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Family-run Taylors Pet Foods has set itself a mission: to educate as many people as possible about pet nutrition – and encourage customers to read the ingredients’ listings to know what they’re feeding their pets!

From left: Maggie, Richard, Anthony, Mike, Linda and Samantha

On the Taylors Pet Foods’ website, Michael Taylor describes himself as an ‘ex-tyre fitter who couldn’t get excited about dog food’. But wow have things changed! Today, given half a chance, Michael would spend all day talking about pet food and its ingredients. 

Taylors Pet Foods is located in the small market town of Attleborough, situated between Norwich and Thetford, in Norfolk. The Taylor family has a long history of serving the town and its pets – it all started in 1984 thanks to dad Anthony and mum Linda, with a small pet shop in the town and a market stall. Sons Michael and Richard were roped in and helped out in school holidays. Eventually business at the shop grew to such an extent that Anthony was able to stop the market stall to concentrate fully on the bricks and mortar shop. Taylors Pet Foods is now housed on a trading estate and occupies 2,400sq ft, with the big advantage of ample free parking.

Giving customers the opportunity to really get to know the food they are buying

The two sons however, did not initially follow in these footsteps and for 10 years Michael was a tyre fitter while Richard was a coachbuilder for 14 years. Then Anthony started to talk to them about online sales and wanting the business to be in the right hands when he retired, so Michael came in to start the ecommerce side. As he states on the website: “There was only one problem…I couldn’t get excited about dog food. Fitting tyres to a Ferrari Enzo on the other hand”…

The turning point came when a Bern Pet Foods sales rep came to talk to them about the company’s Acana and Orijen foods. The sales rep, Tan Nagrecha, ranked a selection of the dog foods they were selling in order of meat content – it was like a light had been turned on and they were seeing things for the first time. 

At Taylors, education is a high priority. Here, customers can lift the flap to see exactly how much is in each product

“We always thought some of the really big grocery brands were questionable, “but then we started looking at the ingredients and realised how little meat was actually in them,” said Michael.

Michael started reading and researching pet food and visited Piers Smart, at Scampers Pet Store, in Soham, Ely. “I’d spend hours researching,” he said, and he also started contacting manufacturers questioning them about their ingredients. For example, one product belonging to a major global pet food manufacturer lists an artificial preservative for the UK market but a natural preservative for the Canadian market. The letter he received from one of its nutritionists cited cost as the reason. 

A simple way of explaining cold-pressed and how economical it is to feed. Display is changed every morning

The upshot was that Michael set about convincing his family to slowly remove a number of big brand names from their store. It was the best decision they’d ever made, he said. The shop now promotes independent brands such as Acana, Carnilove, Gentle, Green Dog, Natures Menu, Nutriment and Orijen. Gentle, for example, is the first British cold-pressed food to launch in the country and was launched in-store about two years ago. Mike said: “We found out about Gentle from Scampers and looked at it for a while – if we take something in, we want to go for it and support it fully.”

Richard added: “It’s our only cold-pressed food; it’s popular with our customers and gives us a lot of repeat business. So many customers have had dogs and cats with health issues, and it’s all to do with what they’re eating.
“We have had some customers who have changed pet food say their dog is a different dog…some have seen the difference overnight. Occasionally we get customers say they ran out and in an emergency went to a supermarket and that their dog went loopy after and so are not going to do that again!”

Well stocked cat food range

Spreading the word
When they first started delisting brands, the family produced a leaflet explaining their decision and why they were introducing new brands. Customer reaction was mostly positive. Michael said: “Most realised and accepted what we were doing, especially when we showed them what exactly was in the food they were feeding their pets. People do not realise what is in their pet food because people do not read the ingredients list.”

Taylors displays the All About Dog Food rating for each dog food it sells

To help inform and educate its customers, the store now displays the All About Dog Food rating for each dog food on the shelf front. (All About Dog Food is an online advice site providing independent dog food reviews, feeding guides, ingredients glossary and stockist locator.) With cat food, they display the percentage of meat on the shelf front.

Michael said: “If customers ask for a brand we do not carry, we can show the ranking of that brand according to All About Dog Food and offer alternatives.”

Calorie chart is an eye opener

And that’s not all. There are print-outs and posters around the store talking about pet nutrition, as well as a large file filled with nutritional information that customers can browse through. However, there is only so much one can do because some people are well and truly set on a particular food, said Richard. “Some people just do not want to listen and prefer to stick with what they have always used, and others just buy into a brand. In the end, customers have to work it out for themselves – we give all the information and we can talk to them for as long as possible, but they have to figure it out and accept it themselves.” 

Health section is well organised

Having said that, the brothers say that increasing numbers of customers are more switched on when it comes to dog food, and a number do their research before coming into the shop to discuss what they have read to make sure they are on the right track. Especially as quite a bit of misinformation is found on the internet.

Natural treats aplenty

Michael said: “We had one customer who saw our ‘raw food specialist’ sign on the road and came in. She came in to check with us if what she was doing was right, and has since bought raw food from us.”
Cat food, however – as with the majority of retailers in the UK – presents more of a challenge. Richard said: “When we carry bags to our customers’ cars, we can see the Whiskas they buy from the supermarket. So they will buy their specialist dog food from us but cat from the supermarket. Eventually we hope it will click for them, too.”

Same nutritional emphasis is placed on small animals

It might help that shop cat Rosie (owned by sister Samantha, who also works in the store) comes into the shop every day and is the picture of health, being fed on raw and high-meat content food and treats. And Rosie is not at all bothered by customers’ dogs – living with three dogs, including shop dog Jess has definitely helped!

