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Paws for thought - how pet food-as-a-service has boomed for during COVID-19

Chris Middleton Profile picture for user cmiddleton August 24, 2020
Summary: has used NetSuite to support a significant uptick in business during the pandemic crisis.

(Stuart Lauchlan)

Pet food-as-a-service is a simple idea that works and which has risen to the challenge of the COVID crisis. During the months of lockdown, millions of animal lovers relied on being able to order food in, along with other supplies, when trips to the supermarket or pet store were difficult, risky, or impossible.

As noted variously in recent months, the big retail picture has been the inevitable increase in online shopping during the pandemic. In the US, Adobe’s Digital Economy Index measured  a sales jump of 49 percent in data gathered from 80 of the top 100 online retailers.The UK experienced similar boosts to its digital economy. In just one quarter, most of us shopped and banked from our sofas. 

Groceries, electronics, and comfort apparel were the key beneficiaries of that growth and pet supplies were also part of the surge. Without online ordering, home delivery, and Buy Online, Pick-up In Store (BOPIS), what would most of us have done? And without our pets... it doesn’t bear thinking about if you are an animal lover. 

UK online pet food retailer and subscription service has certainly benefited from having built a platform that met the challenge of uncertain times. Co-founder Adam Taylor knows all about the latter: the company’s origins were in the last financial crisis. His redundancy from Lehman Brothers after the investment bank’s 2008 collapse saw him living back at his parents’ house, lugging heavy supplies home one day for the pets owned by his retired, arthritis-afflicted mother. 

With many owners being middle aged and animals’ needs largely predictable, he saw the potential for an online service straight away, founding the company with Lexi Taylor, his wife.

It’s a big local market. The UK is a nation of dog and cat lovers, and owners currently spend about £4 billion on pet food every year – increasing by one percent annually, due to consumers progressively buying higher-quality food. 

Fast forward a decade from PetShop’s foundation and Taylor can properly see the fruits of their labours: a 300 percent uptick in sales at the height of lockdown, mirroring the very best performers online. He says:

We were turning over about £1 million in sales a month pre-COVID. Then at the height of lockdown, which was 22 March through to 1 May, we were doing about £3 million a month. Now we have settled down to a run rate of about £1.5 million to £2 million a month. 

It was definitely something we had never experienced before. It required us to react very quickly. We had to scale up very quickly, that was one of the biggest challenges, and outmanoeuvre our competitors. 

What really helped us was our ability to distribute products well and NetSuite has really been instrumental in helping us achieve that. The name of the game was having the product in stock along with the capacity to shift that packet quickly.

NetSuite solution runs on the SuiteCommerce Advanced (SCA) platform, and among other systems also runs SuiteAnalytics, a Warehouse Management System – integrated with RF-SMART – and a Rebate Management SuiteSolution. Customisations were provided by its partner BlueBridge One.

The start-up migrated to NetSuite five years ago, a move that some might have seen as premature for a relatively modest business at that time. But it helped set the company up for the years of steady growth that followed, then the sudden spike of demand in 2020. PetShop was able to satisfy it, which leaves it with reams of new, and hopefully loyal, customers.

Next-day delivery, where possible, allows PetShop to take on the giant fulfilment machines of Amazon et al. But success was not just about applications and cloud platforms: PetShop selects and buys wholesale goods from major manufacturers and delivers them en masse. That demands human labor, physical capacity/warehouse space, and a robust supply chain, alongside the right software infrastructure and supporting hardware, such as tablets and barcode readers. 

Almost overnight when the crisis struck, PetShop employed an additional 50 people (safely) in its warehouses and was running operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that customers got supplies when they needed them. Having a single, integrated cloud environment proved to be a wise investment here too, says Taylor:

We like to keep all of our software, whether it's CRM, e-commerce, website, accounting, and warehouse management system, within the NetSuite environment. That became really important during this surge, because we weren’t suddenly teaching people new software.

“With receiving, picking, packing, we had to be really flexible and move staff around throughout the day to where they were needed at the time. It really paid dividends for us to have that unified interface across every channel.

Like most organizations, PetShop had its sales, marketing, support, and admin teams working from home – in most cases for the first time, but again linked via the same NetSuite platform. This ability to collaborate via a central hub is what has sustained many a business through the pandemic.

It has also allowed the Taylors’ company to monitor productivity down to individual staff members: who was fulfilling and turning around the most orders, for example. However, any fears that the system might lead to intrusive personal surveillance are countered by focusing on building overall team performance, rather than fostering an environment of competitive individuals, says Taylor.  

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