Staying afloat as an independent pet shop doesn’t get any easier over time, but Adam Chapman of Wolfit in Kent is keeping a close eye on sales and margins, and focusing on key points of difference from larger competitors .
Owner Adam Chapman (center) with store team members Richard and Vicky
Adam Chapman, owner of Wolfit The Pet Shop in Tunbridge Wells, Kent and a second store in nearby Tonbridge, describes himself as ‘the last man standing’ in the town.
As an independent store on a high street, the business faces a set of challenges familiar to many professionals, with rising costs and falling footfall. But he’s run the business for 14 years now and keeps it running professionally.
“Margins are shrinking, so you have to focus on stocking the things the big guys don’t and the things that will make you money,” he says. “We used to have RRPs, now we have SSPs from many big manufacturers, and you know you can’t sell it at that price and stay in business for very long.”
He continues, “I think the freelance business as a whole should focus on margin rather than sticking to RRP all the time. I need to hit a margin of around 30% to run the store, so I select and price items based on that rather than manufacturers’ RRPs or SSPs.
“After all, you don’t have to stock any particular product, but there are certain things customers expect to see in a pet store, so it’s a balance.”
Adam says the store’s regular customers don’t mind paying a little more for the experience of visiting the store in person. “After Covid I think a lot of shoppers realized the high street was in danger of dying and they don’t want that to happen. They love to shop, they love the interaction and they appreciate the advice we give. »
While you can find a few big name brands on the shelf at Wolfit, the eye is drawn to products that have a point of difference, like the store’s own range of brands.
Comprising around 20 lines spanning dog food, dog treats and wild bird food, the products are a mix of generic lines with an applied Wolfit label and some created specifically for the store with a bespoke recipe.
While own brand products are good sources of income, raw foods are also proving very lucrative for Wolfit.
“Right now is huge,” says Adam. “It’s good for small stores because only homes with a large amount of freezer space could get drop-shipments, so shoppers need to come to the store and don’t mind paying a little more per piece.
“Three years ago we only had one freezer, now we have seven! We have added three more cabinets over the past year, and a few more have been installed in the basement.
“We now make more money on raw food than on dry food. A year ago, this would not have been the case.
While raw foods are a continued hit, bulk items sold from a dedicated display stand are also popular.
“A lot of people just want to buy an item, and you usually can’t do that on the internet,” says Adam.
“Selling things you can’t find online is a big part of what we do.”
To achieve this, Adam does a lot of shopping, using several different wholesalers and also buying directly from smaller manufacturers in order to source the right products with the right margins. Adam also spends a lot of time sifting through sales data to make sure products are paying to keep them in store.
“You have to calculate how much money per square foot you have to make, and if a product doesn’t make that, you have to replace it with something else.
“I’m a big fan of epos, and I watch the data on a weekly basis.
“I think the only way for commerce to survive is to use epos. Suppliers are constantly adjusting their prices and you have to stay in control – if the cost price of a product goes from £1 to £1.25 , your margin is gone, and it’s much easier to spot these changes using the system than going through all the invoices line by line.
Adam’s tech adoption includes a smart website for both stores, which has been online for four years and includes an online retail service. But it’s also selective here, listing only a limited range of products for which it can be priced competitively.
“The pet business is very traditional, but we need to make sure we move with the times without losing the friendly vibe,” says Adam.
This friendliness is embodied by Vicky, store manager, and Richard, a member of the team, who are always available to advise customers.
“Vicky has a natural interest in raw food, she feeds it to her dogs and does a lot of research, she is a real expert in raw food and she is passionate about it.
We sell more raw food in Tunbridge Wells than our other store in Tonbridge, and I think having a real expert elevates sales above what they would otherwise be,” says Adam.
The most common questions asked by customers in-store these days relate to natural ingredients and food additives. “Natural and eco is the right way forward,” says Adam, and the store is well positioned to capitalize on this trend with its natural vibe and wooden shelving, including a central merchandising stand. built from old pallets.
“We always follow trends and look for the right product that the big boys can’t do as well as us,” he adds.