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Shop Talk: Trusty Pet Supplies
8th May 2018

By Sandra Pearce


Trusty Pet Supplies has three generations of the same family at its helm and has built up a loyal customer base, both for its bricks-and-mortar store and its ecommerce site


Hannah and Sarah run the shop

You could  say retailing is in the genes – three generations run the family business, and before that, Hannah Edmondson’s great-grandfather Maurice had a greengrocer’s stall in the Derby market. In fact, says aunt Sarah Carlin, the family had a presence in the market selling fruit and vegetables for about 100 years.

But the market landscape changed and when the patriarch decided it was time to retire, the rest of the family looked around for a different opportunity and that’s when they decided to take on a Trophy Pet Foods home-delivery franchise. Sarah recalls: “We started from absolute scratch. I had a little girl at that time, and it was all about door-to-door knocking and coldcalling. To start with, it was very difficult; we did not know anyone but we built it up.”

Over the years, this became a profitable business and then the decision was taken to open a bricks-and-mortar store.


Shop is packed with products, and wild bird food at the counter helps impulse purchases

A 1,200sq ft pet store in the suburb of Mickleover, in Derby, was up for sale, and so in 2006 they decided to take the plunge, bought it and re-named it Trusty Pet Supplies.

“We totally transformed the store,” said Sarah. “It was very dated and did not have a lot of stock. We re-did the inside and put in loads of LED lights to brighten up the place. It looks very, very different today.”
Hannah at the time was still in secondary school and then went on to university. She said: “After uni, my mum said, you’re getting a job, you’re not coming here.”

So Hannah applied for a job as a regional business manager with Royal Canin, got it and then spent the next few months visiting other retail stores. But her heart was not in it and she ended up exactly where she wanted to be, with the family business. “This is what I knew I wanted to do,” she said.


They have the full range of Royal Canin, but stock most of it in the warehouse

And so three generations work for the business. Nan does a lot of the bed orders and admin work, granddad does local deliveries, Hannah and Sarah run the store while Hannah’s mum, Nicola Hallas, and brother Matt run the ecommerce side.

Hannah’s 12-year-old sister pops into the store, and whenever she does, customers make a beeline for her. “She’s the star here, and when she’s here, everyone wants to talk to her. Her customer service is fabulous and her mental maths is spot on,” said Hannah.


Hannah suspects they have one of the largest bed displays around

“Both nan and granddad are 73 and talking about retiring. Well, they’ve been in retail for 50 years, and my granddad was eight when he started work.”

Business is constantly growing, said Sarah. People come from miles, and they have some customers from their franchise days. They are fortunate that the shop is located on a main road with ample parking, along a route to a Rolls-Royce branch, Toyota dealership and a big hospital. It’s an affluent area and there are a number of schools nearby as well as a Tesco. “We have people popping in on their way to work or home, so it’s the perfect location and we are always busy,” she said.

Making a name
Drawing inspiration from their Trophy days, the family decided from the very start to launch their own-brand of dog food, a hypoallergenic, gluten-free premium food. They offer 12 lines, nine of which are super premium, and sell 110 tonnes every year.


Cat offering is all premium and super premium

It helps that they have good relationships with local breeders who use the own-brand food. And with their ecommerce site, no matter where in the country the pups end up, they can ship the food to the owner. “We send our food as far away as Scotland,” said Hannah.

So profitable is this that they have grown the range and have recently added six varieties of grain-free, 50% meat, own-brand food; two lines of 80/20 high-meat foods; and a senior/light product.


Wet food makes an eye-catching display of colours

“The grain-free market seems to be up and coming,” she said. “Two years ago, it was not really a massive thing. The last six to 12 months has made a big difference and more and more people are asking for grain-free now. People are moving away from wheat, and our new labels state very clearly what’s in them.”

Dog food is a top seller at Trusty Pet Supplies, and other strong selling brands include Burns, Forthglade and Royal Canin. They also have good links with local vets who send their clients over. Sarah said: “It’s funny, but when we go to the vet with one of our animals, you can be in the waiting room and all your customers are there as well!”


