In the lead up to the upcoming IndePet Conference, which will be held in Fiji in May, we take a look back at one of our earliest Industry Spotlight articles, featuring IndePet member, Kellyville Pets.

From its humble beginnings, Kellyville Pets is now one of Australia’s most recognisable independent pet retailers.

Driving along Windsor Road in Beaumont Hills, you’d be hard pressed to miss Kellyville Pets with its scattering of towering dinosaur statues throughout the carpark and giant gorilla menacing over the entrance.

Step inside and you’re met with an immersive feast of sight, sound, and smell, with floor to ceiling displays of animals, accessories, food, and everything in between.

While the store may not have always looked this way, the unwavering passion and commitment to animal welfare and customer service by owner and founder John Grima has always been present.

What started as a young man selling rabbits on his father’s farm, has evolved into one of Australia’s largest and leading independent pet retailers, and Grima couldn’t be prouder.

“I used to love pet shops and I’d love going to them as a kid. I would say that when I get older, I want to own a pet shop.”

From what started as a weekend hobby at 16, soon transformed into a full-time role when Grima left school, putting every dollar he made back into the store, not even paying himself a wage.

Grima’s passion for both pets and providing high-quality customer service is evident not only in the vast variety of products and animals in-store but in the knowledge and enthusiasm in the more than 40 specialist staff he has employed.

“We want the customer to walk out feeling impressed and that’s why we spend a lot of time training our staff and getting the right staff that are passionate about the products and animals that we sell, and the customer can sense that.”

Kellyville Pets is home to thousands of pets, ranging from dogs and cats to lizards and snakes to stick insects and ants, and rather than having staff members that work across the entire store, there are staff that specialise in each department, ensuring customers receive a high standard of expertise.

“As we grew, to keep the knowledge base really high, we divided the store up into different departments. So, we hired guys that work just in the aquarium, and they’re fish geeks, they’ll just talk all day about fish, they’re very passionate. And it’s the same with the reptiles, and the small animals, and all the departments. Because that passion is there, the customers love it, and they know they’re getting the right knowledge.

“We’re really good at finding the right people, like the old expression ‘birds of a feather, flock together’. It’s common for us to have staff here from a young age and still be here 10 years later.”

The growth of the corporate store is not something Grima feels threatened by and in fact believes corporates such as PetBarn or PETstock work in harmony with his business.

“The corporates might know about dog and cat stuff because it’s predominately most of their business, but when it comes to speciality animals such as reptiles, they’ll often refer their customers to us because they know we do it well.

“They like us because they know that a new pet owner comes to our store to get on the right track, but sooner or later those customers are going to shop in their stores once they know what brand or what food to buy. If there’s a PetBarn around the corner and it’s convenient, they’ll just duck in there to grab what they need. The reality is if they live on the other side of Blacktown, they’re not going to drive all the way over here to grab some dog food, they’re going to go to the closest place.”

Step inside

An upgrade to the store in 2008 was what Grima described as a “game changer”, allowing Kellyville Pets to more efficiently store and display product.

“The old store was an eight-foot tin roof with no air conditioning, and every time there was a storm the shop would flood. The new build was of significant risk to us as we borrowed a lot of money, but I’m glad we did it, even if the first few years we were sort of on tenterhooks.”

The shop is now performing very well and the great team that Grima has assembled has enabled him to take a step back from the day-to-day operations to focus on business strategy.

“I now work more on the strategic side of things, steering ideas, and innovation. I have Richard Sheen, the General Manager, and Ben Dessen looking after things. I attend the monthly meetings and sometimes the weekly meetings, but I’m basically working on the business from the outside.”

While Grima said that the dog and cat department is without a doubt the biggest in the store, he gave special mention to the reptile department, which he believes is a growing consumer trend.

“The reptile section is a highly specialised department; it would be one of the biggest reptile sections in Australia. Even reptile only stores in other states wouldn’t be that big.

“In NSW, we could only sell reptiles from about eight years ago in pet shops. You could buy them privately on permit, but pet shops couldn’t sell them, which was a silly rule.”

Grima, who was formerly on the board of the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA), was at the forefront of the arduous process of implementing the change to allow pet shops to sell reptiles.

“We had it approved so many times, then there would be a ministerial change and we’d have to start again, but eventually we got there. Which is really good, because we have the time and resources to spend with a new customer who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

“Firstly, we make sure they’re the right person, the right fit for the animal, then we can set up their enclosure properly to get them on the right track from the beginning.”

Another evolution in consumer trends that Grima has noticed is the fall in interest in pet birds.

“In the 80s, more than half our business used to be birds, but now it’s probably the smallest section. There’s just less interest in birds, there used to be bird only shops around but now there’s probably only one or two left in Sydney.

“Despite it being a smaller section, it is still quite strong as people like our offering on birds and the products we sell, such as the pellets and all the modern toys you can now get.”

Changing times

Kellyville Pets moved into the online space around six years ago, but due to there being much larger players in that area, Grima said they view the online business as an extension to the store.

“For us, the online space is about people who love to shop with us. If they haven’t got time to come down to the store today, they can go online and check if an item is in stock, pay for it, do click-and-collect. Or even just use our website as a catalogue.

“We see our online store as a fifth register, it’s just a different platform they can purchase from us, rather than saying we’re an online store. We don’t try and compete in that area.”

Forced changes in consumer behaviour due to Covid allowed Kellyville Pets to make use of their online platform, which Grima said was a Godsend.

“During lockdown when people couldn’t come to us, a lot of our customers stayed loyal to us by buying products online. When they put Blacktown Shire into lockdown, where a lot of our customers live, they couldn’t come to us, so we offered a same-day delivery service. This meant we had someone driving around all day, which cost a fortune, but it kept our customers loyal.”

Kellyville Pets has also made progress in the sustainability side of the business, including investing in a cardboard crushing machine to help recycle.

“We recycle all the plastic that the wrapping comes in. The wrapping that we send out to our customers is as environmentally friendly as it can be. We’re trying to minimise plastic use, as there can be a lot of unnecessary packaging like bubble wrap that is used to distribute products. The warehouse team will receive products that are over-packaged, so we’ll repackage them and send them out again.”

The store has 400 solar panels on its roof, running a 100kw system, recycles all its internal batteries and started using starch-based carry bags four years ago, well before the supermarket chains.

For Grima, the store philosophy is a simple one, but one that not every store may be able to execute as successfully as Kellyville Pets has done.

“Day-making and animal welfare is in every decision we make, every product we buy, the way we display our animals – they have to tick those boxes.”

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Pet Industry News magazine.