It’s the era of the pet supplies superstore. With giants such as Pets At Home now springing up in every town and city, starting a small, independent pet shop isn’t for the faint-hearted. Add to the competitive aspect the fact that much of your stock will be small creatures with a short natural shelf life and the challenges increase further.

It's the era of the pet supplies superstore. With giants such as Pets At Home now springing up in every town and city, starting a small, independent pet shop isn’t for the faint-hearted. Add to the competitive aspect the fact that much of your stock will be small creatures with a short natural shelf life and the challenges increase further.

However, if you like working with small animals and you like being your own boss, it can be a lucrative and enjoyable challenge.

Although daunting, running a pet shop isn’t all that different to any other kind of retail management. You’ll have stock levels and, most likely, stock to manage. You’ll have to establish your inventory and deal with pricing, etc. Of course, you’ll need a business plan before you get started, and an idea of who your customer base is going to be.

Will you actually sell small animals, or just the equipment, medicines, and food to sustain them? Any responsible pet shop owner should be able to speak to customers with some authority so that they make an informed decision when choosing their pet. One aspect that differentiates pet shop owners from other retailers is that they must know how to care for caged animals properly.

Premises

The kind of premises you chose will be important to the success of your business. There needs to be adequate space so that cages and fish tanks are spaced at least one metre apart (see License - below).

One way of ascertaining whether a site is right for you, you might want to count the number of people passing in a one-hour period. Passing trade will be your make or break. Then do it again, several times and at different times on different days. You will also need to consider vehicular access for loading and unloading.

Stock

While it is still legal in the UK to sell kittens and puppies from a pet shop, organisations such as The Dogs Trust have grave concerns about shops that do sell these animals, due to the conditions in which many are kept, particularly the lack of social interaction Your stock will most likely be limited to small animals (hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, etc), fish, and reptiles.

Many pet shops now subsidise their income by stocking accoutrements such as collars, leads, toys, beds, food and even clothes for fashion-conscious cats and dogs. Grooming and pet care are also a lucrative sideline if you have the skills available.

Insurance

The usual retail insuranceshould apply, even in the case of ‘live’ stock being kept on the premises. This will include:
  • Cover for stock and contents against theft, fire, floods, accidental and malicious damage
  • Money and book debts cover
  • Business Interruption, Shop Front and Goods in Transit
  • Public Liability Insurance
  • Employers' Liability Insurance

Customer service

As in any retail business, customer service skills are of huge importance. When buying a small pet, someone with a cheery disposition and a clear interest in animals will inspire confidence in customers and encourage them to shop with you.

License

You will need to secure a license from your local authority. Before issuing such a license, you will need to satisfy the following requirements under the Pet Animals Act 1951:
  • That animals will at all times be kept in accommodation suitable as respects size, temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness;
  • That animals will be adequately supplied with suitable food and drink and (so far as necessary) visited at suitable intervals;
  • That animals, being mammals, will not be sold at too early an age;
  • That all reasonable precautions will be taken to prevent the spread among animals of infectious diseases
  • That appropriate steps will be taken in case of fire or other emergency.
There will be a fee payable before the license is issued and any license issued may well be conditional for your particular business, particularly if you have had no previous experience in this line of business.

Under UK law, it is illegal to sell an animal to anyone under 12 years of age. If you are found to have done so, your license is likely to be revoked.

Veterinary cover

In a business in which small animals are temporarily in your care, you will need to ensure the services of a reputable vet. This can be expensive and so it’s worth shopping around for the most competitive retainer deal.

Holiday cover

It’s also worth remembering that running a pet shop isn’t the kind of job where you can close up and head off on a long weekend with the family. You’ll have to have a contingency plan in place whereby someone will hold the fort, ensuring that the animals are fed and cared for.