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Shop Talk: Shoreline Pet Supplies
14th August 2015

By Sandra Pearce



It’s been a busy couple of years for owner Rob Brown, who’s been working hard to carve a niche as a pet nutrition expert in the seaside town of Goring by Sea – and he’s also recently become a dad the second time round!

There’s competition, and then there’s competition. Shoreline Pet Supplies in Goring by Sea, near Worthing, has two large Pets at Home within four miles and four other independent pet shops within three miles. “We’ve really had to create a point of difference,” says shop owner and self-proclaimed ‘pack leader’ Rob Brown. “We’re heavy on nutrition, but we also want to try and offer something completely different to our customers.”



For instance, his shop has carved a reputation for being a raw food specialist; there are three freezers on the shop floor, and a further two out back, stocking Natural Instinct, Natures Menu and Nutriment. It all goes very quickly, he says, to the tune of about 400kg every week. “We need another freezer. We keep getting asked for raw, which has gone through the roof these past three years. It’s a fantastic product, and people who try it tend to stay with it.”

He’d like a counter-top freezer for frozen doggy iced treats – but they are all too big. Last summer he had a freezer out front for this purpose, which captured the imagination of lots of passing traffic.

Shoreline also has a varied dry food range with Lily’s Kitchen, Simpson’s Premium, Burns and Barking Heads all being strong sellers. Although a fairly new addition to the store, Simpson’s sales have grown very quickly, in part because Shoreline was given sample bags to pass onto customers. “If a dog is fussy, it works straight away,” said Rob.



It all comes down to what suits the dog and owner best, but he does his best to highlight the ingredients that go into dog food. “I do not believe in one brand for every dog; you need to see what serves each dog and its owner best. Some people just cannot spend £50-60 on a bag of dog food. For example, we have Wagg and Harringtons, so different price points. Pet owners generally want the best they can afford for their pet.”

Rob and his team of three full-timers take up whatever courses are on offer, and have completed training with the likes of Natures Menu, Dorwest Herbs and Fish4Dogs. “We are really into creating this point of difference,” he said. “Sometimes people use us like a chemist – they come to us before they go to their vet. Often it’s skin conditions like itchy skin. Often this can be sorted with diet and skin supplements.”



They also get asked about anxious dogs or even more common ailments like travel sickness – not surprising then that he has a large herbal range. “We will talk to customers for ages about the problem their cat or dog might have. Any information you can give them is good.”

At the moment, his business is about 60-70% dog, 20% cats and the remainder split between wild bird, small animals and a tiny amount of aquatics, with a heavy emphasis on wild bird. His wild bird customer is very loyal, and he collects  a tonne of wild bird food every three days and pre-packs it for sale. “We bag all our wild bird ourselves. We did try branded wild bird, but there are a lot of garden centres selling that around here. Our prepack is half the price of that sold in garden centres, and gives us a bigger margin.”



When it comes to cats, Shoreline has the added attraction of its two store cats, Tiddles and Smudge. The brother and sister were rescues, and have been living in the store since they were kittens. Now eight, they are a firm feature of the shop, and schoolchildren insist on stopping by on their way home to give them a stroke. They have their basket in the window, and can spend hours dozing as they soak up the morning sun.

Despite this advantage, sales of cat food is ‘interesting’, he says. As with many other retailers, he faces the perennial problem of a cat’s fussy palate, and observes how cat owners tend to pick and mix their single serve packets. He encourages people to try high-quality products such as Applaws, Canagan and HiLife by placing these at eye level, and putting supermarket brands on the bottom shelf.



As much as he would like to get rid of supermarket brands, he still has some customers who only want these brands – for both cats and dogs. “We generally use these brands through as a point of contact and try to move customers away from them.”

Shoreline runs as many promotions as possible, usually in line with manufacturers. One on-going promotion for instance is with Burns food, in which customers get their eighth bag of Burns food for free. And Antos sausages are always on offer, displayed in attractive wicker baskets at a gondola end by the counter.



