Shop Talk Peak Paws And Claw

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Shop Talk: Peak, Paws and Claw
29th January 2018

By Sandra Pearce





Just over two years ago, the Robbs bought a pet shop in the picturesque Derbyshire town of Matlock, a popular tourist destination described as the gateway to the Peak District. Adam and Sarah say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done…

As a young lad, Adam Robb remembers coming into the Matlock pet shop with his grandfather, when it was full of pets. Then about two-and-a-half years ago, it was put up for sale by its previous owner.

Adam, who was a warehouse manager at the time, said: “It all happened at the right time. I’d been having ongoing issues with my back and had several operations because of it. I had a final operation and it was a success, but once I went back to work, it felt like all the good work the operation had done was being undone. I went back to see the consultant and he told me there was nothing more medical science could do for me. And that was the wake-up call – I needed to make a massive change.”


Store is small so every inch counts

Life-long animal lovers, Adam and Sarah went to the M&S Food Hall carpark opposite the pet store and stood there, watching customers going into the store to see how busy it was. They then crossed the road and went into Nose to Tail and asked the owner why he was selling. John Purdon had owned the store for about 15 years and was looking to semi-retire, and once he realised the Robbs were serious about buying, things fell quickly into place.
“This was meant to be,” said Adam. “I cannot describe to people what having this pet shop means…I am content and happy. Everything ticks along nicely. I have learned to be content with what we have – once you get rid of all the clutter, of wanting stuff you do not need, it all falls into place.”


Customers like to pick and choose treats and chews

John was a mine of information, and still pops in every few weeks to see how things are going. “Even today I can call him for advice,” said Adam. “His best advice to me was not to cheapen the products we sell. Take our sunflower hearts, you could eat them yourself, they are such high quality.”

John wanted to keep the name Nose to Tail for a possible new venture, so the Robbs had to come up with a new shop name. They drew up a list of names and in an X-Factor scenario, got their family members to vote on their favourite. Peak, Paws and Claws won. “Peak, because of Peak District, and Paws and Claws because that covers the majority of animals we deal with,” said Adam.




A town like no other
Matlock is a popular base for walkers and tourists to explore the Peak District and was once famed for its hydro and spa treatments. Parking, however, is not brilliant – it’s expensive, say the Robbs, and there’s not enough of it.


Area outside the store is used as additional retail space. There’s a big question-mark over what will happen to the car park once refurbishment is finished

To compound matters, their shop is located next to a pub with a generous car park, and although the previous owners were happy for their customers to park there, the pub has since been sold and the new owners are refurbishing. While work is underway, they have blocked off all access to the car park. “We’re also not sure if they will let our customers use the carpark once they open,” said Adam.

Many customers now call ahead to place their orders and pull up outside to quickly go in to collect their goods and pay. Thankfully, the town’s parking warden is sympathetic and so far has turned a blind eye to the odd car that’s parked on the double yellow lines. Their delivery service (free on orders over £20) has also become more popular as a result.




The Robbs see a lot of tourists in summer who pop in to pick up forgotten items such as leads, collars and collapsible bowls. And of course there is a large pool of regular and loyal customers, carried over from John’s days.
“It’s the community that makes the pet shop,” said Adam. “You talk to people, you develop this relationship, and it becomes a community.”

Customers were especially delighted to learn that Sarah and Adam are both locals – Sarah works
part-time in a local doctor’s surgery, and they live a five-minute walk away from the pet shop. “The community is absolutely fantastic,” she said.
There’s an elderly lady on their delivery rounds who does not get out much and sometimes asks if they can perhaps pick up a loaf of bread or some yogurt. “We help her out whenever we can,” said Sarah. “It’s all about being part of the community.”




