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Q&A: Nicki Hamilton, EMEA sales director at PetSafe

1. Have you seen a difference in shopping habits since the onset of the pandemic?

The lockdowns have influenced shopping habits considerably. They’ve dramatically accelerated the retail trend of online ordering and consumers are enjoying the power of convenience in their busy lives. We’ve also found that owners are making bigger, less frequent purchases and that they’re doing more research before they buy. Spending on pets overall during the pandemic has increased as people have spent more time with their pets and because of the slew of new pet acquisitions and pet parents.

2. How has your business dealt with the lockdown, and what steps have you taken in light of the pandemic?

Communication has been key for us. From the offset we talked to our suppliers, customers, and partners to ensure we kept open contact at this very critical time. This enabled us to quickly identify any specific challenges and adapt our processes as necessary.

Finding ways to support our customers with their cats and dogs has been a central priority as their problems have become particularly acute. Increased time with their pets has thrown up additional issues and training needs they want to resolve using our products. New pet parents are also looking for support as they adjust to the challenges bringing a pet into their lives can entail.

Internally we swiftly adapted our working practices to protect our team which included setting up our Customer Services team remotely. We also focused on providing additional training that was needed for some team members as they began home-working and on projects that required in-depth thought and time.

3. How are you keeping engaged with staff at this time?  

As well as frequent virtual team meetings to discuss various projects, we arrange general meetings with team members to check their wellbeing and address any problems they might be facing. For our 69 European teammates we’ve also set up a virtual ‘tea room’ which is where we get together for more informal chats with our colleagues across departments. It’s been a great way for us to keep up connections and enjoy chats about non-work, more ‘watercooler’-type topics.

We have ensured that holidays throughout the year are celebrated as they would be if the office was open, such as having our virtual Pumpkin Carving Competition for Halloween and with our global head office based in the US, we have used their Thanksgiving holiday as a reason to connect with our local teams too. Our team’s mental health at this time is very important and this in turn encouraged us to promote our own internal Mental Health awareness week where a mental health awareness and positive mental health online workshop was available to all our employees.

4. Where do you see the company post-pandemic?

We’re positive we’ll excel from lessons learnt during this challenging time. We’ve already got better at communicating at all levels, both internally and with our external customers and suppliers. Across the board our team is closer, more engaged and more agile in our day-to-day activity.

5. What’s been your biggest surprise for the company?

The main thing is just how efficient we’ve been and continue to be when needed. Our team have been generally awesome and resilient and had this general desire to succeed and not put obstacles in their way. Things that would have seemed impossible pre-pandemic such as virtual sales meetings and pooling resources have worked so much better than expected.

6. What trends are you seeing to come out this time? 

The relationship between owners and their pets has changed. Owners are spending much more time with their trusted companions, whether that’s lounging at home or doing activities outside like visiting local parks, forests and beaches for leisurely walks. Increased time together has in turn made owners feel closer to their pets and more sensitive to their needs. They have an increased awareness of how important they are to their family and their mental health. There has also of course been a significant increase in pet adoption and many new pet parents are young and very tech-savvy. All these changes are increasing the demand for premium pet care and as a business we’re focused on developing products that respond to these needs.

7. How has social distancing affected your business, and what plans do you have in place for this?

We’re in the process of working through plans for when team members return to our offices which include revised layouts, adequate PPE provisions and staggered working patterns. The most important thing is making sure our teams are protected so they’re confident to carry out their jobs and keep delivering. It’s about giving them the tools and confidence to adapt to a new way of working.

8. What tips have you got for any other retailers during the pandemic?

From a supplier to retail perspective our general advice would be to have a digital presence; it’s vital that if your customers can’t come to you, to go to them. Also ensure you can deliver products in a range of ways to make ordering as easy as possible and reduce any purchase barriers. It’s also important to invest in creating great content for social channels, telling stories and underlining the brand ethos to help keep up awareness and engagement. The landscape is continually changing – and fast – so to keep up it’s vital to be flexible and adapt, no matter how challenging that might seem at times.

9. What is something from lockdown and the pandemic will you take out moving forward in the future?

It’s taught us that we can be much more flexible and adaptable than we thought possible. It’s also shone a light on the importance of listening and communicating – to our colleagues, suppliers and partners.

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