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Petshop.co.uk: from scrappy upstart to leader of the pack

eCommerce pet food subscription and supplies site, Petshop.co.uk, is a roaring success story. Born in the wake of the financial crash after co-founder Adam Taylor lost his job at investment bank Lehman Brothers, with a £5,000 Prince's Trust loan, it is now on track to hit a £10 million turnover this year.

The company's rapid growth trajectory has meant Taylor has become au fait with a number of different technologies, and has made a series of pragmatic decisions along the way.

“It’s very easy when setting up a business to focus on building the best software,” says Taylor. But experience has taught him not to recreate the wheel. “When I started early on, I was very close to making that mistake. I’d built a whole website, with all this cool functionality, including cost per day analysis for pet food – but someone pointed out: we hadn’t sold any bags yet!”

Instead he turned to off the shelf products, such as BizCommerce for its website, QuickBooks for accounting and MailChimp for email marketing.  However, after the company’s turnover hit £2 million “we started to see cracks in that strategy...with bigger volumes you have bigger operational pressures.”

By 2014, the business was ready for a more advanced IT architecture and after much consideration Taylor opted for NetSuite. It now uses OneWorld for enterprise resource planning (ERP), the company’s email marketing product Bronto, SuiteCommerce Advanced for the website and a bespoke BuySmart warehouse management system.

“When you’re doing 10,000 transactions a month, you need the infrastructure behind it. We’ve had to differentiate from Amazon and big supermarkets through personalisation. That has been key to our advantage: having accurate products on our website that get shipped within 24 hours… while emails are addressed to the customer and their pets and parcels have the pets’ names on.”

“By using NetSuite, we’ve been able to keep the personal touch, but magnify it on a much bigger scale.”

Eggs in one basket

But what about the risk of lock-in when relying solely on one vendor?

“There are two concerns with having your eggs all in one basket. One is the uptime, if the system were to go down. And there’s also the financial commitment…the danger of them increasing costs and our business not being able to sustain that.”

He says reliability isn’t such a problem given the size of the Oracle-owned provider. “For us it was important to go with the biggest company we could afford to use.” Although it still has a back-up site with BizCommerce. On the cost front, he says the company has signed an agreement for a maximum fixed amount its licences can increase by when renewed.

Taylor has tried using bridging software to connect different providers’ systems, but he believes that means losing some of the operational and customer insight. “There is no perfect solution.. but there are definitely pros of having a ‘one umbrella’ approach. It gives us flexibility and functionality to outmanoeuvre the big guys.”

Online pet retail is still an immature market, accounting for just 10% of all pet supply sales. Some are forecasting that could increase to 50% in the next seven years, says Taylor.

With a recent £400,000 Productivity Grant from the UK Government in its pocket, the company is keen to take a bite of that market and has its eyes on international expansion.  “It’s an exciting time,” says Taylor.

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