Shop Talk Pets World Knowle

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Shop Talk: Pets World Knowle
23rd July 2018

By Sandra Pearce




From left: Hannah Parlow (13 years at Pets World Knowle), Jude Gibbons (4 years), Debbie Dowdall (12 years), Kate Cramer (25 years), Roger Spriggs (40 years), Sue Kelly (20 years) and in front, Tracy Randall (34 years)

For more than 30 years, Pets World Knowle has been serving the residents of Solihull, growing a loyal customer base. Owner Roger Spriggs shares what it’s like to be a firm fixture in a community

You can’t beat good service and knowledge, says Roger Spriggs, owner of Pets World Knowle, in Solihull. And when it comes to knowledge, well, there’s a combined 150 years’ worth of pet care knowledge in this one pet shop and grooming salon.


Store is not big, so making every inch work is important

Roger has 40 years’ experience in the pet trade under his belt, and his four long-serving full-time and two part-time staff (plus Saturday help) – who are really more family than staff – are bursting at the seams with skills, knowledge and abilities. The longest serving team member is groomer Tracy Randall, who has been with Roger for 34 years and also breeds Siamese cats and keeps dogs. Kate Cramer works part-time in the grooming salon and has been at Pets World Knowle for 25 years; she also breeds and shows dogs at Crufts.

Sue Kelly has worked there for 20 years, while Jude Gibbins is the ‘new’ kid on the block as she’s ‘only’ been there four years!

“I do try and call Roger dad, but he won’t have it,” joked Sue. Roger grimaces ever so slightly. “There’s only 10 years between us,” he replies.

Roger opened the 400sq ft Pets World Knowle with his business partner David Mortimer in May 1983 – David sadly died a few years ago. The two started out with a pet stall in a Birmingham market, and then took on a second stall in Stourbridge. However, it was when they opened the pet shop in the busy shopping arcade of St Johns Close in Solihull that they decided to close their other interests to focus on the shop.

He said: “We became very successful here, and a year later, opened the grooming side in 1984. It was an idea by David, who saw that there was a demand for it. Tracy came on board and she has since trained all the girls here.”


Tracy has been with Roger since the grooming side of the business was set up

The grooming side is very busy and its two tables are booked well in advance.

Changing times
Things have certainly changed over the last 35 years, he said. The biggest has been on the nutrition front. “When we started, we used to do a lot of loose weigh-up, dog biscuits, there was not the emphasis on healthy eating like there is now and nutrition was not a big issue. You have to move with the future and trends, and the trend now is all about healthy eating.”

The poultry category is also growing, fuelled by the increasing popularity of keeping ex-battery hens for their eggs, while there’s also been a decline in interest in keeping captive birds such as canaries and budgies.


Small animal section offers plenty of variety

The shop used to sell rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and tropical and coldwater fish, but stopped about 20 years ago. “It was a very easy decision to make,” he said. “It was purely an economic decision – I can make more selling toys and other products than livestock. It was time to move on. And I don’t miss coming in on bank holidays and Christmas to feed the animals. Keeping and selling livestock was hard work, in the sense that we had to care for the animals and keep an eye on them, I would not want that now.”

And of course, there’s the internet now. “Yes, it is a pain, and customers can get bulk food cheaper online, but what they cannot get online is the help and advice and training advice, and that’s what we offer.”


The natural message carries across to small animals

You’re not serving one person
A simple philosophy guides Roger and his team. “When we serve our customers, it is not just the one. We are actually winning other customers because we hope they then go on to recommend us to their friends. So not only are you serving one customer, you are hoping to get more customers through that one person.

“You provide a good service and help someone, say with diet or fitting a harness, then when they’re out walking, they will meet others and in their conversation, recommend us.”


Wild bird is top seller, and weigh up is very popular

As such, customer service is absolutely paramount – all staff are nutritionally trained and between them have a wealth of knowledge about animals, training and behaviour. “We are very busy and have built up a regular clientele,” he added.

They offer a claw clipping service and local delivery, and can provide a taxi service if a dog needs picking up for a groom or bringing home as a number of their clients are elderly and have transportation issues. Everyone pitches in and helps each other out.


Cat food is a strong draw in the shop

Over the years they have also taken part in a number of community events such as dog shows and sponsor raffles at schools and charities, and have a list of vets, trainers, breeders and kennels that they recommend.

“So many of our customers know us by our first names, as we know theirs. Over the years, they may have started as customers but have now become friends,” he said – last Christmas, they received close to 100 boxes of chocolates and biscuits!


The Symply family takes pride of place at gondola end

As with most retailers, they have their own Facebook page through which they advertise promotions and run competitions or giveaways.

You need to be different
Wild bird food is top seller in the shop. “Oh, people buy three or more bags at a time, says Sue, “they come from miles around to buy from us.”


Wet dog offers something for every palate

Competition for wild bird comes in the form of Tesco and garden centres, but their ranges are all packaged and have a higher selling price. “We price our food up very competitively and we bag it all up ourselves instore. So it’s cheaper to buy and we have bigger margins,” said Roger, pointing to the weighing scales on the counter.

Dog food is a close second, they say. There are so many people selling food online now, says Roger, one has to be very selective about which brands to offer instore. There’s no point stocking anything that grocery sells, especially with Tesco around the corner, and it’s got to be a good quality, premium, nutritious food. “We also try to be individual – we have to be different, and we have to provide a good product that we have confidence in,” he said. “We try to provide a good healthy food that is not only competitive in pricing but also only available through the independent.”


Natural treats have grown in popularity

For them, the Symply family of pet food ticks all the boxes, and the shop carries the Symply, Canagan and Piccolo brands, and has done so from when Symply was first launched. “We promote Symply because they look after the independent and support the independent, and they’re nice people,” he said. “We get two to three pallets a week from them.”

Cat food also sells very well as there is a large cat-owning population in Knowle who want quality food. Raw is a growth area and drawing more interest – the shop’s two freezers with Natures Menu and Cotswold RAW get re-stocked with twice-weekly deliveries.


Toys take up almost an entire wall

“We take pride in offering good quality food,” said Roger. “But we also realise that not all dogs are suited to the same food; not all brands suit all dogs, and not all dogs are suited to raw. It all depends on the individual, which is why it’s so important that we can talk to our customers. And this is a service you never get online.

“You can’t expect people to just walk in and know what to buy. You have to explain and promote, talk to them about the benefits and ingredients used.”


Beds are on display at the very top!

The PATS trade shows and Crufts are also good opportunities to spot new products – and they are always willing to try something new. They work to two mottos – where there’s a space, there’s a place (you can’t pay bills if your shelves have gaps with no stock, says Roger) and if there’s no space, well, where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Looking back over the past 35 years, Roger says Pets World Knowle is a firm fixture in the community. “Working here, we meet people from all different walks of life, and have met so many very nice people. They have become part of our lives, and we have become part of theirs. You know, to have a business in such a warm, welcoming area, it’s just been a privilege to have a good shop in a good area with such nice, loyal customers.

“Life is a privilege. If you can be successful and can work alongside a good team, and then when you also meet people who do not just become a customer but become a friend, that’s a privilege. Here’s to the next 35 years!”