Published: 06:00, 11 May 2019
An independent pet shop will shut its doors next month after more than 20 years in Ashford High Street.
Hot on the heels of the M&S closure and Debenhams announcement, Pet Essentials owner Gavin Wood says running his store has become financially impracticable - forcing the New Rents shop to close on Saturday, June 15.
The 47-year-old says sales have been falling over the last couple of years.
“The main thing is the decline in sales,” he said.
“I think it’s the decline of customers visiting the high street.
“People don’t use the town centre now as a means of shopping like they did 10 or 15 years ago.
“I shut my shop in Deal over Christmas because it was the same there, where the customer footfall has declined.
“It’s not just here, it’s high streets everywhere.
“I think they are becoming service points - hair, nails, banks, building societies, food shops, all the stuff you can’t get online.
“Last year we were between Argos and M&S which was a great position, but now we’re between an empty shop and an even bigger empty shop.”
The town centre’s only specialised pet shop, Pet Essentials opened in 1996.
Over the years it has faced increasingly stiff competition in the form of Wilko, B&M and Poundstretcher, whose pet sections have lowered Mr Wood’s footfall in recent years.
He said: “Personally the issue for us is being a specialist.
“Cheap shops buy the top products, all of the most popular brands and slate the price.
“So people will go there first and then come to us for the things they can’t get at the cheaper places.
“That’s taken away the core section of our business, so they’ve made the specialist channel less financially-viable.
“My prices haven’t gone up but I’m not getting the support that I was four, five or 10 years ago.
"People don't use the town centre now as a means of shopping like they did 10 or 15 years ago" - Gavin Wood
“But the nature of shopping has changed in that time. I’m going to get out of retail.
“Being in it for over 30 years, it’s changed so much now that I think it’s hard for anyone to make a living.
"The big brands have ruined it, particularly bargain shops.”
Mr Wood levelled most of the blame on the change to the ring road.
The Smeeth resident said: “It used to be a one-way system, so it would take three minutes to go around but now you’re probably looking at about 20.
“It’s good that the council is investing in the town centre, but it is not making it easy for people to get to the town.
“People from further afield, including once-regular customers, have stopped coming because it’s so difficult to get into the town centre.”
Having to close the shop is even harder for Mr Wood considering its humble beginnings.
He began his working life alongside his father, Brian, and mother, Ann, on the family’s stall in the Elwick Road market.
Set up in 1983, the pet supplies stall moved with the market to the high street - where the Woods would be open for three days a week.
“We got to the point where we were at the market for three days a week, so I said 'why don’t we get a shop?'", Mr Wood said.
“The family-run business for me was a big thing.
"Both of my parents are no longer with us, so this is the end of a massive era.
“They’ve passed away and it’s my last tie to them - at one point, my heart was saying 'I can’t give it up' but my head says that I’ve got to.
“My dad was my best friend, so it was terrible when he went.
“The last thing I wanted was for this to fail, because then I would have felt like I was failing him, but it’s been taken out of my hands.
“It’s all I’ve ever known so it’s going to be a massive change in my life and I don’t know what the future holds for me.
“If the big boys are struggling and they’ve got upwards of 200 branches, how is a one-man band going to survive?
“It makes me feel better that it’s not only me, it’s an industry-wide issue.
“We appreciate our customers’ loyalty over the many years, from our family-run market days up to today.
“Thank you so much for your support and we’re sorry that we’re letting you down, but the economic situation is forcing my hand.”