For the Love of Pets
Absolute Pets is South Africa’s champion of pet care, its rapidly expanding network of stores offers essential products and services for treasured animals across the country
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Josh Hyland
Humans have long been lovers of animals.
The practice of keeping the likes of dogs and cats as pets can be loosely traced back to the early processes of animal domestication. In Mesopotamia, dogs that resemble the present-day mastiff were depicted participating in a lion hunt, while ancient Egyptian drawings often show them taking part in everyday family life.
Indeed, our relationship with such animals has evolved from a marriage of usefulness (in hunting and battle) to a labour of love, with animals of all shapes and sizes adopted by people the world over as companions.
It is also big money. By 2025, the world pet care market is forecast to hit $259 billion, a figure driven by trends such as increasing veterinary capabilities and a growing insurance market.
In South Africa, it is thought that some nine million dogs and two million cats are kept as pets.
Stephen Warner, CEO of nationwide pet care superstore Absolute Pets, is responsible for one on each of these tallies.
“I am a huge animal lover and grew up on a farm where we had four dogs and a Siamese cat,” he says. “I used to love taking the dogs for walks through the fields. Living in the city now I am restricted to just having one dog and one cat.
“Pet care retail is a unique industry in that when a customer walks into a store you know you have a common interest in the form of a love for pets, which allows for a level of engagement that you don’t get in other retail markets.
“The South African market presented an interesting opportunity in that we are a nation of animal lovers, and while there were many pet care retailers, there was no single brand with any scale and which operated across the country.”
Pet care pedigree
This is where Absolute Pets comes in.
Having identified a gap in the market, it opened its first store in 2005 and has since grown its footprint to 85 outlets across Western Cape, Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal. Warner joined in 2013, when the firm had just eight stores, the last six years representing a ramp up in the company’s growth trajectory.
“Our aim is to be the uncompromising champion of pets in everything we do,” the CEO adds, “whether it is carrying the best quality and value products, promoting responsible pet ownership, or the contributions we make to animal welfare in the form of donations, hosting adoption days or sponsoring fund-raising events like dog walks.”
More than 300 dedicated and animal-loving employees are responsible for the running of Absolute Pets’ stores, nine of which offer a pet spa service alongside its comprehensive range of quality food and accessory products. Here, Pet Spa Stylists, as they are known, are fully qualified cat and dog groomers who offer the full spectrum of services including washes, speciality cuts, nail clippings, ear cleaning and eye cleaning.
Customers can also benefit from the Pet Parent Loyalty programme through a cashback points system, pet care advice, and birthday vouchers for their beloved animals.
Health is another critical area of the Absolute Pets offering.
The company partners with vets in each of the three provinces it operates in. “The partnership with vets is critical to our business,” Warner adds. “Customers come to us for advice and assistance when it comes to pet care and having access to a vet means being able to provide as much assistance as possible up to the point where the customer needs to see a vet, which our teams then recommend.
“The vets’ expertise is very valuable and critical when it comes to sharing important information with customers about the best way to look after their pets.”
As well as supporting local veterinary practitioners, the company also works with a number of local suppliers in its procurement activities, the fact the formal pet retail industry is relatively new in South Africa opening up opportunities for local businesses.
“Suppliers are key to the success of our business and our aim is to develop strong relationships with these partners,” explains Warner. “It is obviously critically important that the highest quality standards are adhered to throughout our supply chain but also that newness and relevance is offered to our customers.”
Evolving the way in which products are offered is also critical in remaining relevant with consumers.
Much like other strands of the retail industry, the pet category is moving increasingly online as owners seek more convenient ways to shop for their animals.
In order to remain at the forefront of pet retail in South Africa, Absolute Pets continues to evolve its ecommerce wing, its online store providing a number of alternatives to traditional modes of shopping.
“Pet retail lends itself well to ecommerce in that the products, particularly food, are bulky and the buying habits are generally quite regular,” says Warner.
“Our online store is easy to use – we offer home delivery in three working days, and free delivery for orders over R500, and a central point of contact for queries. We are also about to launch our ‘click-and-collect’ and subscription services to offer even more convenience to our customers.”
This is not to suggest that in-store services are in any way being overshadowed by the rise of online.
Human service remains a key differentiator for Absolute Pets thanks to its well-trained and passionate employees who are on hand to offer friendly advice to those customers who do venture into their outlets.
Training is taken extremely seriously, each member of staff provided with practical and online tuition which includes being educated by the vets who work in partnership with the company, as well as direct meetings with product suppliers.
This setup will be key as Absolute Pets looks to expand its footprint even further in 2020.
Warner is targeting another 15 to 20 store openings over the next 12 months, his concluding statements reflecting on what is becoming an increasingly competitive and challenging market to thrive in.
“We expect economic conditions to remain tough in SA and the pressure on the consumer will be high, so in essence the pie will be smaller and the number of participants bigger,” he says.
“However, that said, I am confident about our plans to grow and remain the ultimate champion of pets. We saw early the opportunity to give the South African pet lover well-presented and professionally run stores which could enhance their shopping experience, and will carry on doing so.”