Adam Taylor, CEO, PetShop.co.uk, explains that as a 12-year-old, there was very little joy in dragging around pet food that weighed almost as much as he did.
But when you grow up with rabbits, hamsters, two dogs and seven cats, it’s a necessary evil.
Had I known at the time that it would later spark the idea for PetShop.co.uk, the subscription-as-a-service pet food supplier I co-founded, it might have seemed like less of a chore.
With PetShop.co.uk’s 10th birthday this year, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned about trying to build, grow and run a successful small business in the last decade.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Ideas may come in usual ways
When the 2008 recession cost me my job at Lehman Brothers, it didn’t immediately feel like there was an opportunity around the corner for me and my girlfriend, now wife, Lexi.
With the financial crisis still fresh in our minds, we were looking for business opportunities that were recession-proof. It was when, back living at my family home with all of our dogs and cats, I realised there was opportunity. My mum would never remember to stock up on food for them, and I’d keep running to the shops for new supplies for the pets. My mother’s arthritis made it harder for her to pick up large quantities, and I began to wonder whether there was an easier way.
And that’s when I started researching. Despite a pet industry boom, innovation was absent. No way to efficiently acquire pet food, and meanwhile subscription services like Spotify were becoming more prominent.
That’s when we realised there was an opportunity. Perhaps we didn’t fully appreciate it back then, but pet food is amazing for the subscription model, because pets generally eat the same food for most of their life.
That’s when PetShop.co.uk was born.
Growth is tough, but teaches you a lot
It has been an incredible journey and we really did start from nothing. Building from scratch is tough, but really focusses the mind on what matters. Self-funding our idea has forced great business foundations and is now a key strength of ours, and I would recommend to anyone looking to establish a business to self-finance and help stay focused and agile.
We were living in London when the idea first formed, and I was literally going to homes directly on my old Vespa scooter to deliver our orders. But it was an unsustainable way to do business, and we knew we needed infrastructure.
External support is critical to get your idea off the ground and then in the latter stage to successfully manage growth. We have benefited greatly from mentorship, financial support from entrepreneur programmes such as the Prince’s Trust and support from our suppliers either with payment terms or tiered discounts to enable us to afford products as we grow.
Technology is critical – buy it, don’t build it
Our whole mindset has always been about using technology to offer the most convenient options to our customers.
We’re competing against the likes of Pets At Home and Zooplus, the big publicly-listed German company. For a company like us, in a David versus Goliath situation, we need to outmanoeuvre them using creative marketing and investing in our software capabilities to deliver innovative customer experiences.
We really spent a lot of time looking closely at what software was available, what could be achieved and how we could retain customers to be profitable with a subscription model. While there’s a lot of technology out there, it’s easy to create a patchwork of software that doesn’t connect. Early in our journey, we had ecommerce software that couldn’t integrate with our data analysis, for example.
The turning point in our journey was selecting NetSuite, the cloud-based business management software, which has given us one single platform to punch above our weight and stay true to our promise of saving customers’ time when buying pet food and supplies. We switched to NetSuite when we were making £2m revenue, and are now on track for £12m.
It has enabled us to increase efficiencies and control across our finance and supply chain processes, while automating a lot of the tasks that would otherwise be very labour intensive. Being able to generate a singular view of all key parts of the business cannot be underestimated.
What I really like though is that NetSuite frees up enough of my time so that I can still personally write all of our customer communications. Being able to focus on delivering such a personal service is important to us.
Evolution & Reinvention
And it is through our use of NetSuite that we’ve been able to identify new lines of revenue. We’re in a position that we collect pet information, such as breed, size and age in order to suggest what food would be best for them. And it is through this data collection and analysis we have become a marketing partner for huge brands like Colgate Palmolive, Nestle and more.
While it’s difficult for them to automate a trial campaign, it’s easier with us. In the past you’d hand out free samples and hope customers buy it again.
But we can give out samples and collect email addresses, see the pages customers have visited, and if they come back, we can look at if they subscribed, if they left a review, and other key insights that are invaluable today. Big brands are getting a lot more ROI using our platform, and it’s a way of growing the PetShop.co.uk footprint in a way that we didn’t expect.