Entrepreneurs, Influencers & Profiles

How Karen Justice transformed “a lemon” into $10 million retail group Just For Pets

Broede Carmody /

Karen Justice from Just for Pets holding her dog

Just for Pets chief executive Karen Justice would like to see the government shift focus to support more traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses.

Karen Justice bought the business now known as Just for Pets back in 2009, having previously owned a pharmacy. By her own admission it was a “very bad business decision”, but in the time since, Justice has transformed the business into a successful retail chain now turning over more than $10 million.

Just for Pets is a buying group that represents 65 independent retailers. The company has grown by more than 500% in the past three years and that impressive growth rate saw it come in at number four in last year’s Smart50 awards. Just for Pets was also named the Smart50 Top Retailer and was joint winner of of the Community Hero Award. 

SmartCompany caught up with Justice to find out what it took to turn a “lemon” into a flourishing company – and why there’s no such thing as a silly question.

I’d previously worked in the pharmacy world.

I considered buying a pet retail outlet in 2009, but once I did acquire it, I realised I had made a very bad business decision.

The damage had been done to the business in the previous two years and I realised it was going to take me two years to undo. I cried for a very long time.

I trusted an accountant who, in all honesty, probably wasn’t the right person to do the due diligence for me.

Once I understood what I had was a lemon, I had to reinvent it.

I met with a lot of people to think about what retailers and suppliers were looking for. I was a pet owner and lover, so I knew what the end user wanted.

I started putting a plan in place so that it was a win for everyone. It took us three years to get that model really well-established and for us to be in a positive position.

It’s been a lot of hard work from both myself and my team. But the hard work’s paying off.

We still have a lot more growing to do and that’s what excites me. Every new day is a challenge.

Just for Pets

For anyone who’s looking at buying a business, there is no question that is too silly. The more questions, the better in my opinion. I should have done more in the due diligence stage.

But I have enjoyed the challenge of turning it around, being successful, and giving our retailers some brand recognition.

Last year, we won the Australian Marketing Institute’s award after going up against the likes of Coca Cola, Kmart and IBM. They had millions of dollars in their advertising budgets, but we had a budget of $300,000.

Competition keeps me awake at night.

Everyone’s kept awake by money – that’s a given – and we’re always monitoring cashflow, but our competitors are fast moving, multinational and multimillion dollar businesses.

They can be very arrogant. They’ll literally plonk alongside an independent pet store. It’s very tough out there.

Keep your point of difference and promote that. Offer a different and better customer experience than your competitors.

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior SmartCompany reporter. Before this, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.