Team building is an important part of the ethos at retailer Hampshire Grovely Pet Supplies, where the aspiration is to support the more independent sector through networking activities and a specialist wholesale business
Liz Chislett-Milne and Dave Chislett with the store team Alton Kat, Clareece and Bella
Grovely Pet Supplies celebrates its tenth anniversary this month, but for director Liz Chislett-Milne, the connection to animals goes back much further than that.
Her grandmother looked after the Kennedy family’s pets when they visited the UK, and she can trace ancestors working with dogs back to the 16th century.
Despite these auspicious bloodlines, until 11 years ago Liz worked in the shipbuilding industry before embarking on a new path, initially working to rehome rescued Labradors.
From there, her journey naturally led her to sell dog treats and coats, first at farmers markets in the back of an old Landrover, using the home garage for storage, before deciding to level up and open a shop.
She found a site in Alton, Hampshire, and Liz’s husband, Dave Chisnell, left his naval career to help run the business, joined soon after by chief operating officer Susannah Marshall.
Brachen and Mindi
Word of mouth grew and in 2017 they were looking for a second store. The team eventually took over a new site in Brockenhurst, fitting it out themselves.
“It was very busy straight away – we were selling a lot of stock before we had the premises completely finished,” Liz recalls.
Throughout this time, Liz had studied nutrition and was concerned about the health issues of the dogs she saw in stores and at the market.
“Our family dogs grew up eating knackers and bone broth and they never had any illnesses,” she says. “I would see customers in the market with obviously sick dogs and try to offer them advice on feeding. I always thought, how can I help educate people? »
Over the decade, Grovely’s team has helped thousands of animals recover from illnesses and ailments, sometimes even diagnosing things their hometown veterinarians missed. Many customers of the Brockenhurst shop are visitors to the area, staying at one of the many dog-friendly campsites in the New Forest, and often return a year later to thank the team for the advice.
Store staff at the company’s three stores are all registered or certified nutritionists, paid above the national living wage.
“We really focus the team on nutrition,” says Liz. “We only stock premium products, with all-natural ingredients and we know that everything on our shelves is a great product.”
She continues, “We constantly monitor products on the market for recipe changes or the introduction of new investors that could change the ingredients or the company’s ethos. We always avoid bad claims and hidden villains such as gluten, sugar and salt.
“We know that health improves with better nutrition. You might pay more for the product, but you don’t need to feed as much. And you don’t pay as much for vet bills either.
The company philosophy is underscored by the brand new store in downtown Alton.
Last year, the original store owner wanted more space, so Grovely moved from an industrial unit on the edge of town to a pedestrian zone. The unit had been empty for three years, but the location was perfect for business.
“The accent is different,” says Liz. “Out of town people have to drive and it takes a big facility, whereas in the city center it’s much more about personal service and advice.
“We have good footfall from the nearby post office, and Alton is a very dog-friendly town anyway. We even deliver some orders to the pub at the top of the compound. Some of our male customers enjoy walking their dog and foraging there!
The shop has a warm, rustic feel. Dave and the team are still putting the finishing touches on it, but some of the piping and lighting tracks are deliberately left uncovered for effect.
Dogs are always welcome and there is plenty of room for them to roam around in the 2,000 square foot unit. There is also enough space for a range of products for cats and small animals.
The company operates a loyalty program using the customer’s name and the name of their dog as identification indicators. Shoppers receive 1p credit for every pound spent and everything is held on the epos system so there are no cards to hold or stamps to collect.
The company’s online business is also managed from Alton, from where it can deliver nationwide. This is particularly useful for tourists who have visited Brockenhurst, have seen their pet’s health improve and want the same food when they return home.
“What matters most to us is the highest quality of products and the advice we give,” says Liz. “We like to work with certain manufacturers, those that we can relate to, with ethics and principles, and grain-free and sugar-free recipes. When we find a top quality product, we really stand behind it.
This philosophy has been put into practice with the German brand Dr Clauders.
“We’ve been selling it for 10 years, it’s good dog meat,” says Liz.
“As a freelancer, however, sometimes you find that you’ve done a lot of legwork to build a brand and all of a sudden it’s on Amazon where it’s selling for less than you can buy it. We so we contacted Dr Clauders and told him we thought we could bring this to many independent stores, so can we work with you as a distributor?”
The answer was yes, and that decision led Liz and Dave to start their own wholesale business, Victory Pet Products – a nod to their service in the Royal Navy.
For Victory, they partnered with Graham Holford of Satellite Pet Products, using part of the company’s warehouse space in Southampton.
The operation specializes in unique natural products – “the ones you won’t find for sale on Amazon or Facebook” – both local and imported from overseas.
The warehouse is now fully stocked and Victory serves five independent stores, as well as the three Gravelys.
“The next step is to get out on the road to talk to stores and groomers,” says Liz. “We are looking for natural pet stores that are looking for unique products that will not only feed exceptionally well, but also give them a product that can only be purchased from them. What we have learned as a retailer we can incorporate into the new business and we love meeting other like-minded pet stores.
Further connections are being made with quarterly “bubble nights” where a network of local pet-related businesses such as veterinarians, groomers, walkers and trainers are invited for a relaxed get-together around ‘a glass.
“We want to thank you for your support in sending us business, and vice versa,” says Liz.
“They’re starting to bond and help each other out, and that must be a good thing.
“Right now is the best opportunity for the independent sector to come together and be reborn,” she continues. “As independents we are not a threat to each other, together we can build something better and stronger.”
Things are also looking up for Gravely, as the Winchester store, which opened in 2019, is already outgrowing its premises and the team is looking to expand further with two more stores and the possible addition of a grooming salon.
The company has also signed the Armed Forces Pact, giving veterans a 5% discount, and supports various veteran charities, including Hounds for Heroes.
“The reason we are so passionate is because we served,” says Liz. “You become a different person – you build strong teams and see the value in working that way.