It was back in 2015 that entrepreneur David Kumar set about combining his background in operations and IT and an undying love of pets, teaming up with fellow pet lover Taya Burnett to found pet supplies store Vetsupply.com.au.
What began in a small warehouse in Alexandria, New South Wales, has since grown into a thriving online business, with eight employees and annual revenue of $8 million achieved last financial year.
Busy in his role as chief executive, Kumar spoke to SmartCompany about his journey at the helm and the challenges he’s had to confront along the way.
Taya and I wanted to do something different. We were both passionate about pets and thought, “let’s get into something”.We knew each other, so she helped me in the administration department. And having operations and IT experience, I thought an online space would be the best way. There’s not a lot of money you have to spend on infrastructure and you can reach a larger audience than being a street corner store.
Because I have a pet, I started thinking about the amount of money I spent buying them food and other things. Then I realised that people living in far-flung areas have to go quite a distance to buy these sorts of products and it takes time away from their busy schedules.
I thought it’d be better if we could do cheaper products covering large parts of the country. The other thing I realised is that the world is changing and people are marrying later, delaying it. So the growth of the pet industry has been steady, with people delaying settling down.
It was about making a space in a congested online industry because we were latecomers into this business. So we came up with the unique selling propositions of providing the cheapest products and also free shipping.
We had to keep aside a lot of revenue for providing free shipping. The operation got hit by that initially, but because of these past two years providing free shipping and the cheapest products, we’ve managed to achieve what we wanted to.
I looked at the market and did a comparative analysis, studying the leaders as to where they are, how long they’ve been in business, how they’ve been attracting customers on social media and via search engines. I ordered from them, gaining an understanding of their customer care process. That’s when I developed an idea of how I would make my business different through free shipping and being more competitive and aggressive in terms of pricing.
Initially our focus was mainly on healthcare products — flea and tick controllers and wormers — with some focus on food as well. But now we want to focus on food even more because once you’ve got a customer in one of those two segments you can convert that customer to the other. We also want to now focus on our bigger competitors.
At first we didn’t know anyone in industry and so when I went to suppliers and manufacturers, they didn’t respond to our emails or calls and gave us no discounts.
It took us a while to get them to listen to us; that was a big challenge. If we were not getting discounted prices, then it would be hard to pass that onto customers. But now everyone listens.
We live in a large country, so it’s expensive to ship to many corners of our country. And that’s why we had to negotiate with logistics partners to get better deals, especially since we’re offering free shipping.
I focused on my IT experience, dedicating a lot to online marketing and social media. That gave us a lot of traction. When I started looking at the online presence of companies, it was clear many had been in business for 19, 20 years. For us to take away customers, we had to be different and be creative in marketing. That’s when I created better marketing campaigns, attracting customers. Initially we were shipping 50-100 orders a day. Now we ship 300 a day.
Initially we started in a small warehouse and then moved to a much larger space. We now have eight staff. Things are progressing and we should be able to maintain the same rate of growth. We’ve developed the way we pack and ship and order, we’ve automated. All our processes are technology-based, so compared to our competitors we use less staff. But now we’ll need more staff in marketing and tech.
I believe in technology — that’s why I’ve invested in developing programs. Also, our iPhone application is a getting a huge amount of response. If anyone wants to get into this business, it’s essential to use this technology to its best. Use all the avenues to gain traction.
In our industry, there’s a lot of newcomers who come every year. That moves the market in such a way that marketing expenses keep changing. But a lot of people move away either because they’ve lost money, lost interest, whatever. It’s a fluctuating space. People come and go. But if one is consistent in what they believe in, they’ll get repeat customers. One has to be driven and be abreast of the market and reach new customers.
It’s been a huge learning experience for us. My strength was my IT and I believed in the idea and I’ve learned from the challenges we faced. It’s been about being innovative in circumventing those challenges with limited resources.