Shop Talk Mutz Nutz Mogz More The Pet Emporium Naturally

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Shop Talk: mutz, nutz, mogz & more The Pet Emporium... naturally
18th May 2016

By Sandra Pearce

Lesley Deefholts admits to ‘doing things at the wrong time’ – such as opening a pet store when the economy is not doing well and with a fair bit of local competition. But a well thought-out product range and good rapport with customers has seen the business grow 


Clockwise from left: Mum, Karen O’Rourke, Lesley Deefholts and Noddy, who was wearing a bowtie specially for the interview!

“Honestly, at times it’s a lot like a counseling service or doctor’s surgery in here,” said Lesley Deefholts, owner of mutz, nutz, mogz & more The Pet Emporium... naturally, in Northampton. “I can have a line of customers, waiting to talk, and they will not go without having their time with us. The next person is very patient and waits their turn. It’s crazy! One customer will hold another customer’s dog lead while they walk around and do their shopping.”

Customers warmly refer to the shop as ‘mutz’, which is on an incredibly busy main road packed with a refreshing diversity of independents and chain stores. It’s an incredible location, confirms Lesley. “It’s got lots of quirky shops, and it’s on the way to town. A couple of bus routes go through it, and there is lots of residential around as well.”

Lesley bought the shop 3½ years ago – she’d been in corporate retail ‘forever’, and wanted to do something different. So different that for a year or two, she was quite happy behind the wheel of a community bus. “It got to the point where I knew I needed to do something, which was not driving a bus!” she grinned.

Her friend, Karen O’Rourke, suggested running a kennel or cattery, after all, Lesley had always had animals. “But I did not want the responsibility of looking after other people’s animals, so I then thought, why not a pet shop?”


Opening day saw the Northampton Saints’ colours

Not just any pet shop, but a shop selling ‘decent food’, good quality toys, natural products – products that would make a difference to the animals’ lives. Within a week, she’d found the premises (a small vacant unit of about 300 sq ft) and signed the lease. Over the August bank holiday weekend in 2012,
Lesley and her friends moved in and overhauled the electrics, stripped the unit, cleaned and painted it.

A very keen rugby fan, Opening Day saw the shop decked out in her beloved Northampton Saints’ colours of black, green and gold – and club mascot Bernie the dog put in an appearance. It was an electric atmosphere: “People were honking as they drove past,” she said.

mutz is a family business – her 85-year-old mum comes in most days as a volunteer. “Mum is invaluable. She goes to the post office, helps with the pricing, taking in deliveries, and thinks nothing of moving large bags of kitty litter or food around – and you can’t tell her to stop!” said Lesley.


Lesley has own grooming products

“I am here by choice,” said Marie. “I do not touch the till, and I do not answer the phone. Friday is my off day, and on Thursday, I go to the gym. If I want to go somewhere, I just say so. I get kisses and hugs from customers… so many refer to me as ‘mum’. Even the landlord calls me ‘mum’.”

Then there’s Noddy, a crucial member of the family who is always at the shop. Noddy is a seven-year-old greyhound who was a day away from being put down because no-one would adopt him. “He was a mess when we first got him, recalls Lesley. “A 32kg, scabby bag of bones. He had missing hair, and his legs were bald and his breath was very ‘iffy’. When Karen and I went to see him, he was asleep in a conservatory with four cats. That was it, I had to have him. He was everything I did not want: black, huge and a boy! Now he’s 40kg, he runs every day, he has good manners, is good with other dogs and small children, which is important for a shop.”


Bowties were spotted at a greyhound show

Mum enjoys taking Noddy for walks. “It’s quite a sight, this little old lady walking this huge dog! Everyone around here knows them,” added Lesley. “Quite a few customers come in just to see Noddy.”

IT'S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE
Customer service is sacrosanct, she said. “If we do not give good service, we do not deserve to be in business. I treat everyone who comes through that door with respect, just as I would treat my mum.” It’s a friendly shop – and the dogs know they are always given a welcome. “I have sausages, treats and samples behind the counter, and dogs will drag owners into the store because they know they get a cuddle and treat.