Explaining the Taylors’ philosophy

Specialist brands
Taylors Pet Foods offers a large own-brand range – its Premium dog food has a meat content of 26% but at a fraction of the cost against other brands so customers have a range of price points. It also offers Taylors Gold and Meaty Green, which have been in the family business for years and years. Michael said: “We still sell these to customers who have used the brand for years or because their parents used to buy it. They have a very loyal base.” So loyal that Richard orders a pallet of the Taylors Premium range every 10 days.

About three years ago they launched Taylors Signature, a premium offering, and are currently working on a totally new own-brand called Lovel – treats in the Lovel livery are already available. 

Store is spacious and wide aisles make it easy for wheelchairs and strollers

Own-brand products are a good way of keeping customers as the food cannot be found on online sites or in other stores, although they note that the more observant customer might notice the packaging is similar to own-brand products in other independent retailers! Which was one reason why they decided to launch Lovel. 

Richard explained: “We were looking for a five-star food, along the lines of an 80/20 mix, but could not find anything we really wanted or liked. We went to a couple of factories and are now working to bring out our own Lovel range of dog food. This will also be totally unique to us; it’s our own recipe and own label and therefore gives us that USP.”

Frozen raw food for cat has its own freezer in the cat section

It’s annoying when manufacturers make promises that they are not going to go into grocery and then later change their minds. Michael said: “If brands are marketed as specialist, they should remain specialist – the knowledge we have has taken us years. And then to see a manufacturer chuck something into the supermarket that’s specialist – they do not have the knowledge or experience to sell these products, let alone the time to talk to customers.”

An example is Barking Heads, which moved into Tesco early last year. Barking Heads said then: “Being able to put our brand in front of 61% of dog food purchasers of whom a large number have never visited a pet shop and do not realise there is an alternative to the big name brands, is something which we feel extremely proud of. This will strongly benefit all stockists by increasing overall brand awareness and raising consumer confidence.”

Labels for cat food reveal percentage of meat…

Richard added: “If your dog has a problem, we have the solution. We have a list of products we can recommend, whether it is for weight management or for example kidney issues, where pets need a low phosphorus diet. But for medical issues, we do ask that customers check with their vets.

Raw sells very well, and the seven freezers in-store are always being topped up

“I also think that raw works so well for us because we are seen as specialists. Many people do not understand raw, and so we have to explain what ‘complete’ means – it’s not about just feeding a bag of mince or chicken.” 

Today, the shop has seven freezers in-store, four more in the storage area, and sells Natures Menu and Nutriment. The shop has always sold raw, from the days when raw meant ‘tripe’. But since the raw pet food market has taken off, they’ve seen sales surge. Michael said: “People are slowly realising that dry kibble is not what dogs are supposed to eat. Occasionally people come in and ask ‘What’s that?’, pointing at our freezers, and we tell them ‘raw’. They have said: ‘Oh, I thought dogs are meant to eat kibble’.”

Bird seed is bagged up on-site

Whether a customer is shopping for wild bird seed or a food for their rabbits, they will find the same attention to nutrition and detail. The brothers admit though that selling quality wild bird food is easier than dog or cat food, simply because you can see exactly what the ingredients are. Well, most of the time. Suet/fat products can be a bit more tricky. Michael said: “With wild bird, a bag of peanuts or mealworms is what it is. You can see exactly what you are buying. If people ask for advice, we need to find out what they want, for example what type of birds do they want to attract to their gardens and their budget.”

Poultry is also a big seller, with many customers having chickens at home – they buy a tonne of poultry feed at a time, which also helps realise better margins.  

Poultry food, supplements and treatments are a big seller

When they started reading the ingredients on small animal foods, they delisted all products that contained colourants. They sell a lot of hay and try to encourage rabbit owners to buy large hutches and runs – they asked a local supplier for two-metre runs for rabbits.

The brothers admit they are always changing things around in the shop

Keeping ahead
The family is always looking at new ideas, products and the store layout. At the time of visit, new shelving was arriving and the brothers were talking about introducing new signage to make it easier for customers to identify where products are. Michael said: “The shop is always changing; we can spend hours and hours discussing what works and what does not. We try to give the right percentage of the shop to what sells best.”

Jess has her own toys which she leaves around the store, and sometimes customers mistakenly put them on the toy display

What about the ecommerce site that was launched all those years ago? Michael said candidly: “I started the website and selling on eBay. I did not know any better and thought it was the right thing to do. We still sell a little bit on eBay and on our website, just a bit of food and cat litter, but we are winding it down. Basically we are just serving the online customers we have and are increasing the footfall into the store. 
“There is always someone who is cheaper on the internet, but when I looked at the price they are selling at, I asked how could they possibly do this? The answer is clear – they cannot. These are items that they are selling at a loss, so their strategy is to sell some items at a loss but to make money on others. 

Really, they’re busy making a loss! I now think selling online is detrimental to the independent pet trade and just taking profit from it. If you think about it, the only people making a profit are the people who make the products.”

Own brand helps retain customers

Taylors Pet Foods is now also open on Sundays, due to customer demand, and Michael’s girlfriend comes in to help the family on weekends – the business employs three other staff members. 

Richard said: “All independents are in the same boat and we want to help each other out. So if we do not stock something, we recommend customers try one of the other pet shops around here. 
“For example, someone once wanted a fox trap – which we don’t sell – but I helped her and referred her to a country store.
“But that’s how customers remember us. It’s about our reputation, our specialty status, our helpfulness and being nice. It’s how we can try and beat the big boys.” 

Rosie has her own bed behind the shop counter