A Newsletter for Indepet Shareholders, Staff, Wholesalers & Suppliers.
"Quality Pet Products, Huge Range at Low Prices"


While many an independent retailer has streamlined operations to become a franchise, not too many franchisees have made the reverse transition to become stand-alone independents.


However, the exception that may prove the rule is Pet Essentials, a chain of pet care retailers scattered across the North Island of New Zealand.


Originally known as Four Paws Pantry, all North Island franchisees elected to opt out of the group about 10 years ago, believing it had lost its commercial focus and direction.


One of those former franchisees is Pet Essentials New Plymouth, owned and operated by David and Alison Olsen in The Richmond Centre in Egmont Street.


Since their decision to become true- blue independents, the retailer has hadt o up-size its premises twice to cope with the strong sales growth; from the original 150 square metre store to the 550 square metre retail complex that it is today.


According to Alison, sales have continued to grow strongly even through the recent recession, perhaps due to more families spending more time at home with their children and pets.


“Our business tends to go through waves of strong growth followed by periods of consolidation,” said Alison who keeps detailed sales records despite the retailer’s cash and carry nature.


“If you look at our year-on-year records, we tend to enjoy a sales spike every year in the lead up to Christmas.


“This surge typically drops off early the following year but has never reverted to its previous level.


“So we seem to attract a lot of new customers during the Christmas peak, many of whom we have been able to retain and, thankfully, convert into repeat customers.”


A&P commitment

This growth pattern is partly to be expected, given the proprietors clear commitment to a program of advertising and promotions; they spend about $40,000 annually, mostly on supplier-funded radio and in-store promotions.


According to David, local newspaper advertising invariably produces the best sales results.


“We’ve been running product adverts on the prime page three spot in our local newspaper for many years. I think this kind of commitment is needed for advertising to really deliver its full potential.


“Our campaigns tend to be supplier- funded and because our newspaper is circulated free in our target market, it’s widely read by our customers.


“To build on these, we are now setting up a loyalty program which will help us strengthen our customer communication and pave the way for online promotional opportunities,” he said.


Further, in what can only be described as a ‘left-field’ initiative, David and Alison recently sponsored a radio competition that featured a ‘Doggy Style Wedding’ complete with diamonds, a wedding reception and even a honey moon in a pet-friendly hotel.


“While this campaign may sound too crazy to be true, we recognise that many people are so passionate about their pets, that events like this are the ultimate expression of that passion,” said David.


“As pet care professionals, we can’t afford to miss the opportunity to engage with customers at these sorts of sponsorships.”


Reaching families

Coming back to earth, Alison makes the interesting observation that after each store expansion, more families with children have subsequently frequented the larger premises.


“When we started out, there was no room for pets so we never had kids coming into our store. You need plenty of room to properly handle and sell pets,” she said.


“Now it’s common for families to visit us and stay here for a good half hour or more, while their kids look at all of our pets and learn more about them from our knowledgeable staff.


“That’s one of the great values of having large, well-lit premises with a wide range of live pets; rabbits, birds, kittens, dogs, guinea pigs and curious little reptiles like the bearded dragon.”


“Following our last expansion four years ago, sales growth far exceeded what we were expecting.


“Fortunately, our oldest daughter Dayna, aged 11 at the time, stepped up and helped us through that busiest Christmas period ever.


“She had to learn a lot very quickly and continues to help us out to this day, along with her younger sisters Kelsi and Demi. So this business really is a genuine family concern.”


The people factor

Alison also attributes the success of Pet Essentials New Plymouth to the quality of their seven staff, five of whom work fulltime.


“Our preference is to employ friendly, affable people who are willing to undertake training to improve their sales and service skills.


“Most staff members have now done pet care industry accreditation courses which gives them a certificate in Companion Animal Services. It costs $680 per head, which we pay for. In our experience, that’s money well spent.


“Staff choose between small animal, cat, dog, fish, advanced fish and the likes. Our assistant manager Anna is up to her fourth course.”


Group benefits of Indepet

Pet Essentials New Plymouth is among the first of New Zealand’s professional pet care retailers to join the Indepet buying and marketing group, now a trans-Tasman retail network.


According to Alison, Indepet has given the business and others like it a vehicle to tap the collective buying and marketing power of the wider group.


“We felt we needed to be part of a larger buying group, particularly as we are seeing the chain stores getting more powerful.


“Like the other proprietors of Pet Essentials here, we’ve always enjoyed great social engagement over the years.


“With Indepet, we can now lift that engagement to a new level, where we support each other in a commercial sense as well.


“We value having a professional like Blair putting together the quarterly promotional material and product agreements.


“We also feel we may be able to teach the Aussies a thing or two, starting with Rugby perhaps!”


Whether Indepet can ever achieve that kind of change, only time will tell!

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