The superstore Pets At Home sells more than 3,000 hamsters a month and has ambitions to dominate Britain’s pet-products market. ‘We want to be the B&Q of pet care,’ says its founder and chairman, Anthony Preston. Originally a petfood wholesaler, he saw the potential for applying professional retail values to the pet-care sector and launched the firm in Chester in 1991. He says the industry had until then been characterised by small, dingy and cluttered shops in poor locations. Preston’s superstores are often situated in out-of-town shopping malls and are well-lit and hygienic. Many boast such attractions as ‘bunny villages’ and onsite veterinary practices. Expanding rapidly over the past decade, Pets At Home bought out its larger competitor, Petsmart UK, in 1999 with £25m from the venture capitalist 3i, increasing the number of its British stores from 60 to 143. Since then it has received a £24m injection from an investment company to fund the refitting of its 83 new stores. Primarily as a result of the acquisition, sales at the Cheshire company climbed 68% a year from £20.5m in 1997 to £96.8m in 2000, when it employed 1,154 staff. It makes much of its money from pet food, especially the dry foods for cats and dogs at different ages. Preston hopes that pet-related gifts such as cards, calendars, mugs and T-shirts will be growth areas in the future.
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