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Just Another Day in Retail

It is really one of those jobs (running a pet shop I’m talking about)

Long before Michael Palin and John Cleese’s conversation about the Norwegian Blue, there have been jokes surrounding pet emporiums for generations.

For example:

“Can I have a wasp please”
“We don’t sell wasps”
“There was one in your window yesterday”

“I’ll pay you the same for that budgie as I paid for my Christmas Turkey”
“OK – you’re on. How much did you pay?”
“12/6 a pound – weigh it!”

I’ve written before about some of the weird and wonderful real life requests we get.

Yesterday, my assistant Chris took a telephone call

Caller – I wonder if you can help me? When I use my bong my goldfish starts talking to me
Chris – What does it say?
Caller – Lots of stuff. It predicts the results of the football and racing!
Chris – It would seem like a good idea to get down to the bookies.
Caller – Seriously, the fish talks. How much do you think it could be worth?
Chris – I think you’d have to sell the bong and the fish as a package.

And so on. Chris still isn’t sure if the call was a wind up because at the coal face of retailing furry and feathered animals, anything is possible. Some of the questions are brilliant.

“Why is that fish black?”
“Do you think my dog would like these biscuits?”
“My hamster died – is that normal?”
“I’m keeping a house spider as a pet. What would I feed it on?”
“How much are your turtletoises?”
“Are Netherland Dwarf Rabbits smaller than ordinary rabbits?
“What is the difference between the two tier and three tier hamster cages?”
“Is that a ghost snake because it’s invisible?”
“Do you have a brush for my pussy?”

It’s all in a day’s work for purveyors of poop scoops.


More Pet Trade Tails

When I posted the piece yesterday about the pet trade it started me thinking about another aspect of the industry I'm involved in and that is the marketing of foods. We all know how this has developed in the sale and presentation of human food in the supermarkets. Never before has there been such a range or choice for the shopper. More exotic fruits and meats, ranges of sauces and ready meals, special buy one get one free offers etc. etc.

When I began in the pet trade in 1985, there were perhaps twenty or so leading brands of dried dog food. They came in 20 kg bags and if customers wanted a smaller amount they would be sold loose. I don't know exactly how many brands there are now but it is certainly in the several hundreds. The big boys like Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, Mars and others have gradually become involved and each has added their own wee bit of marketing which the others soon follow.

Take the case of Beta which started out as the pet food branch of BP. It was bought by Spillers and then Ralston Purina (a large American pet food company) and then Nestle. When BP had the brand there were two dog foods in their range. Once the big boys became involved there was 'life stage food' ie different foods for puppy, junior, adult and senior dogs. Then there was light for the overweight dog, sensitive for the more delicate stomach, energy for the working dog, bigger kibble for the larger dog, smaller kibble for the smaller dog. The bags come in 1kg, 3kg, 7.5kg and 15kg. The two original food brands sold by BP underwent several changes before disappearing last year.

Another manufacturer, James Wellbeloved took this one step further and produced food for long coated dogs and short coated dogs. I remember about five years ago joking with one of the reps who called to see me that it wouldn't be long before someone started producing labrador food and German shepherd food.


And so it came to pass. Now don't get me wrong I'm not doing a Gerald Ratner here and saying the products aren't good. Indeed Royal Canin is a very good quality food and so it should be – a 15kg bag of this stuff can cost over forty quid! Royal Canin would argue that each different breed food will contain some ingredient to help a particular ailment or nutritional requirement of each breed. Of course the real reason for all the additional branding is to occupy more and more shelf space in the stores for that company's products.

What would the dog keepers of the past think of this? Until the 1950's people fed the dog scraps, bought cheap cuts from the butcher or made an extra portion of the family's dinner.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go and sell some long coated junior (black and white) sensitive springer spaniel food to keep the wolf from the door! 



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Bear With Me.

I am in my twenty third year in the pet trade. When I first ventured forth in to this enterprise there was a finite managable range of foods and accesories for pets. In the intervening period and in particular since 2000, the range of goods has not so much grown as gone completely haywire. There are leather beds & coats for dogs, bling for dogs and cats, there's essential oils and aromatherapy for dogs and cats. There's heaters for rabbit hutches, special relaxation cd's for hyperactive pets. There are fancy harnesses so that you can take a hamster or a rat for a walk – you name it! We are rapidly becoming the 51st state of the US when it comes to consumerism.


