Shop Talk Quadrant Pet Supplies

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Shop Talk: Quadrant Pet Supplies
6th June 2016

By Sandra Pearce

Quadrant Pet Supplies has an enviable location in a bustling shopping precinct in St Albans offering ample free parking, yet owner Joanne Young is not one to fall into the trap of complacency…



Joanne Young has always loved animals and has a long history volunteering with her local RSPCA branch – she also overwinters hedgehogs for a hedgehog rescue. Then when her local pet shop came up for sale in 2008 because the owners, Tony and Joan Dean (who opened Quadrant Pet Supplies in the Nineties), wanted to retire, it seemed the ideal opportunity to combine a business with her love for animals.

 “I used to buy my dog food from them, but it was usually a case of nip in and out,” said Joanne. So when Joan said they wanted to sell the business, Joanne paid another visit and had a long, hard look at the shop. “I just thought, there was so much potential here. There was so much one could do,” she said.


Three freezers are located neatly under the shop counter

Quadrant Pet Supplies is located in a bustling parade of shops in St Albans, Hertfordshire, smack bang in the middle of a large residential area, heavily sought after thanks to good local schools. Unusually for St Albans, there is a large car park offering free parking. The parade hosts a nice mix of independent and chain shops, including a florist, greetings card shop, bed store, sporting goods store, nutritionist, pharmacy, jeweller, bakery, local supermarket shops and a newsagent. It’s a hive of activity. “I have to admit the location sold it for me,” said Joanne.


Joanne is involved with a number of animal charities

When she took over, the pet shop was showing its age and more than anything else needed organisation and structure – there were boxes and all manner of products piled high everywhere. “I was thrown in at the deep end,” she recalls. “I knew a lot about animals, but nothing about retail. I had to learn very quickly.” Luckily, Joan agreed to stay on for a few months to help Joanne find her feet. But it proved to be such a comfortable working relationship that it was eight years later before Joan finally officially retired. Joanne said: “We had a lovely working relationship; we were very, very close. She was like my mum.”

INDEPENDENT, IMPARTIAL ADVICE
Joanne carries a varied range of pet food in her store, and says it is important to spend time with customers and their dogs – she has two full-time staff and an extra pair of hands on Saturday. “We are very impartial. When we talk to customers, we ask about their situation and will never say this dog food is better than that,” she said.

Different foods are popular at different times, she notes, and because of their strict impartiality, she will not go the own-brand route. “How can I sell my own brand? That would mean we are not impartial.”


Shop has a strong range of pet food, keeping its impartial stance

Selling to the public can be very hard, she says. “You can spend ages talking to them about a food brand, then they buy what they have always done or what’s on their mind. Very often, they will choose what they are familiar with. However, we do have a mix of food that we sell, and I try and tailor each dog’s needs to what their owners tell me. If people want help with their pet’s food, I am here to give it.”


Wild bird display outside attracts impulse purchases

It means you have to be hands on and interacting with customers all the time. “We are not just sitting in an office with no interface with customers. We have to evolve all the time… we cannot stand still. With some small businesses, it can be an issue when businesses do not evolve.”

It’s about responding to market trends and shopping behaviour. For example, Quadrant Pet Supplies introduced a free delivery service with orders over £20, because so many other businesses are offering it.


Pet healthcare always sells well

A growing number of her customers are also asking for natural products, and she is accordingly increasing the natural lines she carries – her attention at the moment is focused on her treats, which is undergoing a bit of a revamp to cut out some lines and introduce more natural brands. She is happy to experiment – last year she made her own natural frozen yogurt for dogs and dog biscuits. Both sold really well, as did her hand-made iced dog bones with a ‘Happy Birthday’ message. “They were very popular,” she said, and added that she is considering doing this again.

Just under two years ago, Joanne introduced raw into her store. That’s become so popular she has four freezers on the shopfloor and three more out back. “People like it,” she said.

It’s about responding to what people are asking for, she explained. This demand is one key strategy when it comes to stocking new products, she revealed. When several customers ask for a new product, she will research the product and if she is convinced of its sales potential, will look to trial it. Then its sales are monitored. “We do get it wrong sometimes,” she concedes. Which is why it’s important to keep on top of how things are selling. “If it does not sell, get rid of it,” she said.


Many St Albans families have small furries

“I just don’t have space, and if I introduce something new, I will have to get rid of something that is already selling,” she said. “For this reason I find it very difficult when I get reps coming in and saying ‘You must buy this’. If I want something I will research it and find out about it. I very rarely take anything new from a rep.”

Her pet shop has started an online ecommerce site, and has moved its wild bird offering outside the shop. There’s a tactic to this: “With it being outside, people will pass by and think ‘Oooh, it’s cold, I will just pick something up.”

In terms of competition, there is the usual mix of Pets at Home and other independents, and the internet continues to grow. Joanne said: “We are really, really lucky with our location. If it was not for this, I probably would not have taken on the shop. We also can offer our customers knowledge, good customer service and that face-to-face interaction. You cannot ever get any of this off the internet – it’s a faceless purchase. There will always be people who want a different shop experience, who want to bring their dog in and talk.”


Joanne is rethinking her treats offering

She encourages her customers to bring their pets in – and customers have obliged, bringing in their dogs, cats and even a rabbit.  “Often it’s the dogs bringing their owners here as they all get treats and cuddles. I know most dogs’ names… not the owners!”

She does not believe in advertising and prefers to use social media sites such as Facebook to keep people up to date with what’s going on and products on offer. She said: “People do not read newspapers the way they used to. You can offer money-off coupons, but people do not come in with the coupons. I need to ascertain that advertising works, and have seen no proof that it does.”


Shop has clean, uncluttered lines

Following the success of a recent school talk in partnership with her local RSPCA branch, she is looking to run these a bit more often. “I would like to go into more schools to talk about animal care,” she said. “I think there is a need for it.”

Each and every day is different, and brings with it its new challenges. “It’s evolving all the time, shopping trends are changing, and we have to be on the ball and know what’s going on,” she said. “We have to keep on top, and we are constantly trying to make our shop different and do it better than others.”