A big increase in pet ownership has helped Pets at Home deliver record annual sales, despite challenges created by the covid-19 pandemic.
The UK’s pet population grew by an estimated 8% in the 12 months following the first lockdown, as more people made the emotional and financial investment to become pet owners.
This all helped to raise retail revenue by 8.7% to £1,018.9m – the first time in the group’s 30-year history that retail revenue has surpassed £1 billion – while group revenue grew 7.9% to £1,142.8m.
Pets at Home announced its preliminary financial results for the year ending March 25, and reported that group underlying profit before tax was 6.4% lower year-on-year at £87.5m after approximately £30m in covid-related revenue restrictions and costs. Statutory profit grew year-on-year to £116.4m, including approximately £30m from the sale of the Group’s five specialist referral hospitals.
The rise in new pet ownership is illustrated by a 61% year-on-year increase in new members joining the Pets at Home Puppy and Kitten clubs.
Sales of puppy products grew 26% year-on-year with customers snapping-up comforting blankets and soft plush beds – some complete with heat packs to make them extra cosy. Toys also performed strongly throughout the year, particularly products designed to help train new pets. Kitten product sales increased by 37%, whilst there was also an uplift in sales of fish tanks and ornaments.
Meanwhile, across the group’s veterinary operations, practices signed up an average of 9,000 new customers a week, comprising around nine per cent of all vet visits in the year.
Alongside the rising pet population, demand for high-quality, premium products remained strong and there was a continuation of the humanisation trend that has been building in recent years. Sales of Pets at Home’s own-label AVA Advanced Nutrition pet food, for example, rose by a quarter, and sales of pet fashion including high-quality functional outerwear to protect dogs against all weather conditions, rose by almost 24%. Meanwhile, last year’s unusually warm summer months led to a 30% uplift in sales of products designed to help keep pets cool. Bestsellers included cooling mats and paddling pools.
Throughout the year, Pets at Home invested in key areas to support growth and to enable customers to shop safely and more conveniently. It launched innovative new services such as ‘Deliver to Car’ across 150 stores and introduced a one-hour Click and Collect service nationwide, as well as making all 452 stores and vet practices covid-safe for customers and satff.
The decision was taken across group-owned businesses not to use any of the government’s covid-related financial packages and to voluntarily repay £28.9m of business rates relief. The group also increased its annual support of nominated charities through The Pets at Home Foundation.
Staff were recognised for their efforts throughout the year with a record £15.8m bonus, which includes a one-off ‘Thank You’ bonus for frontline colleagues. All Pets at Home colleagues also receive free share entitlements that mature after three years.
For the year ahead, the business plans to invest £70m across three key areas: the continuation of its store transformation programme that is focused on repurposing the existing store estate into next generation pet care centres; investment in growing its digital and data expertise across the business as it accelerates its digital pet care experience; and a major new national distribution centre.
Pets at Home chief executive Peter Pritchard said: “This has been the most extraordinary period in my 35 years in retail.
“The pandemic has brought about permanent changes to the way we work and spend our leisure time, removing historical barriers to pet ownership and strengthening the emotional bond between people and their pets.
“I am pleased to say that thanks to our unique pet care ecosystem and the tireless efforts of our colleagues we have taken a greater share of this growing market and are emerging from the pandemic a stronger business.
“Looking ahead, through the investments we are making and the enlarged pet population, we see a further £600m customer revenue opportunity over the medium term.
“We believe that we are better with pets and will continue on our journey to become the best pet care business in the world.”