Shoreline has an EPoS system, which he uses to organise store-specific offers as well as targeting certain customers. It also has a loyalty card scheme, with close to 1,000 members all of whom are regular customers.

But he also keeps a very sharp eye on RRP, and where possible, sells below RRP and, as far as possible, tries to price match. He’d rather have people in the shop than shopping online, he says. “It’s about giving our customers the sense that they’ve had a good deal and got value for the money.”



For example, with Nature Diet, he can sell about 30 trays a week at £13.50 each compared to the £20 or so at Pets at Home. Yes, selling at a lower margin is difficult, but the volumes they sell ‘make up for it’, he said. “I am a hard worker, and I believe in offering a good service. And we always look at the quality of a product over its margin – we never, ever try to push something just because it offers us a better margin.”

To keep the shop looking fresh, displays are changed every month, with toys on special offer at the front of the shop.



Creating a new identity
It’s a far cry from what the shop used to be. Rob and his partner Holly Ross Ferring bought the shop as a going concern in 2008; the pet shop has been there since 1994, and Rob had actually worked for a previous owner for a couple of years. The two have slowly changed the store, literally from ceiling to the floor, stripping out fixtures and adding new shelving. “We’ve carved a whole new identity,” he said. “We have done pretty much everything.”

Holly has taken a bit of a back seat recently – but having two-year-old Hudson and their second son, Quinn, born on Sunday, June 7, is an excellent reason! Rob says: “Quinn has been very good, he even lets me get some decent sleep at night! It’s nice to have the two boys. Hopefully during their teenage years they may want to help out in the shop(s)! If not, it’s no big deal, you never know they may want to take over from me one day?!”



He offers a free delivery service on orders above £10 within a 20-mile radius, which takes him out of the shop Mondays to Fridays for a couple of hours. “For now we can afford to do it, so will continue to do so. Besides, I enjoy it.”

Shoreline also helps out a number of local charities and their foster carers. For example, once a month Rob delivers all the cat litter for their local Cats Protection branch.



Interestingly enough, there is a small selection of plants outside the store. “We’ve always done plants. There is this local guy who provides us plants from his nursery, including herbs and vegetables. Their quality is excellent, and customers keep coming for them.”

With only 578 square feet, space is at a premium (he does not sell livestock), yet Rob has managed to stock over 20,000 items, crammed floor to ceiling. “We have about £40,000 worth of stock, but our rotation is really good. We have a high turnover, and get stuff in pretty much every day.”

It’s a tight fit, and to get a new product in usually means moving something else out, but that does not deter Rob, who sees new products as vital to keep interest going among his customers. He and staff always go to PATS Sandown – on separate days so the shop remains open – and also goes to Crufts to walk around the trade stands. “PATS is important as it gives us a chance to chat to everybody; we have a good relationship with many small suppliers and can get good deals.”



Shoreline is relying more and more on social media as a marketing tool, and posts daily updates on sites like Facebook. “Customers love to know what our pets are up to,” he said. And any competition which involves customers sending in images of their pets also goes down very well. He is not at all interested in selling online, but funnily enough has had enquiries from Spain and even shipped Canagan to Dubai – all courtesy of Facebook. “People get in touch out of the blue.”

Shoreline is in a thriving high street location, with post office, florist, butcher’s and chemist as neighbours. A Sainsbury’s is soon to open around the corner, and he thinks this can only help improve footfall.



This Christmas just gone was the best ever, and sales are on an upward direction. He’d really like to open a second store, or if that fails, find a larger premises somewhere else. “I’m thinking of a rebrand; I want to emphasis the healthy route we are taking. I don’t want people to think we are a typical pet shop from the past, you know, those that are dark, dirty and dusty. We want to emphasise that for healthy pets you need healthy food, and you would come to us first for that.

“It’s taken us a long time to get to this point… it took us years to get settled. Our biggest challenge was obviously trying to be different, but that’s why we are going down the natural route. The market is there, and it’s working.”