Trading Stories: Maxi Zoo's in the business of caring for pets

Noelle Long, based in the Ballincollig headquarters, tells us about the chain's unique relationship with customers, and why they want to use that to educate people about the importance of cleaning up after their pets. 
Trading Stories: Maxi Zoo's in the business of caring for pets
Noelle Long National Purchasing & Marketing Director, Maxi Zoo Ireland Ltd.,

Tell us about Maxi Zoo and how you got involved.

We've got 20 stores throughout the Republic of Ireland. We offer everything for your pet.whether you have a cat or a dog or a rabbit or a reptile, we have everything you need, from food to accessories. In five of our stores, we sell fish and small animals too.

It's such an interesting market to work in. It's innovative and fun. Customers will happily chat about their pets all day long. It's a bit like their children.

It's a lovely industry to be in.

I started my career in Blarney Wollen Mills. I was working on the shop floor and an opening came up in purchasing, and I got promoted. It was a complete transition to go from dealing with customers to going behind the scenes. It gives you a completely different perspective of the business and retail in general.

Selling and buying are very different.

I went travelling, and then came back to Ireland in 2007 and saw an ad for Maxi Zoo. It was a six-month contract, which I thought was ideal because I had got the travel bug and thought I might leave again. That was 12 years ago!.

When I started off I was in general administration. I was the only one in the office in Ballincollig and we had just two stores. Now we have 20 stores and 20 people in the office, which is our national headquarters.

Emma Fanning, Brand Ambassador and Training and Livestock Manager at Maxi Zoo Ireland, with Ciarán O’Neill, Managing Director of Maxi Zoo Ireland.
Emma Fanning, Brand Ambassador and Training and Livestock Manager at Maxi Zoo Ireland, with Ciarán O’Neill, Managing Director of Maxi Zoo Ireland.

How many stores are in Cork?

We have a branch in Ballincollig, and one in the Douglas Village Shopping Centre, and one in Market Green in Midelton.

We have good coverage in Cork. We consider Midleton to be a destination store. It's outside the town, parking is really good, and we just renovated it. It nice and new and fresh.

Ballincollig is actually our oldest store in Ireland, opened in 2006 and we're still seeing year-on-year growth, which is just fantastic.

It's a testament that once our customers come in, they are loyal. Our staff love asking questions, and our customers love telling us about their pets.

We weren't even open a few years in Douglas when the big flood came and we had to close our doors for a while.

We had a little rabbit there at the time who was our store pet, and one of our store managers had to put the wellies on and go in and rescue it. Thankfully everyone was okay at the end of the day.

But that was a huge challenge for us. We had to close for a few weeks. But once we were able to reopen our trade went up again.

What are your customers like?

It's very difficult to say what our demographic is. On any given day you have different people come in. You have people whose children might have flown the nest so they get a pet to take up the place in the home. We have pensioners coming in, and even if they don't have cats or dogs, we have a pick'n'mix and they will fill up their bag with seeds for wild birds. Sometimes the just come in to have the chat. It's almost like an outing for them. Our stores are very relaxed.

We welcome dogs too, so we have all types of dogs coming in.

We cater from everyone, from families right up to pensioners.

Pets are such a part of the family now too. We have kids who might be getting a dog and they will come into us the week before they get collect their puppy. There's great excitement and they might want some advice, then when they get the puppy they bring it in to show us.

They'll bring in the dog all through their life.

We take our customer service very seriously. You have to make time for your customers. Without our customers, we wouldn't have jobs.

Tell us about your staff.

We have 170 employees in total.

In Cork, we have 20 people working in the office, and then between the three stores there are an additional 20.

The very first thing we look for is people who are passionate about pets. If you're not passionate about pets, that's not something that you can train.

We have people who offer very good customer service, who aren't afraid to talk to customers and offer advice.

We do extensive training with our staff through an online academy. They all have a task that they have to complete every month, so we consider them very well trained.

They are really passionate. Some of them even volunteer in animal shelters on their days off.

Have you any pets yourself?

I have Austin, who's a cross between a husky and a Newfoundland. He's just about to turn five. He's a lunatic, but a loveable lunatic. He has a really good temperament, and he loves to run. He's about 35 kg, so he's not the smallest of dogs, but he's very well behaved. He has two different coloured eyes too - one blue eye and one brown eye.

What kind of stock do you sell?

We're very much a dog country in Ireland. 70% of our sales would be on dog products. The remainder would be cat, small animals, fish, reptiles, birds, and rodents.

We have to get some bespoke reptile products. Things like specific bulbs to keep them warm.

Those would be the unusual ones.

During the summertime, we keep an eye out for any cooling products for pets. They can overheat very quickly. We have swimming pools for dogs, ones that are scratch resistant and don't burst easily.

We have gel-activated mats that bring their body temperature down when they lie on it.

Tell us about your campaign.

We've launched a new campaign called Scoop The Poop.

We're trying to educate people on the importance of picking up after your dog.

It's a huge problem when you're out walking.

People are embarrassed to pick up the poo or don't care and just leave it.

So we're giving away 1.5 million bags, free from our stores, to try and raise awareness of the importance of picking up after your dogs.

We're coming into a generation where people are more aware of these things.

People of my parents' generation, when they had dogs they were working dogs on a farm. Now they are domesticated and are part of the family.

We've all stepped in dog poo at some stage of our lives. It's a nationwide campaign that we're doing.

What's in the future for the business?

Expansion, and to get the name out there. We want to broaden our store locations.

We're hoping to open a new Dublin store in September, and then after that we're looking for new locations.

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