Tring with her ex-boyfriend, and she literally walked around to see if there were any missing retail gaps on the high street. It became pretty obvious the town was crying out for a pet shop. “There had been two pet stores here about 10 to 15 years ago, but both closed. People were telling me they had a 20-minute drive to get to the nearest pet store, and all said they wanted something local,” she said. Being an animal lover herself – she has since acquired two dogs, Nellie and Harvey – this seemed a perfect opportunity to combine her interest in business with her love for animals.

With absolutely no experience in the pet trade, Laura decided to visit the pet shops in the area and see what they were stocking. The plan was to stock what they did not, and open a specialist, niche, luxury boutique-type store. “I started out with very high morals,” she recalls, “I wanted to offer nice, holistic, natural food, no sugar, nothing like that.”

In April 2011, the boutique-styled Gosford Pets opened, offering luxury dog clothes and collars, and niche specialist food brands. But all people wanted were Bonio and Whiskas, ‘because that is what they knew’, she said. “I made a wrong choice, and it took me two years or so to recover from that. It was just too niche.”

Being a high street location, she sees all kinds of customers, from families with children and their first fish/small animal to dog owners who enjoy the stomping ground of the nearby Chiltern Hills. Not to mention the growing numbers of poultry keepers.

It was a steep, harsh learning curve. Laura had to re-think her business plan and change her product offering, but is pleased that she has managed to convert many of her customers onto brands including Arden Grange, Burns, Canagan, James Wellbeloved, Lily’s Kitchen, Naturediet and Symply. Yes, there are still a couple of grocery brands on her shelves (you can’t win them all!), but these are tucked away on the lowest shelf in a corner. Dog food and treats are now her biggest sellers – she could open a ‘complete shop selling just dog treats’, and with a car park sitting next door, does good business in the big food bags.

Although Gosford Pets is about 500sq ft, she has pretty much run out of room to display products. “It’s a struggle; I move stuff around every six months or so to see if I can get more space and more products in,” she said. She also tries to stock as wide and varied a range of products – while we were visiting, a customer commented how Gosford Pets is the only local retailer to stock a Degu and Chinchilla food.

As with so many retailers, frozen raw is doing well, thanks in part to activity on social media sites and owner recommendation. “I could really do with a second freezer, but I have no space. It’s the trend now, it’s a good food and so many dogs are doing well on it.”

She does see the usual seasonal peaks and troughs, so stronger wild bird sales in winter months and flea product sales in summer. For a small shop, she has a wide breadth of products, including captive birds, aquatics (pond and tropical community), reptiles and poultry. Again, many Tring residents have ponds while ‘their kids have fish as their first pet’, she said.

For reptiles, though she does not sell livestock, there is strong demand for live and frozen food. Caged bird food and products also sell well, simply because it is difficult to find elsewhere. She was also surprised to discover how many people keep poultry. Cat is the only downer. “Most people seem to buy cat food while they’re in the supermarkets,” she said.

Because space is at a premium, she has signed up to Vital Pet Products’ click-and-collect service, in which pet owners have access to over 18,000 products, which are then delivered to the pet store for collection. It’s an easy way to ensure her customers can get their hands on exactly what they want, she said.

Keen to grow her profit line, Laura decided to diversify and add another string to her bow in the shape of plant sales, even though this means leaving home at 5.30am twice a week to get to the plant wholesalers in London. The plants stand outside her shop, and make an eye-catching display – which has had another advantage. “Because the shop looks dark, some people would think my shop was closed, but now with the plants outside, it’s a clear sign that we’re open,” she explained, adding that plants have become a huge seller for her, and are the classic impulse buy.

She’s been selling plants since 2013, and has enlisted the help of her fiancé, who helpfully runs his own gardening business. Sales get especially busy when bedding plants burst onto the scene and at Christmas, as she also sells Christmas trees. It makes an interesting picture to learn that Laura does not have a van, and makes these trips (which can rise to four times a week) in her Peugeot 206 or her fiancé’s Vauxhall Zafira. She’s become the master of coaxing several 8ft trees into the smallest of spaces.

At about the same time, another opportunity arose when Tring lost its tackle shop, and Laura started selling fishing licences, maggots and a little bit of tackle. Her maggot supplier knew someone who was interested in opening a bait and tackle shop, and put the two together.

In the end, the cellar at Gosford Pets was opened up, electrics put in, and after extensive decorating and fitting, Gosford Tackle & Bait opened. Its owner rents the unit from Laura, and Laura enjoys increased traffic as all his customers have to walk through her store to get to his shop.

Last year she opened a grooming salon, which is building up its client base nicely, and has added to this a no-appointment-necessary drop-in dog wash service. This allows customers to walk in with their pet and choose from one of three levels of service. Bronze is a wash and hand dry, while Gold comprises a wash, hand dry, brush, nail cutting and perfume.

Laura has also organised first-aid courses for dog owners, in which participants are taught basic dog CPR and how to handle emergencies by an accredited Canine First Responder Instructor. “I’m always trying to diversify and get more people in,” she said. She’s even got a few pieces of artwork on her walls to sell for a customer who’s an artist.

Her latest venture, which started in January, is weekly pet photoshoots, which take place in a backroom. She now sees in the region of 300 to 400 people a week, but stresses no matter what product you stock or service you provide, the quality of customer service is king.

To crown a heady year, last year Laura was a finalist in three awards. Two were part of the 2015 Forward Ladies Women in Business Awards, sponsored by HSBC: Best Retail Business for London and the South East, and SME Emerging Business of the Year with less than 10 employees. Laura was also one of five finalists for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Hertfordshire Business Awards 2015.

“It was really nice to be recognised,” she said.

It’s a far cry from her first two years, which she describes as ‘awful’. “I am now in safe zone, but it has taken a long time. The first two years were awful, and for a while I worked in a bar at night to earn enough. In the first year I made a loss, the second year I broke even, and in the third made a profit. And yes, I was tempted to give up; it would have been so easy. But I am extremely stubborn and do not like to fail.”

So she gritted her teeth and ‘got on with it’.

Those early days were also lonely, but she now has two-year-old Nellie, a Staffie-English Bull terrier cross, and Harvey, a four-year-old Staffordshire Bull terrier, to keep her company in the shop. “I wanted to dispel the myths of Staffies,” she said, “and have changed a few people’s minds about them.”

With her eye constantly on the future, she is already thinking about the possibility of taking on a second groomer when the client book is filled. She also has a wedding to plan… the big day, set for May 2017, will be held in a local garden amid blooming rhododendrons. It will also be the first time she will take a holiday since 2013, when she was for 2½ days in Morocco. “It will be lovely, I have not had that much time off in years!”