Big plans for The Little Green Pet Shop

Chloe Bell
By Chloë Bell, Content Journalist

Bionic is all about independent pet shops in April to celebrate all they do for our furry pals. We had a natter with Reece Ashdown, who runs The Little Green Pet Shop. 

His business supplies pet stores all over the UK with plastic-free treats and toys. We were eager to find out how the business was born and how it is successfully changing the attitudes of pet owners to sustainable living.

“I'm Reece, the managing director of The Little Green Pet Shop and we started trading about a year and a half ago,” Reece says, introducing himself and the business. 

“I'd worked in pet shops for about eight years in various positions. I started as a Sunday boy, cleaning fish tanks and packing bags and I just absolutely loved it. I thought it was really great being able to talk to owners with all different types of pets,” he smiles, recalling, “but I also loved trying to solve any problems customers might have, I think there's a lot of misinformation within the pet industry. So, it's really good to be able to talk to owners and get them some clarity. And you get to know the pets too, which is quite nice.”

How did Reece go from working in a pet shop to starting up his own company? Was it a natural transition for him?

“I worked my way up in various positions until I got to be the manager of the pet shop I worked at. I drove that store to be one of the busiest within that company and I think we turned over about £1.5 million in the first 12 months of me managing it,” he tells us proudly before going on, “but having a business was always something I wanted to do, I wanted to prove it to myself and eventually I just thought ‘I'm going to try this out, and here we are!”

Reece says although The Little Green Pet Shop primarily supplies products online, they have a few wholesale links too.

“We're predominantly an online retailer, but we do have quite a few wholesale customers,” says Reece “We supply quite a lot of high street stores too which is something I'm quite passionate about. I hope there will always be those stores where customers can talk to someone face to face. That's one struggle I’ve had just selling online, you don't get that contact.”

A tan dog poses with a chew from The Little Green Pet Shop.

So what is the inspiration behind The Little Green Pet Shop and what kinds of items do they sell?

“We sell a range of different products, primarily treats and toys at the moment. One disadvantage of just being online is that it’s more difficult to talk to customers about nutrition, so food isn't our main focus at the moment. It tends to be smaller purchases of natural treats and toys made from sustainable products. You'll find that every single product in our store is responsibly sourced,” he tells us.

Sustainability is really important to Reece, he explains how he goes above and beyond to limit plastic use and ensure all ingredients are as natural as possible. “We use minimal packaging,” he says “and we know exactly where our ingredients come from. Where possible, we’ll always get ingredients from UK farms as well.”

But apart from being a sustainability superhero, what else makes The Little Green Pet Shop stand out from the crowd? Reece says it’s the quality of the products he provides.

“We tend to prioritise quality, but in some cases we're often cheaper because we haven't got all the overheads big businesses have. Also, larger businesses often spend so much on advertisement. That money generally isn't put back into the product, whereas with smaller businesses they're not spending a lot, so all their money is going on those products and making sure that they're of the highest quality possible."

Budding relationships 

Bionic asked what Reece’s biggest achievement has been so far. He says that securing a specific business as a customer is currently marked high on his win list.

“When I first started The Little Green Pet Shop, there was a particular retailer I’d always admired, they have a small chain of stores and I really love their ethics,” Reece tells us “the products they sell are great quality and they give great customer service. We have now secured that chain of stores as a wholesale customer, so I'd say that was probably my biggest achievement so far."

Two black pugs pose with a packet of treats from The Little Green Pet Shop.

Reece says building a bond with this customer been a really positive experience and he's looking forward to developing it further in the future.

“We're a new business and this customer has been around for quite some time, but they’re really great. We're slowly creating a nice relationship where we're able to approach them, ask for advice, learn from them and try to grow together as well.”

Bionic also quizzed Reece on what his biggest struggle as a business owner has been. “I think it's hard to pinpoint certain struggles," he answers thoughtfully, "but as a small business it's quite easy to compare yourself to the larger companies. There's always going to be someone you think is better than you. You know, they’re more active on social media or their products have nicer packaging. I think comparing yourself to other businesses can be a big struggle.”

So, how does Reece keep focused if he realises he's doing that? “I just try to embrace the fact that my business is smaller and more independent and I'm lucky I can have those sort of closer customer relationships. Some of the bigger companies can't sustain that,” he says.

Bionic asked Reece about the cost of living and energy crisis, has he had to adapt the way he runs The Little Green Pet Company in order to stay afloat?

"Definitely,” he says, nodding, “within the last six months, we've massively changed how we buy the products we sell. We used to try and stick with one supplier and on one hand, it's great to be loyal, but shopping around is also very effective when trying to get the lowest prices. I’d also say try and buy in bulk where you can. But we also have to be very conscious of the fact that when we’re switching suppliers, we have to ensure the that the quality of the quality of the products stay the same or improves.”

