News Shop Talk Mutley S Pet Supplies In Swaffham



Shop Talk: Mutley’s Pet Supplies in Swaffham
8th October 2015

By Sandra Pearce

Since moving to a new location in Swaffham, Norfolk, Laura Palmer has grown her pet product range and expanded into brand new territory. Sandra Pearce soaks up the atmosphere and learns more about her plans

Walk into Mutley’s Pet Supplies in Swaffham and it feels like you are walking around an exotic gift shop, resplendent with curios from some far-flung tropical paradise. There are ethnic wood carvings and statues, pastel-coloured scarves, scented candles, and a colourful offering of bright, animal-themed greeting cards. Even among the pet food and accessories, you could see a giraffe or some other carved face or statue staring at you! No surprise to discover that shop owner Laura Palmer loves travel, though up to now she has stuck pretty much to Europe and the Mediterranean. “It’s all quirky stuff and makes the shop that little bit different,” she said.

Each time she visits somewhere, local pet shops are always on her agenda – you can always pick up new ideas, says the 26-year-old. She may have started with a dedicated pet shop in Lincolnshire six years ago (she moved soon after to Swaffham), but after visiting Glee and the Good Food Show, decided she liked these unusual gifts so much that she had to try and sell them as well. And so far, these quirky products are doing well – so well that she has recently changed her business name to Mutley’s Pet Supplies and Gifts.

Yet it’s not only the gifts that create that very special atmosphere within Mutley’s (you almost feel as if it should be located next to a tropical beach), but Laura has physically divided her shop into distinctive sections. This, she says, was achievable only because her dad is a carpenter and does shop-fittings, so he was able to put up the partitions – and move them around when Laura decides she wants a change!

“It’s nice to keep things segregated,” she notes, and almost in the same breath admits that she does tend to move things around until it ‘feels just right’ and works better. For instance, small animal has recently joined poultry in its little room, and for some reason that seems to have injected new life into its sales. Positioning, she says, is key.

This October marks Mutley’s third anniversary in Swaffham, which is three times as large as her first store. She had initially been in another shop around the corner, but after two years, that was too small. “I was buying stuff and had nowhere to put it,” she recalls. So when this location came up, it was time to move – again. “It was the best thing I did,” she said. It’s even better now that a vet opened directly opposite about a year ago – they get on very well, she says.

Mutley’s is a family business, with mum and dad manning the store when Laura is on holiday and on Saturdays so she can catch up with paperwork. At the moment, she does not have any staff, which keeps her very busy. So busy that even though she bought her first home last December in the town, she has not had the time to move in and so still makes her daily 25-mile commute.

Funnily enough, it was her dad who had always wanted a pet store. Laura remembers at seven or eight years old, traipsing around as a family looking at potential sites to open a pet store. She was actually working as a delivery manager for a large high-street chain when a change in circumstances caused her to look for other opportunities. “Dad then said, what about a pet store?” she remembers.

Within two months of leaving her job, Laura had opened her first store. “It was obviously meant to be,” she said. “It’s the best thing I could have done. If it was not for this and for dad pursuing it, I would not have everything I have now.”

The only way is up
Cat food sells well for Mutley’s, and Laura attributes this to Royal Canin and its support. Cat forms a large chunk of her turnover, and growth this year currently stands at 19%.

She has a 2.4m Royal Canin cat display (dog is slightly larger at 3.2m), and says it all kicked off when she took part in Royal Canin’s Summer of the Cat promotion three years ago, taking second spot in the nationwide campaign. While that put her on the map, Crown Pet Foods’ retail support package has driven footfall, turning a number of those customers into regulars. “We have the loyalty scanner, B2B portal, and their POS is amazing!”

She takes part in pretty much every manufacturer-led promotion, and offers free food samples to owners.

It’s also important to keep abreast of trends, she says, especially with dog food. For instance, she is introducing grain-free as customers have been asking for it, and is bringing in the Canagan range. “I do find people are asking for grain-free because of allergies in their pets,” she noted.

Raw food has always done quite well for dogs, she says, and she now has four freezers on the shop floor and one out back offering Natures Menu and the newly-introduced Nutriment.

Generally speaking she will not touch supermarket brands; there are five supermarkets within easy range of Mutley’s. “We do not sell Bakers, Felix or Whiskas as we cannot even buy these for what supermarkets sell it. But Mars is good to us and always gives promotions.”

As such, she does stock products like the Pedigree treats and mixer as the brand ‘sells itself’. “We tend to sell the natural dog food, but then owners like to pick up a Pedigree treat,” she said.

She does get asked about allergies and skin conditions, which can often be addressed through better nutrition. But there are times when a vet should really be the first contact. She said: “I am not a vet, and it annoys me when people come to me with issues that really a vet should be looking at. For instance there was once this woman who brought in two guinea pigs, and one had clearly some kind of sore on it. I told her, ‘You should take it straight to the vet’.

“I mean, it’s what I do. Anything wrong with my dogs and they’re straight off to the vet.”

Next to the large dog food section are the toys, which funnily enough in the early days did not do well. But in the last year, toys sales have shot up, and she thinks this is because there’s been more innovation within the marketplace, and owners are liking what they see. “We are seeing a lot more innovation and different stuff,” she said. “There are some really nice quality, decent, pretty toys around.” Again, she places strong emphasis on sourcing items that you would not see in other pet shops.

At the moment Mutley’s does not have a web page or any Internet/social media presence. Being a one-woman band means there just isn’t enough time to do everything. Eventually, this will be addressed, and she is toying with the idea of introducing an e-commerce site.

The Internet is changing the rules of the game, and she observes how more and more people are becoming more price savvy and comparing prices. “We are getting more comments on how they can get products cheaper elsewhere, especially off the European websites.”

Internet sales have pretty much captured the market for the big, branded food bags, especially as this includes delivery.

However, it means she has to watch her prices, and has adopted the tactic of selling below RRP. She also tries to offer price matching on selected big brands as far as possible. It’s especially annoying when new faces appear and say they only want a small bag of something because their Internet order has not arrived!

At the moment, there are other plans which have to be set into motion. For instance, when she moved here three years ago, she started selling plants out front from a small fenced-in area. She is now winding down this side of the business and wants to re-build the entrance to include a much wider double door and some kind of frontage to shout to all passing traffic that this is a pet store. “So many people say they did not know we are here, and we’re still hearing this today,” she explained. What she’d really like is for the entrance to look something like a large kennel…

We suspect her dad is in for a little surprise.

She also wants to grow her gifts range as this is doing well, and will introduce new animal-themed products such as draught excluders. “I want to grow the business, and would really like one day to have a dog-friendly café on-site. And why not? If you can have cafés in garden centres, why not a pet store?”

Why not indeed?