Pet store owner Rachael James packs so much stock in her tiny store that customers describe it as an Aladdin’s pet cave. Rachel tells Justine Thompson how she’s making the most of her space
When the owners of a Sheffield pet store closed the business in 2002, one of their employees, Rachael, took the opportunity to open her own store in the same building.
Today, almost 20 years later, Bradway Pet Shop is a vibrant small business that is considered a vital part of the local community.
Animal lover, Rachael James worked as a saleswoman for the previous owners for seven years,
during which time she learned a lot about pet retailing. And she felt she couldn’t sit back and do nothing when her bosses decided it was time to go out of business.
âI started again four weeks later so I didn’t have much time to think ‘did I do the right thing?’ âAdmitted Rachael, who now manages the store on her own.
âBut time has shown that I made the right decision. Fortunately, a lot of customers have stuck with me and
supported me and some still do all these years later.
One of the most remarkable things about Bradway Pet Shop is how the small store manages to offer its customers such a wide range of inventory considering the size of its retail space.
âI don’t have a lot of storage, so I have to use every inch that is available,â said Rachael, who can’t actually specify the size – or should we say small – the store in terms of square footage. âI’ve always been good at finding room for the stock, even when I think it can’t fit.
She markets the store as “Sheffield’s Aladdin’s Cave for Pets”, but it was the customers who came up with the nickname first.
âNew customers who walked into the pet store kept saying ‘Ooh, this is like an Aladdin’s cave for pets,’ so the nickname stuck. They still say it now and I use it in my advertising.
âFrom the outside, visitors think the store won’t have a lot of inventory, so they’re amazed at what I can do in such a small space. They are always amazed at the large number of products they see. I try to stock items made in Britain where possible and have beds stacked up to the ceiling.
Rachael even finds space to offer a harness fitting service, which has benefited from the recommendation of local dog trainers to their clients.
âI am very picky about the harnesses that I will store and adjust,â she added. âI often try on multiple harnesses to make sure it’s the right one for this dog.
âAs a lurcher owner, I specialize in fitting greyhounds, as many harnesses on the market do not match their body type. I stock the ones that will. I often see people who travel more than half an hour to my house just to try on a harness.
During covid-19 closures, Rachael had to make harness adjustment a service by appointment only, an arrangement that will continue even with the easing of restrictions.
As a victim of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), Rachael found her work-life balance difficult during the pandemic, describing the first three months as the worst. Initially, she reduced her hours, served only at the store door, and offered a delivery service with the help of her husband Andy.
Then, from June of last year, she allowed one person at a time into the store, began her harness fittings by appointment only, and the business slowly recovered.
Things are starting to return to normal now and Rachael allows two people to enter the store at the same time. She will continue to sanitize hands on entry for the foreseeable future and intends to keep a counter screen, which was installed at the start of the pandemic.
Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, Rachael is still as committed to serving Sheffield’s pet owners for many years to come.
âI love animals, especially dogs. I grew up with them and can’t imagine life without a dog, so owning a pet store is my ideal job, âadmitted Rachael.
Customers are always amazed at how much stock Rachael can pack in the small area of ââher jewelry store.
âA lurcher called Fergal currently owns me. It’s a rescue from Ireland and completely nuts. I had my old dog, Nash, from a client. He was 15 months old and she needed to relocate him – the customer’s ad never reached the pet store window. We went to meet him the next day and he came home the next day. We had him for 10 years and he was an amazing dog. If I hadn’t opened the pet store, we would never have met him.
So there were no regrets about his bold decision to take Bradway Pet Shop all those years ago. In fact, Rachael is more determined than ever to rebuild better over the next several years.
âMy little pet store has changed so much, and so has the pet industry. I now stock a huge range of natural foods and treats and have a wide variety of good quality accessories, many of which cannot be found at other local pet stores. Here is a bright future, âshe said.