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Shop Talk: Tails & Whiskers
2nd September 2014

By Sandra Pearce


Two peas in a pod? Not at all!

Nestled in the heart of Rutland is Tails & Whiskers, which has recently celebrated its first birthday. We visit to see how things are going…


For 14 years, Tony and Sandra Sharpe have run Pets Korner in the historic Lincolnshire market town of Stamford. Both were in retailing, but the nudge to set up their own store came when Tony was made redundant from his manager’s post in a Somerfield supermarket. Sandra explained: “Tony had always wanted his own business, but it was about finding the right place at the right time.”



A decade or so later and the couple began thinking about a second store, and just over a year ago, their dream became a reality when they opened Tails ‘n’ Whiskers, about ten miles away in Oakham.

A stone’s throw from Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Oakham is the county town of Rutland with a thriving independent high street. In many ways, it’s very similar to Stamford, observes Sandra. Indeed, a number of their Stamford customers used to come from Rutland, and it was these customers who planted the idea of opening a second store there.



There is another pet shop in Oakham, said Sandra, but it sells a different range of products as well as equestrian, which they don’t. “It’s not the same type of shop at all,” she explained, “so we knew we would not be stepping on each other’s toes. There was room for another store, so when the opportunity came up, we took it.”

Having just celebrated its first birthday, Tails ‘n’ Whiskers occupies a former clothing shop which had fashionable pendant lighting. This was replaced with much brighter strip lighting, so passers-by can easily see the interior of the shop through the large front windows. Shop manager Paul Croft said: “We have illuminated the shop strongly, and it’s very easy to spot from the road. This is a beacon.”



Hertford Shelving was called in to help with the shop refit, which took two weeks, including stocking the shelves. Prior to the shop fit, Tony, Sandra and Paul took to the streets of Oakham handing out leaflets announcing that a new pet shop would open soon. Pet food manufacturer Green Dog also supported them and when it was promoting its holistic pet food at an event at Stamford’s Burghley House, gave out money-off vouchers with each purchase, with both the Stamford and Oakham pet shop addresses.

But why is it Pets Korner in Stamford but Tails ‘n’ Whiskers in Oakham? “Ah, we didn’t want to cause confusion with Pets Corner with a ‘C’,” explained Sandra. “And now we have customers coming to both stores depending on where they are for the day!”

A few surprises
Paul, who is the face of the Oakham store, also comes from a retail background, having worked with DIY chain Homebase for 11 years. He was looking for a change when a conversation with his partner’s uncle (Tony) led him down the path of pet shop retailing.
The excitement of opening and managing a new shop was enough to make him hand in his notice, and he’s delighted with the choice he’s made.



“I needed a change. Our customers here are so nice. You get to build relationships with people, and they come for advice and when they have problems.”

It is generally speaking a loyal customer base, many of whom travel in from surrounding towns and the Rutland area. “Many of our customers like to shop in supermarkets, but they still shop with us because of the service and advice we give.  It’s all very personal. I take a little more time, chatting to customers and getting to know them. And they’ve got to know me as well. It’s a lovely atmosphere.

“Our customers are very loyal,” he adds. “And we shop locally as well – we all support one another.”
The three meet regularly to touch base; a good opportunity to talk about what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s new.

Interestingly enough, although the customer and town profiles are both so similar, some brands do well in one shop but not the other. “Initially we went with the same products in both,” recalls Sandra, but they quickly had to adapt when it became apparent that some products were not selling at the Oakham store. Today, a clear picture has emerged – though they are at a loss to explain why.



Symply and Canagan, for instance, sell very well in Oakham, but Royal Canin is stronger in Stamford. And wet food on the whole does better in Stamford, whereas dry food seems to be the product of choice in Oakham.

The Oakham store stretches back through three rooms, with a natural flow from dog to cat and finally small animals – no animals are sold. Products with a natural message sell well, and apart from Symply and Canagan, strong sellers in dog food include Green Dog, Nature Diet, Arden Grange and Burns, the latter two which benefit from strong brand recognition among customers who have asked for them.  “They are all just such high quality,” said Paul. It also helps that Green Dog has given a lot of support promoting both stores as stockists, and has hosted nutrition sessions instore.



For Tony and Sandra, supporting British companies is a high priority. Explains Paul: “From our point of view, it is money going back into the UK. Someone within the UK who put an idea into a product… we support them and they support us.”

Sourcing niche products with a natural message is also a priority, and inspiration comes from attending PATS in Sandown Park and Harrogate, talking to reps and trade magazines. “We will trial a new product for a while and see how it goes.



Dog food and treats is without doubt the top seller, and so it is no surprise that in light of the natural ethos, they are looking into the possibility of stocking raw frozen food – freezer location is the big question at the moment!

The next big seller are dog toys, and the range is arranged neatly along one wall, in clear view of those big shop windows so everyone can see them from outside. There is also a strong range of core pet products such as the Kong range of training toys, now considered a mainstay within the industry.

“We have a nice selection of soft toys,” says Paul. “The toys we stock have got to be unusual and unique.” This then tempts owners to buy a new launch as a treat – and as new designs come in, to make repeat purchases. “They like the look of them, and so they buy them.”



Toys, he says, are a better earner for the shop as the margins on food are not as good.

Dog grooming and health also take prime position, and again the natural ethos runs strong with products including those from Dorwest Herbs, Herbal & Health as well as Feelwell’s. At the moment Paul is not SQP (Suitably Qualified Person) qualified so cannot sell worming and flea treatments such as Drontal or Frontline, but products like FleaSafe from Herbal & Health work very well, he says. “At some point I will go the SQP route, but not right now. At the moment, there is no need.”
Especially as a number of other outlets, including veterinary surgeries, sell the products in the area.



Other healthcare products that also sell well include pheromone products Adaptil and Feliway, topical application Hypocare, and skin supplement Yumega.

Window displays also work well in this market town, so Paul ensures this is changed regularly. For example, he recently had a cat display and put on show a tall Ancol cat scratcher. “I’ve never sold so many,” he recalls. “Being more visible meant people were asking for it. I always try and made seasonal items more apparent, so with summer, I put up the agility products behind the counter. When it gets cooler, the focus is more on beds, bedding and padded coats. It’s all about making people aware of what’s out there.”