A number of their customers have dogs with digestion issues. One customer’s dog had chronic anal gland issues, says Adam, and the owner had just about given up finding a solution and was considering putting the dog down.
He said: “I gave her a bag of our own-brand grain-free dog and asked her to try it. A month later she came back to buy a bag and offered again to pay for that first bag, and I said no, that was a gift.
“Eleven months later she came in, tears in her eyes, and I thought, oh no, her dog’s died, but she said she’d not had any problems at all and how could she thank us. This is what makes it for me. It’s not about the money, it’s about the animals.”




Regular customers without fail bring in cakes and other home-made produce. “There is such a strong community feel,” said Sarah. Within a week of taking over the shop, the owner of the next nearest pet shop in Bakewell telephoned to introduce herself and offer help if ever they got stuck. The two shops now quite happily introduce customers to each other and will help each other out if they have run out of something.
“We learn so much from our customers as well,” said Sarah, “especially about reptiles and fish.”
Quite often customers come in and start chatting to each other about their pets, exchanging advice and tips. “Then it’s ‘Let’s get the kettle on and everyone has a cup!” she added.




Let’s try something new
The Robbs are also attracting new customers through their website and own-brand food, and at some point would like to introduce a loyalty card for their own range. The previous owner already carried the Naturals own-range food, but the Robbs introduced a grain-free offering with ‘a nice range of flavours and sensibly priced’, said Adam.
“We never try to tweak anybody on to anther food,” he said. “If their dog is happy and healthy on what he’s already on, that’s the important thing. But we will only stock good quality food.”
He added: “We have had a number of customers come in with a note from the vet saying their dog is allergic to grains – they have print-outs with a list of what their dog is allergic to!
“So we can then offer them our grain-free range.”




Apart from their own-brand range, popular brands are Burns and James Wellbeloved, and in the main, they have carried on selling the products that John used to sell, including offering a carpet cleaner hire service and key-cutting service.
“But we do keep an eye to make sure they are still selling – if something sells well, it gets a bigger space. If it does not, we get rid of it. And we do swap things about,” he said.




They have recently introduced frozen food for both reptiles and dogs, but due to lack of space in the 300sq ft shop, have had to place the freezer (they now have two) out back. “There are so many reptile keepers here in Matlock,” said Sarah. “It did surprise us. They are so grateful that we are now selling the food and that they do not have to jump on a bus to go to Chesterfield.”

They also recently started stocking the Ruff and Tumble dog coat range, much to the dismay of one customer who realised too late and had bought one off Amazon – for £11 more than the Robbs are selling theirs for! “I follow the two-people rule,” said Adam. “If two people ask for something, I will buy one and if it sells, I will get two in. I cannot afford to be a stockist for our suppliers.”




Space is incredibly tight but they are lucky in that they have a warehouse to the rear of the shop, with about the same floor area, to store big bags and excess stock. Space certainly limits what the Robbs, who are on a 10-year lease, can realistically do.


Additional services help pay the rent!

Adam said: “The thing is, we are content with what we have. We will never get rich running a pet shop, but that’s not what this is about. Some months I do not take a wage, but it’s ok.
“As long as there’s food in the cupboard and bills are paid, that’s all that matters. I feel like I am retired. It’s just brilliant…people do not understand, but compared to what life was like before, after 48 years, I have finally found my passion.” 

A gift from Matlock!
With the shop open six days a week, the Robbs enjoy going on the odd day trip – and will always pop into pet shops on their travels. On one such excursion to Whitby, in Yorkshire, they came across Woof Dog Beer, a non-alcoholic brewers wort combined with stock from Aberdeen Angus beef bones.

Sarah said: “We bought a bottle and gave it to our dogs. Once they gave it the thumbs up, we got a case and tried it for a few more weeks to make sure there were no issues, such as any sensitivities. We now sell a lot of it in summer and for Christmas.”


Why shouldn’t dogs have a gift from Matlock too?

The couple also decided to do a gift bag for dogs comprising dog biscuits and a bottle of the beer. Adam explained: “This is a tourist area – everyone buys a box of fudge to take home or give as presents and we thought, Why shouldn’t dogs get something too?”