Reece also tries to be mindful about the consumer too, and how the cost of living crisis might be affecting how much money they can afford to spend on their pets.

“I mean, one of our largest ranges of products is our zero plastic range. Those dog treats are all sold individually too," he explains, "the benefit of that is that someone can buy, you know, a couple of chicken feet, which are like 49p each, rather than going to a supermarket where you can only buy them in packs of 20. For people that are living pay check to pay check, those loose treats are a lot more affordable.”

Reece seems to know exactly where he wants to take The Little Green Pet Shop, so Bionic was interested to know if he thought there was enough information out there to guide business owners just starting their journey. For example, does a Google search bring up practical information about how to buy a premises, how to register your business or how to find your customers? Reece says no.

“There wasn’t a lot of information out there when I set up," he recalls, "or a lot of the information was quite conflicting and quite confusing. Even the simple things like, you know, paying your taxes right, whether you should set up as a limited company or a sole trader. There isn't a lot of simplified information for people that are starting out.”

He went on, “I mean, I suppose it’s quite difficult to have everything explained because every business is individual and the circumstances are always different. For example, when I started my business, I knew I wanted it to be focused around sustainability and giving back to conservation products. It’s something I’m personally passionate about but in the pet industry, you don't see a lot of that.”

And how does Reece deal with slower business weeks or months if he has them? Does he use the time to refine his marketing strategy or research new products?

“The busy months tend to be Christmas and the summer. The winter isn’t too busy, but we use that time to think about how we're going to approach the busier seasons,” Reece explains. “That's normally when we bring in more products as well, so that that time is used for buying products and setting up our marketing strategy ready for the busier times. It’s just a time to make sure everything in the background is nice and neatly organised before it gets too hectic again!” He laughs.

The key to business happiness

Reece said in regards to marketing, social media is a must but good reviews and word of mouth spread fast too.

“Generally it’s social media we use for our marketing. We have a 50/50 split of organic search on Google and Instagram, Tiktok and Facebook. We’ve also done quite well in Facebook groups of local communities," he continues, “a lot of the communities are based around us so we're able to provide word of mouth through that. When people use our products, they go on the local gossip page and talk about their experience with us.”

A dog enjoys a plastic free packet of treats from The Little Green Pet Shop with a background of mountains.

So, what is Reece’s favourite part about being a small business owner? Is it the freedom to organise his own time, is it the fact he can now mould the business to reflect his own personal morals around being sustainable? 

“I think the freedom and creativity I can have with all the different products and the independence it gives me is probably the key for me,” He says, grinning.

And does this creativity spur him on when he’s having tough days? How does he motivate himself and avoid getting stressed?

It’s quite easy to get burnt out when you’re trying to balance everything," Reece answers, "But I think just giving yourself a bit of breathing space and credit where it's due makes a difference. I'm quite a big list maker, so just making sure that I’m organised is the most important thing to avoid burnout.”

But Reece even with his forward planning, it can still be hard to know when to take days off when you’re the one in charge. “I think one thing I've been trying to implement is making sure that I actually have days off. It’s very easy to pull seven-day weeks and before you know it, a couple of months have passed and I haven't actually had a day off.”

What are Reece’s plans for the future? Is expansion on the horizon for The Little Green Pet Shop? Does he have his eye on new stock to try?

“This year the main focus is expanding our treat range. As I mentioned, our largest and most successful range is the zero plastic range, so we're experimenting a bit more with that, “ Reece says, adding, “we’re also trying to introduce more packet treats and products that can't be sold loose for training. I also want to expand our toy range and start selling more interactive toys. I want to encourage people to actually engage with their dogs, and provide enrichment as much as possible.” He grins.

What about sourcing a premises and taking the business to the high street?

“A physical premises on a high street is one of the end goals," Reece nods, "like I said, I’m passionate about the fact that people should be able to go into a shop and talk to a person face to face, and that's definitely something that that I'd like to provide."

If Reece had to choose one piece of advice to provide to another business owner just starting their journey, what would it be?

“I’d probably say don't be afraid of making mistakes. It's pretty much guaranteed that you're going to make some mistakes along the way,” he laughs, “but I generally tend to find that when you do make a mistake, they're some of the most valuable lessons you can learn.”

He goes on, “they'll make you understand your business better and you’ll know where your strengths and weaknesses are. I made plenty of mistakes at the start, but they were some of the best mistakes, they made me understand exactly what I wanted to get out of the business and what I wanted the business to do.”

Got a furry pal who deserves a treat? Check out what The Little Green Pet Shop has to offer on their website. Or head over to their Facebook or Instagram accounts to find out more.

To hear the full interview, check out the video below or head to the Bionic YouTube channel.