Coping with a supplier-side meltdown with Neil Fitzpatrick from Pet Drugs Online (episode 291)

Neil Fitzpatrick is the Managing Director at Pet Drugs Online. The UK’s leading online pharmacy service for pets set up and run by vets in Somerset, UK. They launched in 2005 and are on track for over £50m in sales this year with a 33% yearly growth rate.

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About Neil

Neil started his career developing websites. When he transitioned into a position working with an extreme sports retailer, he found quickly that he missed the web side and was springing to leave when they started a conversation about moving him into retail development and eCommerce.

After a few rounds of conversation, Neil moved into a new role building out the retail site, something he admits he knew nothing about. Still, he forged on, building that business and learning as he went through it.

Today, it’s one of the most successful extreme sports brands in the UK. After that experience, Neil says he wanted to get a taste of doing the same thing at scale so he took on a corporate role. He joined a corporation where he was part of a complete evolution of the company’s online presence.

While his opinion of corporate life was not improved, the company’s site grew immensely. When a research and development role with a pet company cane available Neil applied, thinking he would t probably have much of a chance.

But, as luck would have it he nabbed the job that he still has today. He says his favorite thing about e-commerce is the constantly changing landscape of the industry.

COVID impacts

Like all businesses, Pet Drugs Online was dramatically impacted by the pandemic. They started early on bolstering up their infrastructure as much as possible and so did better than many weathering the storm.

It was a good thing too — like a lot of other online businesses, Pet Drugs Online saw a 400% increase in sales at the beginning of March. More serious though was the impact on their customer service team which went from responding to an average of 4,000 emails in a week to over 25,000 over a four day period. 

The initial push alongside other factors decimated the manufacturing and supply chains for their pet food supply and even though it represents just over a quarter of all their business, Neil had to remove it from the site altogether.

The increased customer service demand was a huge challenge but unlike other businesses, Pet Drugs kept the lines of communication open. They went with a proactive approach, sending daily communication emails out to customers and doing their best to assuage people concerns. 

Business Mode Basics 

At the end of the day, Neil believes they will sustain and recover since their business model relies on value for money and good customer service.

He says their customers have been largely understanding and longer lead times with shipping, though frustrating, won’t turn people away from the brand. Every bell and whistle and tech innovation simply can’t replace that. 

COVID, in a way has transformed the marketing landscape into one that values honesty and transparency. People are getting more real, connecting authentically and beginning to turn away from the influencer era. 

Going Remote 

Neil believes that remote is here to stay and that the pandemic proved the theory that people really can work from home.

He’s already demolished private offices at their headquarters in favor of a hot seat set up. Even though some people struggled at first, his entire team is now really comfortable working remotely.

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