Lesley has about 100 regulars, and a pool of disabled and elderly customers, many of whom have small pets. So she’s installed a ramp to make access easier, and also offers a free delivery service. “We now fill a lot of regular orders, especially for people who cannot come into the shop.”


Lesley researched her own-label range thoroughly

She spends much time talking to customers. “I always say, get as good a quality of food that you can. If you put that extra money into the food for your cat, dog, gerbil or whatever, it does not go into a vet’s pocket.

“We have built up a lot of trust with our customers. For me, my word is my bond. If I say I will do something or get something for you, I will do it, even if it means going to a different supplier. It’s the way I’ve always worked. So I get really upset if someone lets me down. If I say to you such-and-such is going to be here, then it will be here.”

It’s not surprising that she gets upset when her wholesale orders regularly have errors in them, such as products not arriving, wrong products turning up, or deliveries not arriving by the stated time or even day! “I have customers depending on these orders, and if they don’t arrive, I’m the one who has to let them down.”


Nice range of products on offer, including less well-known brands

Lesley was very ill two years ago. She spent five weeks in hospital, then was off for a further five weeks, but two friends (including Karen) kept mutz going. “My customers were so understanding. They sent flowers and gifts and cards, and were very patient with us. They were just lovely. I am very, very lucky. My customers make this shop what it is.

“I have had customers in here who have just had bad news, maybe they’ve put their pet down, or it’s gone missing, or a family member is very ill or worse. We share the good times and the bad. We are living with them. I know more about some of my customers’ families than I do my own. I think I am blessed.”

NICHE PRODUCTS
Within a small radius to mutz are two Pets at Home stores, a Best for Pets, an independent and a Kennelgate Pet Store, not to mention Tesco and Wilkinson’s. “I have a lot of Pets at Home customers coming to me because they get the service.”


Cats is a tricky sector

Lesley also aims to stock products that you won’t normally find elsewhere. “I was told by a sales rep not to go niche. Later he admitted I was right. We are not going to jump on a bandwagon with everything. Everything here is what I would give my own pets, and I also follow my own instinct.”

She researches all new products thoroughly, and enjoys trialing new products. Such as bow ties for dogs – she saw them at a greyhound show and liked them so much that she ordered a batch from the lady who makes them. “They’re just so adorable and different.”


Customers’ pets

And that’s what she aims for. For instance, she stocks Alfie & Molly’s home-made, oven-baked biscuits and treats from a Bristol family business founded in 2013. There’s a walnut shell clumping cat litter, and she has an eclectic mix of animal-themed books, both fiction and non-fiction. At the front of the shop is a display stand for Ashleigh and Burwood, home fragrance products. “The oils are all just gorgeous. They are not really expensive, and far better than candles.”

She brought in frozen raw food pretty much from the beginning, but admits it was difficult to get going. “But with perseverance and talking about the product and giving samples, it got people willing to try. It’s now grown so much, I really could do with a second freezer.”


It’s a small shop, but every inch is packed

She stocks Natural Instinct, raw cat food specialist PurrForm, and in line with her philosophy of supporting local business, has taken on Northamptonshire-based Natural Animal Nutrition.

She also has her own range of pet food, the Signature range from Pero (Foods): “Their stuff is so good it was always something we wanted to do. I also have my own range of grooming products.”


Lesley loves surprising customers

Her own range dog food is sandwiched between Eden Pet Foods and Alpha Spirit, and she also stocks Barking Heads, Pero’s Truline, James Wellbeloved and Simpsons, among others.

As far as possible, she prefers to order direct from the manufacturer. “With such a small shop, as with many small independents, minimum orders can be difficult. Its been hard work, but it’s so worth it,” she said. “In the beginning, everything was pro forma, which is very hard when you are little. I have put my savings in this shop, but I do not regret a minute of it. I love every day that I come in, I love what I do. I will never be a millionaire but at least I can sleep at night.”

It’s a little shop with a big heart.