QVC for pets

Most people, even if they won’t admit it, have at some point in life allowed their television remotes to take them to the darker side of the TV guide, the higher numbers, where channels such as QVC, Price Crash and The Jewellery Channel try to get you to embrace teleshopping bidding wars. The onscreen salespeople do their utmost to tempt those fed up with Coronation Street omnibuses and CSI repeats to buy a whole variety of products from interactive pommel horses, talking scales through to giant car sponges.

Their attempts at sales appear to be working when names such as ‘Jane from Darlington’, ‘Ethel from Merthyr Tydfil’ and ‘Derek from Barnsley’ scroll across the screen, as the salesperson announces they have “locked in”. The prices tumble ridiculously from an RRP of £200 down to £9.99 with buyers reassured they’ll pay the lowest price no matter when they called. While the TV shopping channel may be ridiculed as dull, creepily impersonal and just plain silly idea to entertain people with a surprising amount of time on their hands and no idea what to do with their disposable income, it appears that when done well, they’re actually quite successful.

Kings of the shopping channel, the aforementioned QVC, celebrated their 25th anniversary last month, perhaps proving those scrolling names and locations aren’t just drawn out of a hat. Occasionally, the channels in question feature pet products, and while usually obscure or gimmicky, the impersonal nature of teleshopping doesn’t exactly lend itself to the pet industry, where trust and honesty are becoming more important factors for buyers everyday.

There is however one woman revolutionising the idea of teleshopping with a specific focus on the pet world. Charley Baines-Burton of BB Pets, Norwich, has been running her own unique take on live teleshopping for “about two years”. She started by doing “just the odd one” before going weekly just over a year ago. BB Pets’ has already amassed a following of over 11,000 viewers for its weekly Facebook Live streams, which Baines-Burton says have “just got bigger and bigger”. Baines-Burton’s streams run from 7:30pm til 9pm every Thursday, with the regulars chomping at the bit to get their hands on her dog clothing and accessories.

The Facebook stream and accompanying group is described by Baines-Burton as “like a community”. She adds: “Everyone knows each other, everyone has a little chat.” The BB Pets owner says the streams feature her providing a “showcase” for the different featured products which change each week. Baines-Burton believes what sets her offering apart is the fact that “everyone can interact and ask questions and things, and order”. “It’s not all clothes,” she says of the goods on offer, “I mean, we do do a lot of the clothes but we do collared leads, harnesses and accessories so things such as hats, scarfs, charms, necklaces, perfumes, shampoos, beds, a bit of everything really, we also do a few things for humans as well but based around dogs so we do things like t shirts and hoodies for humans and earrings and jewellery”. It’s not just dogs that are catered for at BB Pets; “hairless cats do wear the clothes and I’ve got clothes small enough for guinea pigs and chipmunks,” Baines-Burton explains, adding: “So it’s all animals really but it tends to be smaller dogs.”

BB Pets started life six years ago in what she describes as “the usual way” by “going to shows and things” and setting up a website and Facebook page. She says BB Pets then opened a physical shop, however “circumstances changed” which meant Baines-Burton was forced to close the store and retreat to the internet.

When asked how her following has built up so quickly, Baines-Burton simply responds humbly with: “I don’t know, I think that’s what people love, it’s interactive and they can see the products. [It’s] 3D almost, rather than just seeing pictures on websites, they can ask questions That’s what works well because, no one uses websites anymore. Well obviously people do use websites, but what I mean is, nobody can be bothered to sit and trawl through pictures and then [the clothes] arrive and don’t look like how you think they’re going to. Same with human clothes, I can explain about the products and they can ask questions, this just seems to work.”

It is not just that this personal approach that is in such extreme juxtaposition to the blank stares and robotic promotional language belonging to the presenters of 24-hour television shopping channels, but that it also aligned itself with an industry which increasingly treats pets as humans, something Baines-Burton is well aware of. Despite the clear differences between BB Pets and channels like QVC, she is quite happy to coin her show as a ‘QVC for dogs’, replying: “Yeah that’s how I try and describe it,” when the term is put to her. She goes on to say: “I’ve met quite a lot of people now because we go out to Chihuahua Town, a festival of Chihuahuas and things like that so we’ve met people and obviously I’ve got Chihuahuas myself.” The more she explains about her company the more personal it seems; BB Pets appears to be equally as much of a social club of friends as a pet product retailer. “Somehow it’s just worked and everyone gets on really nicely. We’ve got a Facebook group as well which we call the ‘sneaky peaks’, so everyone chats on there and shares pictures of their dogs and things. We’ve got a bit of a gang as we call it.”

Karen Humphery, a customer of BB Pets and owner of dog walking and sitting company The Pawfect Solution, mirrors Baines-Burton’s words of a community feeling, explaining: “Everyone has a common interest their dogs. It does feel like a community as we all get together once a week and most people have Chihuahuas which we all like spoiling.” Humphery says BB Pets offers a “unique personal shopping experience” with Baines-Burton allowing her customers to get details such as measurements right. Humphery explains that trust comes from the ability to exchange or be refunded on any products customers are not happy with. The happy customer finishes by saying: “The live streams are a fun evening, Charley and her helpers are entertaining.”

When asked if anyone else has caught a whiff of her success and attempted to replicate her shows, she replies: “I think a couple are trying,” however when asked if they have a similar or possibly bigger following, Baines-Burton, laughs: “I don’t think so.” In other industries however, Baines-Burton says: “I’ve noticed that quite a few women’s boutiques for clothes do a similar sort of thing,” adding that the clothing companies are “not necessarily so interactive, they try to just do little videos and things”.

In the current pet industry, and for a certain enthusiastic audience, this style of selling seems to fit perfectly, pet owners treat their animals like friends or family, so it makes perfect sense that pet products should be purchased from someone who offers the same level of trust as a friend or family member would.

This feature first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Pet Gazette

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