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Online pet food retailer hopes to become top dog thanks to UWSP

August 18, 2021

Online pet food retailer hopes to become top dog thanks to UWSP

PetShop.co.uk is an online pet food retailer which sells a wide variety of branded products for many different pets ranging from dogs and cats to birds and other small animals, and offers a monthly pet food delivery subscription service.

The company was founded in 2010 by husband and wife Alexandra and Adam Taylor. Adam is a Warwick University graduate who used to work for former investment banking giants Lehman Brothers in London before its collapse as a result of the financial crash.

He found a gap in the market around the lack of options to order pet food online, and with the help of the University of Warwick Science Park, PetShop.co.uk grew from a simple idea into a multi-million-pound business, employing 100 people.

It offers a huge range of products, including Mars James Wellbeloved dog food, Royal Canin breed specific food, Nestle Purina Felix cat food, Beta dog food and also independent brands such as Skinners, Acana, Burns and Orijen dog and cat food.

And its customized subscription service, “Bottomless Bowl”, allows subscribers to automate frequent delivery of their pet’s favourite food choosing the type of food from its variety of dry, wet and treats categories.

The pet food business has grown in leaps and bounds throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to Pet Parents increasingly going online shopping to buy pet care products, increase in subscription dog and cat food sales as well as the boom in pet ownership.

Adam is looking to continue to grow PetShop.co.uk, and ultimately aims for it to become the biggest online pet food retailer in the UK.


How Ignite breathed life into PetShop.co.uk

When Adam lost his job at Lehman Brothers, he briefly looked at other roles in the financial sector before having a brainwave for his business while moving back in with his parents in London.

“I had always grown up with pets – but I lived with a family of six growing up so buying pet food would occasionally get forgotten about,” he said.

“I’d always have to go out and get some, and I’d have to do it again when I moved back home. I thought there must be a better way of buying pet food than having to go out and buy small quantities of it every time.

“I researched the state of the market in online pet food sales, and there was very little provision for it, despite the pet food market in general being worth around £4 billion at that time.

“I had a ‘eureka’ moment – if I could create a business where customers could buy a wide range of pet food in bulk, and easily reorder or subscribe to automated repeat dog and cat food deliveries, I felt there was a brilliant chance to disrupt that lucrative market.”

Adam wanted to get some advice before making the important first steps.

Dirk Schafer at the University of Warwick Science Park had faith in Adam’s idea and enrolled him onto the Ignite programme, which helps young companies get started and grow.

Adam benefitted from a business mentor and an incubator office at the Binley Innovation Centre, as well as advice on profit and loss, bookkeeping, logistics, and much more.

The Science Park’s vast range of contacts also meant Adam was quickly introduced to firms that could help his business grow rapidly, such as a courier aggregator which saved the business money on delivery costs when their volume of packages was low, and a packaging firm which helped it fulfil its orders quickly. They were also introduced to a fellow Ignite company specialising in e-commerce platforms helping them get their first sales. Without this initial support, kickstarting our sales would have been a lot more difficult.

He added: “Ignite was able to teach me so many useful things about running my own business and introduced me to so many useful business contacts – they were crucial in getting PetShop.co.uk off the ground in its early years.

“They took a bit of a leap of faith with my business and I’m so glad they did, because we’re now so much bigger than when we started.”


Growth and continued support from UWSP

PetShop.co.uk quickly gained a foothold in the pet food market with its vast variety of quality pet food offerings including both well-established and growing pet care brands such as Gourmet cat food, Iams, Eden, Frontline and many more, allowing its customers to browse through and choose from the extensive selection of our pet care products. Thanks to Ignite’s initial help and continued advice roughly every quarter, the business was able to grow and grow.

An early adopter of using Facebook for business purposes, PetShop.co.uk established a company page on the social media site and quickly amassed a large following, and has now become one of its biggest pet food pages.

It also relocated to a 50,000 sq ft warehouse in Stratford-upon-Avon to process and distribute its orders.

Throughout its growth, Dirk regularly stayed in touch with Adam to give him further advice. Dirk later suggested PetShop.co.uk should enrol onto UWSP’s Rural Growth Network and later their Business Ready programme for further advice and support.

This proved to be a turning point for the business in 2015. UWSPs advice on grant availability and preparation of the grant application meant PetShop.co.uk were successful with its application to buy sophisticated cloud-based software Oracle NetSuite, which massively increased the efficiency of the business and allowed it to adopt very modern ways of helping its customers.

“UWSP ended up being a game changer for us”, Adam added.

“Thanks to the grant they helped us win, we were able to purchase Oracle NetSuite cloud software, which is used by huge corporations like Deliveroo and GymShark.

“Through that software, we have made it incredibly easy for our customers to reorder their products via text or email if they haven’t subscribed to our Bottomless Bowl repeat order service, and the system automates the process so we don’t have to manually give the order to our warehouse workers.

“It meant we have been able to take on far more orders and customers than we could have before. Without UWSP’s advice on what grants were available to us, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the software, which could have significantly limited our growth.” Then later in 2016 we signed up for support from the Science Park’s Business Ready programme and with their help successfully applied for additional grants to help further improve our systems and as well as modernising our warehouse equipment.


Right place, right time

Thanks to its adoption of Oracle NetSuite, PetShop.co.uk was in a position to handle a high number of orders without putting strain on staff.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic presented difficulties, it created an incredible spike in demand for PetShop.co.uk and one of the very few online pet retailers that remained open throughout.

Two markets surged massively during the height of the pandemic – online ordering due to shops being shut, and pet-related products driven by the thousands of people welcoming pets into their lives during lockdown to help with companionship.

This meant PetShop.co.uk was faced with a huge increase in orders from new pet owners, as well as existing pet owners who turned to online retail for the first time.

But PetShop.co.uk’s already high online presence, use of Oracle Netsuite, and its geographical position in the Midlands all meant they were able to fulfil this demand.

Dirk and UWSP were still on-hand to give guidance to PetShop.co.uk throughout, such as on the best ways to keep warehouse staff safe from COVID-19, and how to cope if demand suddenly fell if the pandemic subsided quickly.

Adam added: “UWSP’s advice and support put us in the best position to make the best decisions from the unexpected surge in demand.”

“If we had been unable to cope with that demand, potential new customers may have ordered from rivals instead of us. But thanks to the platform we built with UWSP’s help, we’ve come out of the pandemic in a strong position.


The future

With its strong presence in the pet food market, PetShop.co.uk is hoping to grow the business even further over the next few years, and will be continuing its relationship with UWSP.

It is aiming to boost productivity in its warehouse after hiring a highly-experienced ex Amazon warehouse manager and also Warwick University Alumni, and is looking at tweaking its Oracle NetSuite software to disrupt and revolutionise the pet industry further to provide even better solutions to help Pet Parents and increase efficiency.

Adam said: “UWSP’s help through Ignite and later Business Ready has proved invaluable, and we’re very grateful to Dirk and the team for what they’ve done for us.

“We will of course be continuing to catch up with them into the future, and I would advise anyone with a good business idea who needs a bit of help to get in touch with them.”