There is of course a growing range of Christmas goods for pets too. Some of the soft toys for dogs are as good if not better than the kind of (good quality) toy you'd buy for children. One squeaky toy for dogs I'm selling this Christmas is called "Teddy Truffles" a teddy bear dressed in a hat and scarf with a squeaker inside. They have been going like hot cakes. However we have stepped up security at the emporium. I believe there are elements in our society who would have the death penalty for anyone making a profit out of a teddy bear…………………..


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Tails From The Pet Shop

Think of a shop to make some comedy out of. A sketch, a joke – whatever. Notwithstanding the fact you've seen the title of this post then chances are you'd have come up with a Pet Shop anyway. Everyone from Monty Python to Chewin' the Fat have had their snigger at my profession. You know what? the reality can be quite funny too.

First of all it is a challenge to know what the customer wants sometimes. Here is a typical exchange.

"Can I have some worming tablets for my dog?"

"Certainly, what size is your dog?"

"He's 2 years old"

"That's actually his age, I need to know his size so that I can give you the right dosage"

"Just a normal size"

"Just a normal size ok but what breed is he?"

"He's no any breed he's just a mongerel"

"Would you say he's maybe a border collie size"

"(laughs at my ignorance and stupidity) naw he's a bit bigger than that"

"Bigger than a border collie? perhaps a labrador size?"

"Naw he's aboot this size (customer gesticulates with hands indicating that his mut could in fact be anywhere between a chihuahua and a fucking crocodile)"

Eventually we settle on pack size 3 which will do a large dog.

Invariably after such an instance the customer's wife will arrive in the shop with a comment something like "Haw you ye selt ma man the wrang tablets yesterday"



We have several categories of customer. There is the "Alltellur" (I'll Tell Her). This customer asks the price of something they are obviously going to buy if the price of the item matches their valuation. Invariably their valuation will be somewhere around half the retail price. Example

"How much is that bird cage?"

"It's £39.50"

"OK Alltellur"

The classic get out clause, "I was asking on behalf of some mythical relative/neighbour/friend."

There is the storyteller/economist.

" I don't have any pets myself but when I was young we had a canary. It was yellow and could sing away…………… (10 minutes later) and you could buy seed at that time for tuppence a ton……………….(ten minutes later) so how much are they now? eh? FIFTEEN POUNDS god! you could have bought the Canary ISLANDS for that in my day" " I can remember when you'd get a bucket of herring for a tanner off the fishing boats down the qay" (drones on endlessly despite being ignored by everyone)

 When it can be impossible to keep a straight face.

I had an assistant, Richie who worked with me for 10 years before going off to study zoology. One day a wee wummin came in to the shop. The coversation went thus:

WW: Ah've goat a coakateel son an' ah want tae know if it's a boy or a lassie

Richie : Is it grey or white?

WW: It's grey

Richie : Has it got a bright yellow or a pale yellow face?

WW: I'd say it's pale yellow.

Richie: and the cheeks are they bright orange or pale orange?

WW: More pale than bright.

Richie: Can you remember if the tail feathers are striped or plain underneath?

WW: I think they're striped.


Richie : I'm almost certain the bird's a hen.

WW: Naw son it's no a hen it's a cockatiel!

When Richie had regained his composure he explained that a hen was a generic name for any female bird.

The wee wummin reassured made to leave the shop. Her parting shot was "I was only asking because it laid an egg yesterday!"


We nearly pished ourselves!!


Fishy Business?

Probably the most difficult fish to catch are Chinese sucking loaches or algae eaters. These little blighters can move faster than Lewis Hamilton in a Ferrari. They lodge themselves under a filter or heater and due to their sucker mouth can stick on to any surface they choose. It can take five minutes to extract two of these from a tank. The laughs of the customers as you attempt it doesn't ease the situation at all! 

I swear that there is a terrorist organisation secretly plotting against pet store staff. You can be sure that when you have a queue of ten people at the counter, one of the staff has just gone for lunch, another is dealing with a shoplifter and the other one is in the bog, a 40 foot truck has just pulled up at the door with an order and a sales rep has 'just dropped in' and both the mobile and the shop phone are ringing, the first customer says "Two algae eaters mate" – It's uncanny! it ALWAYS happens when we're busy!



I'm going for a lie down!

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