Young mother Claire Owens has swapped a successful career as a veterinary nurse to set up her own pet retailing business called Imperial Pets.
She started the company in the summer of 2015 as a mobile pet boutique and has since opened a pet shop.
Pet Trade Xtra met Claire at PATS Sandown where she was looking for products to sell in her new shop.
What made you swap to the retail side of the pet industry?
In 2015 I decided to pursue my own business because I felt that I would have been restricted with veterinary nursing with not just the level of income I could achieve but I wanted to be in control of my own time and future. I also wanted to continue to help people and their pets, which is my main passion. I want to make a difference.
Where did you inspiration come from?
Inspiration for starting my business came from one of my own cats whom I had rescued during my time as a vet nurse. Brutus was brought in as a stray, only around 8-10 months old, to a vet practice I worked at in Cheshire. He ended up being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease when he was around 6 years old. I found there wasn’t an awful lot of choice when it came to good quality suitable food, as he had to have a very specific diet for his kidneys. Although there was no cure, I wondered what difference it would have made if I had been more aware at the time of the difference a good quality diet could have made to his length and quality of life. When I looked into this further I discovered that there was a gap in the market within Chester where I live, for a pet shop selling high quality food and other pet products that could also provide advice for pet owners regarding good nutrition and the impact this could have on the quality of life of their pets.
Was it always your intention to have a bricks-and-mortar store?
Yes. Right from the beginning, I wanted to have a store and spent a lot of time researching and creating my business plan. However, time after time I was turned down by landlords of potential properties as I was told by the letting agents that they weren’t wanting to take a risk with a new business, so they would always choose an already established business over mine. This led me to give up looking for the time being, and I concentrated on ways to get my business started as a mobile pet shop. I started by going to street markets weekly and signing up to do a few village fairs, festivals and dogs shows.
Where is the store located?
Geographically, it’s on Oakwood Farm on Parkgate Road just outside Chester. It’s an excellent location due to the nearby main road networks. I’m on a junction that is very accessible to North Wales, Chester, the Wirral and right at the start of the M56 heading towards Manchester. Lots of people pass every day on their commute. I’m next door to the very popular Foxes Tea rooms cafe. There is also a dog groomers on site – Rachel’s dog grooming – who has been here for four years and is also very popular, so there is already footfall from Rachel’s own customers and the cafe. Next to the grooming salon there is Jason Howard’s photography studio where he does some pet portraits. The farm also has a caravan site so my shop is handy for those campers who have dogs. It’s an ideal place, and the owner of the farm also has two spaniels Henry and Gus, whom he loves to spoil with treats from my shop!
When did you open the store?
I opened on 15th January 2018, and I’m continuing to make improvements to it over the next few months.
Does the location help in attracting customers?
Yes, it’s very accessible, and there is good free parking. I have a few customers coming in saying that they’re glad I’ve opened because previously they were having to drive a long way to buy their food, or order it online and pay delivery costs and now they don’t need to do that.
Will you still offer a delivery service?
Yes I am still continuing my free local delivery service, within a certain radius. I have found that this has been particularly helpful to people who just haven’t had time to come and get their food due to busy lifestyles, or customers who can’t drive or easily get out of the house.
What will you and your store offer that you can’t get at a pet superstore?
Mainly the level of personal service, knowledge and experience that we can offer and to go that extra mile to help our customers feel that they matter. My aim is to give the opportunity of product training to colleagues, and employ a small friendly team to cover a range of expertise regarding animal health and behaviour. I also aim to provide a unique innovative range of high quality products and to help support other small business, particularly local ones.
It’s important to really get to know about the products that I’m selling in order to advise customers who are unsure which are the most suitable products for them. This is very important to me because I’m not just there to sell products for the sake of selling, I wouldn’t want my customers to buy something that isn’t suitable for them, so I try to advise as best I can so that they feel happy with the products and service and then go away and recommend me to their family and friends. Word of mouth is definitely the best form of advertising.
How do you manage your work/life balance especially with being a young parent?
Firstly, I’m very flattered that you’ve referred to me as young! Thank you! It has been challenging, more so recently as my son Jamie is now nearly 19 months old and a very active cheeky chappy wanting our attention constantly! About 6 months into my new business my husband Adam and I were delighted to find out that we were going to be expecting our first child. This immediately put a stop to me doing street markets on my own, lugging my heavy gazebo, tables and stock around in the bitterly cold wind and rain, which seemed to only occur on the market days! I had to shift my focus again on other ways to sell my products that didn’t require so much physical effort. I only did shows and village fairs at weekends when my husband was around to help. My last village fair before Jamie was born was the day before my due date! I don’t think anyone expected me to say ’tomorrow’ when they asked me when I was due! Jamie arrived 7 days later.
Having a young child hasn’t stopped me from moving forward with my business. At the beginning, I just used to bring Jamie with me on deliveries, but now he’s a bit older he goes to nursery a couple of days a week as it’s challenging bringing him into the shop while I’m working because he’s always wanting my attention. A friend of mine who used to work for a local kennels and cattery also had a little boy who is 2 days older than Jamie. She was looking for extra work but had no childcare so she’s not been able to find other work since having Reuben. It’s been ideal for her to work in my shop because she can bring Reuben with her, as I’m in the same position and understand how difficult it can be for new parents to find a job or go back to their previous jobs.
It’s important to work out a balance so that I’m spending quality time with my family too, but it is hard and can sometimes cause some tension, but I know that it’s short term pain for long term gain. Ultimately, I’m doing this for my family so that I can create a successful business that will benefit us all in the future. I actually have a second business too which I can easily work along side my pet business that will give us a helpful additional ongoing income. As much as I believe that my pet business will grow and be a success, I think it’s wise not to have all your eggs in one basket.