4 Just for pets
Karen Justice, 49
- Head office
- Year bought
Getting into the highly competitive pet care industry was always going to be a tough gig, but Karen Justice had no idea just what she was up against when she took over Just For Pets in 2009.
“The company I bought had been in operation two years and had head office turnover of $180,000. Within two weeks of taking it over I discovered I bought a total lemon,” Justice says.
It was an expensive and stressful lesson in due diligence and many of Justice’s suppliers told her their grim thoughts on her prospects for success.
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“I completed a series of introductory meetings with the industry’s key suppliers, during which each told me I was an idiot for buying the business and they were withdrawing support,” she says.
“I drove home and cried all weekend. But I realised I had to learn to think creatively – re-strategise and start from scratch.”
As a nurse, Justice had faced her share of life and death situations. She drew upon that experience to steel herself for the task ahead of saving and reviving the ailing group buying and marketing company.
As a buying group representing 65 independent pet retailers, Just For Pets had its work cut out competing against its bigger corporate rivals, especially Pet Specialty’s two major players, publicly listed Petbarn and private-equity funded Petstock
“The corporatisation of the pet industry in Australia has left no choice for independent operators, with the reach of the two corporate-backed pet stores growing from 161 in 2013 to 290 now,” Justice says.
After getting Just For Pets back on its feet, Justice faced another big challenge in 2013 when six of the stores in the network were forced to close, while the competition kept rolling out new stores.
However, from the depths of crisis came unexpected salvation.
“I have found that the key to unlock a solution can be found in unexpected places,” she says.
Justice was racking her brains trying to come up with a point of difference for the business that would resonate with the retailers in the Just For Pets group as well as consumers.
“I attended a small business marketing workshop that I thought would be about how to write a press release. I happened to meet an FMCG retail strategist and that day she helped me create the strategy for the Pet Health Centre and that has saved our business,” she says.
The Pet Health Centre (PHC) launched in 2014 and quickly catapulted the profile and revenue of the Just for Pets business. It was a classic case of innovate or perish.
“The need to innovate beyond mere price competition with the corporates was the impetus behind the PHC concept, and it’s working; with increased basket sizes, customer satisfaction and word of mouth beyond our expectations,” Justice says.
Since the opening of the health centres across 40 stores, Just For Pets has seen an incredible two-year rise in revenue of about $10 million. The concept works by giving the consumer an inexpensive alternative to a veterinary visit, with in-store specialists providing information to pet owners about basic healthcare for their beloved furry friends.
Justice sees the concept as a powerful tool in its battle against the corporates and also a fantastic example of what can be achieved with a little lateral thinking and a whole lot of dogged determination.