Few pet retailers would have the courage to take on the corporate giants of the pet food industry but that is just what Piers Smart has done. The Scampers director has taken the decision to discontinue the ‘big four’ pet food suppliers and completely remodel the business as a ‘natural pet store’ for the benefit of both customers and their pets. Rod Abbott conducted an interview with Scampers director Piers Smart.
Rod Abbott (RA): You own just the one store. Do you have ambitions to expand?
Piers Smart (PS): We only have and want one store, as our goal has always been to be the best in our industry, not the biggest. At one time we had three but my wife Michelle and I decided that we had all we wanted in just the one store. Some people are in the pet care industry just for the money but we are a bit more passionate than that. We prefer to be focused on quality service and we find that our motivated team stays with us as a result.
RA: What exactly is your current sales philosophy?
PS: Primarily, we like to engage with our customers. People are paying much more attention these days to, not only what they eat, but what their pets eat. This is particularly the case in Canada and the US. Consequently, we pay a lot of attention to product labeling so our customers are sure of a given product’s source.
Good labeling tells the customer what is in the pack and, in turn, that should indicate whether it is good for a pet’s health. This should be achievable at a reasonable cost, bearing in mind the restrictive financial constraints that many Europeans are currently facing. At the same time we are not trying to be price driven and our drive is towards quality, not quantity.
We believe that people go to pet specialists for the experience, advice, ranges and service that are unachievable in a supermarket and not to just buy ‘cheap’ pet foods.
RA: Are you now promoting natural pet foods at the expense of the big brands?
PS: Yes! A few years ago I walked into the store and, for the first time, began to question the effect that the big brands were having on our store display. It just looked like any Aldi or Netto superstore with hundreds of special offers and POS, which was turning our customers into promotion hoppers moving from brand to brand which we knew was not healthy. In addition, I began to question the quality of the corporate pet foods and the lower quality meat content. Our own dogs were not looking well so I realised that things had to change and change quickly. This led to us delisting the entire Nestlé and Mars portfolio of pet foods.
Today, we are looking for independent, non-corporate suppliers of products high in meat content that have been wrapped in honest packaging that clearly displays the ingredients without making ridiculous marketing claims. Corporate companies have been disengaged from Scampers. Our primary focus is now on biologically appropriate pet foods with an emphasis on Biologically Appropriate Real/Raw Food (BARF).
RA: How can such an ethical stance prove commercially viable in the middle of the worst recession this century?
PS: Our profitability is being maintained, and our workload has been slashed by not having to deal with the corporates’ continuous demands for promotions and meetings about meetings about meetings! We have much smaller regular deliveries that are much more easily handled.
Just as importantly, we are not continually tied up chasing credits from the independents to return money due for running offers, whereas it was a continual battle with the corporates. In the current financial year our sales have increased by nearly 5% . Our employees are motivated and our customers are happy.
RA: Are you saying that the consumer is no longer looking for the established brands or is looking for more than the established brands can offer?
PS: No. What I am saying is that we are established experts and, through innovation, new pet care products and training, we will bring the customer the latest and best in pet thinking from around the world. As well as the largest and highest quality range of natural pet foods in the country, Scampers is brimming with pet accessories, medicines, training aids, toys, beds and treats.
In the meantime we have also totally delisted the Royal Canin and James Wellbeloved brands. This decision was taken after Crown pet foods took away their ranges from the independent wholesalers in a fait accompli in November last year. We are fiercely independent and will no longer be dictated to by giant manufacturers.
RA: Are the suppliers of natural pet foods working hand in glove with you to change conventional thinking?
PS: Yes. Our award-winning natural pet superstore has the UK’s largest and best selection of totally natural, BARF and high meat content ranges.
Brands such as Acana, Canagan, Natures Menu, Orijen, Gentle, Symply, Nutriment, Ziwi Peak and McAdams bring massive health benefits to your dogs and cats. All these companies live or die on the quality of their products, not because they have mega marketing budgets.
RA: How do you make it easy for your customers to spot added preservatives, fillers, colorants and derivatives in pets’ food and treats?
PS: Simple – we do not stock any of these items in any of our foodstuffs. Natural treats are one of our fastest growing ranges, especially raw meaty bones from Natures Menu. Each of our treats and foods has a full listing of ingredients on shelf at the point of sale.
RA: Please tell me more about your in-store veterinary practice? How unusual is this?
PS: Originally, we leased the area to one of the veterinary chains but this approach did not match up to our high standards, as the service was just not good enough. Today, a local vet operates from the centre of the store, offering our customers a unique service. Customers are also encouraged to discuss pet behaviour problems, nutritional advice, training and dieting.