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Shop talk: Grovely Pet Supplies – All hands on deck
5th May 2022

By David Rees
Team building is a strong part of the ethic at Hampshire retailer Grovely Pet Supplies, where the aspiration is to support the independent sector further through networking events and a specialised wholesale business


Liz Chislett-Milne and Dave Chislett with the Alton store team Kat, Clareece and Bella

Grovely Pet Supplies celebrates its tenth anniversary this month but for director Liz Chislett-Milne, the connection with animals goes back much further than that. 

Her grandmother used to look after the Kennedy family’s pets when they visited the UK, and she can trace forebears working with dogs all the way back to the 16th century.



Despite these auspicious bloodlines, until 11 years ago Liz was working in the shipbuilding industry before she set out on a new path, initially working to rehouse rescued Labradors. 

From there her journey led naturally into selling dog treats and coats, at first in farmer’s markets from the back of an old Landrover, using the domestic garage for storage, before deciding to go to the next level and open a shop.

She found a site in Alton, Hampshire, and Liz’s husband Dave Chisnell left his career in the navy to help run the business, joined soon afterwards by head of operations Susannah Marshall.


Brachen and Mindi

Word of mouth grew, and by 2017 they were on the hunt for a second store. The team eventually took on a new site in Brockenhurst, fitting it out themselves.
“It was really busy straight away – we were selling lots of stock before we had fully finished the premises,” Liz recalls.

NUTRITION

Throughout this period, Liz had been studying nutrition and was concerned by the health problems of dogs she would see in the shops and at the market.
“Our family hounds grew up feeding on knackers and bone broth and they never had any illnesses,” she says. “I would see customers in the market with obviously sick dogs and try to offer them advice on feeding. I was always thinking, how can I help educate people?”



Over the decade, the Grovely team have helped thousands of pets recover from illnesses and ailments, sometimes even diagnosing things that vets in their home town have missed. A lot of customers at the Brockenhurst shop are visitors to the area, staying at one of the many dog-friendly campsites in the New Forest, and often return a year later to thank the team for the advice.

Shop staff at the company’s three stores are all diploma or degree-trained nutritionists, paid above the National Living Wage.
“We really focus the team on nutrition,” says Liz. “We only stock high-end products, with all-natural ingredients and we know that everything on our shelves is a great product.” 



She continues: “We constantly monitor the products on the market for recipe changes, or the introduction of new investors which might change the ingredients or the ethics of the business. We always avoid poor claims, and hidden nasties such as gluten, sugar and salt.
“We know that health improves with better feeding. You might pay more for the product, but you don’t need to feed as much. And you don’t pay so much on vets bills, either.”



The ethos of the business is evidenced by the newest store, in Alton town centre.

Last year the landlord of the original store wanted extra space, so Grovely moved from an industrial unit on edge of the town to a pedestrian precinct. The unit had been empty for three years previously, but the location suited the businesses ideally.
“The emphasis is different,” explains Liz. “Out of town, people have to drive and you need a big set-up, whereas in the town centre it’s much more about personal service and advice.



“We get good footfall from the Post Office next door, and Alton is a very dog-friendly town anyway. We even deliver some orders to the pub at the top of the precinct. Some of our male customers like to take their dog for a walk and pick up their food there!”

The shop has a warm, rustic feel. Dave and the team are still putting finishing touches to it, but some of the pipework and lighting tracks are deliberately being left uncovered for effect.
Dogs are always welcomed, and there is plenty of room for them to move around in the 2,000sq ft unit. There is also enough space for a range of products for cats and small animals.


 
The business runs a loyalty scheme using the customer’s name and their dog’s name as the ID indicators. Shoppers receive a 1p credit for every £1 spent and it is all maintained on the epos system so there are no cards to remember and no stamps to collect.

The company’s online business is also run out of Alton, from where it can deliver to the whole country. This is particularly useful for tourists who have visited Brockenhurst, have seen their pet’s health improve and want the same food when they get home.
“What matters most to us, is the highest quality of products and the advice we give,” says Liz. “We like to work with certain manufacturers – ones we can get close to, with ethics and principles, and grain-free and sugar-free recipes. When we find a product of the best quality we really get behind it.”



This philosophy has been put into practice with the German brand Dr Clauders.
“We have been selling it for 10 years, it’s proper meat for dogs,” says Liz. 

“As an indie, however, sometimes you find that you have done a lot of legwork to build a brand and suddenly it’s on Amazon selling for less than you can buy it for. So we approached Dr Clauders and said we think we can take this into lots of independent stores, so can we work with you as a distributor?”



The answer was yes, and that decision led Liz and Dave to start their own wholesale business, Victory Pet Products – a nod to their service in the Royal Navy.

For Victory, they have joined forces with Graham Holford of Satellite Pet Products, using some of the company’s warehouse space in Southampton.



The operation specialises in unique, natural products – “ones that you wont find for sale on Amazon or Facebook” – both home-grown and imported from overseas.

The warehouse is now fully stocked and Victory is servicing five independent stores, plus the three Gravely ones.
“The next step is going out on the road to talk to stores and groomers,” says Liz. “We are looking for natural pet stores who are seeking unique products that will not only feed exceptionally well, but will also give them a product that can only be bought from them. What we’ve learned as a retailer, we can take into the new business venture and we enjoy meeting other like-minded pet stores.”

REBIRTH

Further connections are being established with quarterly ‘fizz nights’ where a network of local pet-related businesses such as vets, groomers, walkers and trainers are invited for a relaxed gathering over a glass. 
“We want to say thank you for the support in sending us business, and vice-versa,” explains Liz. 

“They start to form bonds and help each other, and that’s got to be a good thing.



“Right now is the best opportunity for the independent sector to get together and have something of a rebirth,” she continues. “As indies we are not a threat to each other, together we can build something better and stronger.”

Things are getting better for Gravely too, as the Winchester store, opened in 2019, is already outgrowing its premises and the team are looking to expand further with two more stores and the possible addition of a grooming parlour.



The business has also signed the Armed Forces Covenant, giving a 5% discount for veterans, and supports various veterans’ charities including Hounds for Heroes.
“The reason why we are so passionate is because we served,” Liz explains. “You become a different person – you form strong teams and see the value of working that way.

“We are very proud of our Graveley family and we want to do the same with Victory, for it to become a support point for like-minded stores. We want to grow Victory by working with independent businesses, to build a strong team.”