Shop Talk Pets Take Away

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Shop Talk: Pets Take Away
10th March 2016

By Sandra Pearce

When we heard that a pet shop had launched its own dog food, SANDRA PEARCE paid a visit to learn more



What happens when a family of enthusiastic pet shop retailers get together to talk about dog food? Well, they come up with their own brand, obviously! It was almost two years in the making, but family business Pets Take Away, in Baddeley Green, Stoke-on-Trent, has launched its own super-premium dog food, called Amala, which means ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ in a Native American language.

It was an incredible feeling when the first order arrived, said daughter Tammy Banks, and seemed a long time from when the idea first took shape. “We kicked around a few ideas, and came up with a list of what we wanted to go in it,” she said.
Mum Christine added: “We know what dogs like. We thought it would be nice to have fish, and it needed herbs, so we wrote out what we would love to have in a dog food – and no grain, rice or wheat. But we didn’t want an 80-20 recipe.”

Made by Lancashire-based GA Pet Food Partners, the grain-free dry food instead comprises 70% fish and chicken – of which an incredible 55% is fresh meat – and 30% fruit and vegetables. The ingredients read like they could feature in the finest of London restaurants – free-run East Anglia chicken, loch-reared Scottish salmon, and hand-netted Wiltshire trout. The recipe also includes apples, cranberries, peas, sweet potatoes, spinach and Amala’s special herb package of alfalfa, rosehip, marigold, camomile, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage and parsley.



The food is currently sold in 2kg, 12kg and 15kg bags, and within a couple of months, sales have worked their way through the initial five-tonne order – and that’s just through the shop and website. The family is hoping to encourage other pet retailers to give it a try.
 



The family is also over the moon as Amala has just received the veterinary nod, and can now include ‘Veterinary approved’ on its label. This is the icing on the cake as this year, Pets Take Away is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the pet trade. Christine said: “Our local vet loves the food and did a write-up in his newsletter, but I wanted a vet who did not know us to recommend it so there’s no conflict of interest. GA helped us here.”
Even the brand’s packaging has been designed completely by the family, with Tammy, Demme and Sue brain-storming designs and trying different artwork and illustrations. The silhouette effect won, and the design emphasises the food’s natural ingredients and its premium quality.

BE THE SPECIALIST

Not surprisingly, Pets Take Away has a reputation as being a nutrition expert, and food is its top seller with dozens of 15kg bags of dog food being sold every week, including Simpsons Premium and Quantum – the shop sells easily a tonne of Simpsons every six weeks, says dad Cliff.



Very often, customers come in with a note from the local vet, saying the dog has diarrhoea or some other ailment, could they please recommend a food to help, revealed Christine. “Most of the time, these kinds of problems are diet related,” she said. “And we’ve got a very good relationship with our vet.”
Their reputation has spread – some customers are happy to make 20-mile round trips – and for others, Pets Take Away is the first port of call before the vet.

What is unique about Pets Take Away is that the vast majority of the food on sale is sold as weigh-up from 15kg bags. Cliff explained: “We want to give all dogs the chance to get good quality food. If you buy a big bag, it costs a lot, £40, £50 a bag or more. But here, we give our customers the chance to buy enough for a week, making it affordable.
“Here, people have the chance to buy the most expensive or change their brand easily. Our customers just come in and want to weigh out.”



Selling direct from 15kg bags also has its own advantages. For one, he says, with traditional weigh-out bins, you never get to the bottom. “This makes it almost impossible to clean properly,” he says. Doing it this way, once the bag is empty, it is recycled and a new bag is brought out.
“Besides,” he said, “most manufacturers spend a fortune on packaging, and it makes a good display, so why not let them do the work for you?”

The family also sells a lot of wild bird seed, and has one of the largest pet bed offerings we’ve seen in an independent – over 400 beds are on display. Tammy observed: “We’re cheaper than Pets at Home, and we have more stock, better quality. We had a customer who said she had been to Pets at Home and online for an orthopaedic bed, but could only find it here.”



That specialist approach cuts across the shop, and Pets Take Away has a large range of natural treats and offers natural remedies. Natural is the way to go, says Christine. But like children, you cannot treat every dog the same. “They are all different,” she said – you can’t expect to feed all dogs on the same food.

Christine and Cliff started selling pet food and products in markets, and after five years, decided to also have a go at a bricks-and-mortar store in the Staffordshire market town of Stone. Within six months, they’d outgrown that store and moved to a two-storey unit in the same town, all the while keeping the market side of things going.



Eventually, however, the opportunity came to take on this unit in Baddeley Green, where they’ve settled. The 19th-century building had at various stages of its life been a pub, video shop, grocery shops and flats.
When the family arrived, there were still three flats on the second floor, but as each tenant left, they took over the accommodation to grow the shop. Today, the shop occupies the entire building, and in November opened a grooming salon.

They are also thinking about the possibility of offering a small animal boarding service, but this depends on the road Amala takes them and how busy they get!
 



It’s been sheer determination to make a success of the business, they said. Cliff took on most of the building and maintenance work (he even took the roof off), and naturally all decorating and even plastering was done themselves – Tammy and Demme have discovered a talent in using wallpaper to decorate counters and shelves.


Christine added: “We do not owe anybody anything. We do not believe in credit, everything is paid for. We have done this for 25 years, it’s the way we work. We do not even have a bank loan.”



It’s a family business with strong family values – as a baby, Tammy had her cot in the Stone shop, and started working alongside her mum and dad on weekends and during school holidays when she was 12 years old. Demme was her school friend and also started part-time in the shop at 12 years – as far as anyone is concerned, she’s family. Waiting in the wings is the third generation as a grand-daughter is due to join next year once she finishes her education.

There’s an ethos of total trust – the family has built up such strong relationships with some sales reps that they have free reign to come in and order what they see or think  is needed. “It’s always been like this,” says Christine. There’s always a laugh and joke when reps pop in or deliveries are made – the shops two Walls of Fame play host to loads of photographs that give testimony to this.



Demme and Tammy have also seized the proverbial bull and launched an online sales site in February 2014 – they now have two websites, one for Pets Take Away and one for Amala. Again, they’ve done it all themselves and learned the ins and outs of website design as they went along. “We want total control of what we do and what we sell,” said Tammy.

They now average 60 parcels a day, and have sent packages to locations as far away as Spain, Serbia, Montenegro and even Australia. Most popular item online is rawhide, to the tune of 80-90% of sales. This, they say, is down to a good price margin from their supplier. Hand in hand with online activity is Facebook activity – which also gives a peak into their working lives, including the antics they get up to and pranks they play on each other!



 “People come here and stand here chatting for a good half hour because they know they can. We treat our customers as family,” said Christine. It is this combination of family business, traditional family values, and strong ethics that has driven Pets Take Away to where it is today. She adds: “I always tell the girls, never think about money or the till. Do everything with kindness and as best you can. It’s about doing good.”