A family pet store in Sydney is worried they will be squeezed out of the market by hardware giant Bunnings, which is planning a major expansion of its pet product range within weeks.
Emmanual Devo’s family has operated Junction Pet’s Pantry, a small pet store in Bondi Junction selling fresh pet food, toys and other items, since the 1970s.
Though he has witnessed “plenty” of change over the years – as large pet store chains and online shopping came to dominate the market – the entry of behemoths Woolworths and now Bunnings to the competition might spell the end for Mr Devo and more independent operators.
Mr Devo told 9 News the sector was a “very different space now”, with less variety and more “cut and paste” chain stores that have eaten up boutique customers.
“I also look at the number of wholesalers that have disappeared as a result of it,” he said.
“What I realised is, as the stores disappeared, so did the diversity of the product that was available, and everything’s becoming much like a Westfield.”
And Westfields, he added, are “boring as bats**t”.
At the end of February, Bunnings announced it would embark on the “biggest category expansion in 20 years”, and will go from offering a few hundred lines of pet products to around 1000 items – including food and toys.
Bunnings plans to roll out dedicated pet areas – 40sq m of pet products in each store – by the end of March.
The move will put a kink in Woolworths’ dominance of the market, after the grocery giant spent $586 million last year for a controlling stake in the parent company of the PETstock chain.
Mr Devo said Bunnings and other chain stores had eaten up the customer base looking for “heavy-gauge bulky goods”.
“That was their prowess … and that became more prevalent as time went by,” he said.
The secret to his family store’s success was building a loyal, local customer base by targeting their specific pet food needs, and stocking products the business believed in.
And they have never sold pets, which Mr Devo said eliminated a “conflict of interest”.
“Once you stock animals, your prime directive is to sell them and so you do not look at ‘are the people suitable’ scenarios,” he said.
But perhaps the most important factor to the business’ success was that Mr Devo’s family owned the building Junction Pet’s Pantry operated in – which meant there was no rent to pay.
In its announcement, Bunnings’ managing director Mike Schneider said the new in-store pet zones would keep the offering simple by selling only products, not services like grooming, and would focus on dogs, cats and birds.
“We can bring a very, very competitive offer into this market and we think … it’s going to be a very good complementary category for us,” Mr Schneider told The Australian.
Bunnings’ move came after Woolworths’ purchased a 55 per cent stake in Petspiration, the owner of PETstock – with almost 300 stores, 160 grooming salons and 65 vets raking in $979 million in annual sales.
At the time, Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said pets was a large and growing retail segment “given the high penetration of pet ownership across Australia and New Zealand”.
Australia has reached record levels of pet ownership after the pandemic, with 60 per cent of the population owning at least one pet, and the specialty pet sector is worth an eye-watering $10 billion a year.