Over the past couple of years, PetsPyjamas’ online offering has flourished, even more so since Gracia Amico came on board as CEO. Here she talks about joining the business, why the pets industry is thriving, and how treadmills have become a key item for them
Have animals always been a part of your life Gracia?
Well, I think the best present my parents ever gave me was a dog. I was six-years-old and my brother was seven and half, and we always wanted a dog and finally got one and that was the best thing ever for us. We absolutely loved our dog, she was unbelievable, till the day she died when my mum and I had to take her to the vet and put her down, which was awful. But I never really thought of myself as a particularly big dog or animal lover. I am normal, I think most people really love animals. I never thought about working in an animal environment at all.
You have been involved with PetsPyjamas for over a year now, so how did this come about?
It’s a year and a half. PetsPyjamas has been around for nearly five years now. I knew Karen [Hanton], the founder. I had my own dot com company in 2000 for five years, so I know digital really well. I then worked for Burberry for a year, also in their digital department, and then Topman for five years heading up their e-commerce department, and then Hobbs as a director. I love digital and I love e-commerce. At networking events I would talk to Karen, I would give her some advice on things, I really liked her. When I left Hobbs, she immediately was on the phone. I knew she was looking for a CEO, but she also knew I was taking my time finding something that was absolutely right. She was very clever and she said why don’t you come and give some of your time to advise me – really clever! By the end of the month I was at the point if she was not going to ask me now to do this job I was going to be really upset – after day two here I fell in love with the project.
When you did come on-board, was there anything pressing you had to sort?
Karen wasn’t here at all, so she needed someone who could really run it and understand all the different revenue streams of the business. It’s a complicated business, it’s way more complicated than anything I have ever done before. I know online retail really well, but there’s another element here which is services, travel bookings, things I didn’t have any experience with. Then we had revenue streams through dog walkers, groomers, plus we do sponsorships as well, plus we have thousands of articles, so overall it’s a really interesting, but a very complicated business model. She needed someone who could really take it and move it to the next level.
Accessories were in a really good place – we had over 10,000 accessories by the time I arrived. Travel, though, hadn’t really happened. When I started here I said this is where we need to focus on next. That’s what we have been doing over the last year. Travel has completely taken over, it’s incredibly popular, and it was fun because in the beginning we had no idea how to do it so I guess we reinvented the wheel. We had no idea it was going to take off so quickly.
When and why did the pets industry take off?
There has been a real humanisation of pets. It started more in the US about seven or eight years ago. Everyone was walking around with these lovely dogs and they had become a real centre of the family. Here slightly later, but there’s a lot more people now whose kids maybe moved out and they want a replacement, or people like me who don’t have children. Now, I never saw taking a dog was a replacement for a kid, but the way I talk to my dog and treat her it’s ridiculous, but I love her so much! PetsPyjamas was probably a little ahead of the curve, that’s typical Karen, she focuses on things before they become a little special. So we started a little bit early with our accessories and our travel we have started at the right time, we are the only people who do this. The take up and enthusiasm of people shows that’s the right thing to be doing.
I read a piece about treadmills being available for dogs. What other slightly surprising things to buy are there?
When I first heard the name PetsPyjamas, I probably felt the same as everyone else. Pyjamas? How ridiculous… We don’t sell pyjamas, it’s just a catchy name! We don’t sell ridiculous things. We have one golden bed that’s a bit of a showpiece, but mainly what we sell are things that people really want for their dogs. Most dogs now wear a coat in the winter, and a lot of dogs need coats and we didn’t know this years ago. I have a Lurcher, she’s thin, she is cold in the winter and she needs a blanket. The treadmills – we sell a lot of those. Initially, again, I thought how ridiculous, but then we find out more about the customer that buys it, it completely makes sense. The last two we sold were both to elderly ladies. One had a dog who was really old and she was told by her vet that if she could exercise it properly, it would extend its lifespan by maybe four to five months and that was enough for her. The other was an elderly lady whose dog had had an operation, needed gentle exercise, and she absolutely wanted to do this for her dog.
Hotels that accommodate dogs – why have they latched on to this?
As we discussed earlier, the humanisation of pets has become a huge thing. Hotels are thinking OK if you open up the doors to pet loving people, our revenue streams will really increase. It’s not just us at PetsPyjamas – many people have done research that it’s 30% increase in revenue if you open your doors to pet friendly families.
I have been to many as it’s really good to know the product. I love the way the dog is just as welcome as we are. It’s not just tolerant, it’s really welcome. What we do as a company it’s not just booking a room, we have exclusive packages with most hotels, so it means that if there are lovely walks around, we will supply a map and organise a picnic halfway round, or point them to a lovely pub where they are welcome. There are packages where after a walk there’s a massage for the lady, and a little grooming session for the dog! It’s just being creative like that. Sometimes there is dog training available, ‘yappy hour’ where people with dogs can come together and have a drink and chat… We also offer a personalised box for the dog. When you arrive at the hotel, there will be a box on the bed that will have the name of the dog on it, and the image of them as well, and the dog opens this thing and it’s full of lovely gifts and treats. The customers love it and we have lots of reactions on camera. My dog has the record – she takes a minute and half now to open the box!
Where does PetsPyjamas go from here?
International has to be the next step. I still feel there’s more to do in the UK, but once we have done that… France is incredibly dog friendly, and other places on continental Europe we can work with, and the States too. Even though the States is super dog friendly, there’s things we have done with the site they have not done yet in the States, and we have interest there. Also to build out our services proposition further.
At the moment we are happy here in Shoreditch. We have 25 people here, the building belongs to us, it’s just perfect, we have dogs in the office at times. It’s so lovely because when you are a little bit stressed there’s this lovely little creature walking around, it jumps on your lap or wants to be cuddled, even for two minutes, and it makes you feel so relaxed. We have a very tight knit team now, so it’s a great place to be and we have a lot more space to grow.
See more at petspyjamas.com