Something to keep the dogs happy

Though Lily’s Kitchen sells reasonably well, they have stopped promoting it since it moved into Tesco. And for some unknown reason, James Wellbeloved does not sell. “We’re in the process of delisting it,” Hannah said. “I have lots that are out of date, and product becomes very expensive when it does not sell.”

And when they listed Canagan late last year, they were pleasantly surprised at how quickly it started selling. “Canagan is now superceding Royal Canin, and we are selling more of it online,” she noted.
Wild bird seed moves at a rate of a tonne a week, and though raw is ‘not massive’, they do have two freezers. “We don’t really push it because we focus on super-premium, grain-free dry food,” she said.
The store is also well-known for its large display of dog beds. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had one of the largest selections around,” said Hannah.


Treats and chews aisle has balance of weigh up and packaged products

In fact, sales were doing so well from early on that her nan and granddad built a conservatory at their home just to house their overstock of beds. “Especially at Christmas, we see massive sales,” she said. “Since yesterday, I’ve brought over about 40 beds from the conservatory to the shop.”

What’s new?
Keeping an eye on new products is important. Sarah said: “We go to all the shows we can, because we know we can get the deals, especially now that we have a warehouse so can buy in bulk.”
Their warehouse is 5,000sq ft – when they acquired it, their first Royal Canin delivery comprised 50 pallets and took up a whole arctic truck!

Hannah said: “I like to see what’s new, and I have to try and keep on top of everything. If a product is very similar to what we have, we do not take it on. It is very important to keep up with what comes in new. We are always looking at what sells and what does not, and what else is out there. Though with new products, it’s always a challenge to find new space.”


Treats category is growing strongly

They’ve also noticed a strong shift to natural treats, and brands like Dentastix just don’t sell any more.
“We do a lot of natural treats, sausages, tripe, pork bones, they all sell well. Everything that is natural, with no wheat, gluten or rice seems to go,” said Hannah.

Multichannel offering
When Hannah was at uni, she kept telling her mum and aunt that the shop needed an ecommerce site. “We only started this side of things in 2016, and we thought we had missed the boat somewhat. We’re now in our second year, and sales are doing really well,” said Sarah.


Natural meat treats are in demand

The site is run by Matt, and he and mum are in charge of packing orders; internet sales tend to be big bags of food and Lintbells’ supplements. Monday is the busiest day as they have weekend orders to deal with – their record number of packages in a day stands at 754.

They also sell a very limited range on eBay and Amazon, and have a decent conversion rate from those two marketplaces. “We always direct them to our website,” said Hannah. “With every order, we send out a flyer with our address and say you can get your food cheaper from us. And they can.”


Own-brand takes pride of place in the window, opposite the counter

With Amazon charging 18% commission and eBay charging 10% on top of PayPal charges, there is very little margin on those sales compared to selling direct from their own website. “On Amazon sales, they make more than we do,” she said.

The price war on the Internet is fierce, they say. “Sometimes we have to put our hands up and say we cannot compete,” she said. “YuMove is now cheaper to buy from Amazon. I was almost tempted this morning to buy from Amazon instead of my wholesaler. As it is, our price is £18 more than what Amazon sells it for.”


They sell a tonne of wild bird seed every week

Despite the cut-throat nature of internet sales, Sarah says they do have a group of loyal online customers. “You wouldn’t think it, but we do get a lot of people who place regular orders. We think there is no loyalty on the internet, but you can build it up. It’s all down to customer service, and we offer next-day delivery. Good customer service is key to everything; that’s what we try and do.”

That is most evident in the shop’s front door – it is hardly ever shut and it was only the recent heavy snow and cold that they were forced to keep it shut – the shop has no heating, so there are no concerns about heat escaping through the door. An open door is symbolic, they said. “It shows we welcome everyone,” said Sarah. “We do get comments like, aren’t you cold? But we have a little portable heater behind the counter.”


Hand-written signs lend character to the shop

Life is good, they said. “I could not imagine doing anything else,” said Hannah. “I could not do something I was not passionate about, and I have always known this is what I want to do.”