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Stronger and smarter: A pet store’s ecommerce evolution

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Angus Capel

Sep 22, 2020

The posts in this series have been drawn from Xero’s Stronger and smarter: a small business handbook. Designed to help small businesses determine which steps to take next, this practical guide uncovers the 10 trends shaping the future – so you can come back stronger and smarter than ever.

A shifting customer demographic and evolving retail landscape meant Poplar Petfood & Produce needed a new website to take their regional pet supply store to the next level. The result? An integrated ecommerce site that supports the family-owned business to operate in a more efficient and profitable way, enabling them to meet demand during the pandemic.

Carlie and Adam Wilton have seen many changes unfold since buying Poplar Petfood from Adam’s parents back in 2007. Based in Kembla Grange, New South Wales, the pet supply store has had to adapt in response to changing customer demographics over the years.

With fewer farmers buying hay and more people now purchasing dog and cat food, toys and accessories, Carlie knew the business would benefit from pivoting to meet an evolving customer base that was more likely to buy online than in-store.

Biting the bullet

“We put the website build in the too hard basket for so long. We had to bite the bullet,” says Carlie, who launched the ecommerce site in 2019, after which she saw an immediate pay-off. 

“We used to get calls from customers checking product availability. Now that information is online, we don’t get tied up on the phone so much,” says Carlie, who also engaged a consultant to help develop a social media strategy.

“We’re proactive business owners. Sales have increased over the past few years, and the new website has definitely helped us grow.”

Let’s get digital

Carlie believes that beyond building a new website, Poplar Petfood has benefited from embracing a suite of digital platforms that boost productivity and build capacity across every spectrum of the business, from bookkeeping to marketing. 

The team now harnesses a range of online tools to drive efficiency, minimise duplication and analyse data, using Xero-integrated apps like Shopify to help to streamline processes and Asana to assist with workflow management.

Carlie admits that using new programs can be time-consuming in the beginning, but once you build your proficiency, it gets a whole lot easier.

Service with a smile

While the team knew the website would take their business to the next level, they couldn’t have predicted just how integral it would prove to be following the arrival of COVID-19. 

“Early on, people rushed to buy pet supplies. In one day we did double the volume we’d normally do. It was absolute mayhem,” says Carlie, who kept customers informed about delivery options via the website and social media. 

Carlie believes that providing friendly, personalised service that customers often don’t get from chain stores provides a point of difference.

“People appreciate that we’re a local, family-run business and all our team members are pet owners themselves. What we portray online is just an extension of what we do in-store.”

Three apps to help move your business online

These tools from Xero’s app marketplace have everything you need to streamline and simplify your business’ move online.

  1. Shopify: This global ecommerce leader enables you to begin selling online, hassle-free. Better yet, it easily connects with Xero via popular app A2X and comes complete with a bunch of handy resources to help you get started.
  2. Deputy or Tanda: Say goodbye to clumsy spreadsheets and make paying your staff a seamless process thanks to these clever apps. The apps also take care of scheduling, rostering and processing leave requests.
  3. Stripe: Thanks to the Stripe and Xero integration, your customers can pay your invoices using their preferred credit or debit card. This means you get paid easily and on time, boosting your business cash flow in the process.

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