Pet Essentials in Ashford high street to close after more than 20 years

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An independent pet store will close next month after more than 20 years in Ashford High Street.

In the wake of the M&S shutdown and Debenhams announcement, Pet Essentials owner Gavin Wood said running his store had become financially unfeasible – forcing the New Rents store to close on Saturday, June 15.

The 47-year-old says sales have plummeted in the past two years.

What Pet Essentials Looks Like Today in New Rents

“The main one is the drop in sales,” he said.

“I think it’s the decline in customers visiting Main Street.

“Today, people no longer use the city center to shop as they did 10 or 15 years ago.

“I closed my store in Deal at Christmas because it was the same there, where customer traffic declined.

“It’s not just here, it’s shopping streets everywhere.

“I think they become points of service – hair, nails, banks, building societies, grocery stores, whatever you can’t get online.

“Last year we were between Argos and M&S which was a great position, but now we are between an empty store and an even bigger empty store.”

Gavin Wood pictured with his parents Brian and Ann and longtime Mel Hills employee outside the store
Gavin Wood pictured with his parents Brian and Ann and longtime Mel Hills employee outside the store

The only downtown specialty pet store, Pet Essentials opened in 1996.

Over the years, he has faced increasingly fierce competition in the form of Wilko, B&M and Poundstretcher, whose pet sections have slashed Mr. Wood’s attendance in recent years.

He said: “Personally, the problem for us is to be an expert.

“The inexpensive stores buy the best products, all the most popular brands, and display the prices.

“So people go there first and then come to us for things that they can’t get in the cheapest places.

“It took away the core of our business, which made the specialty channel less financially viable.

“My prices haven’t gone up but I’m not getting the support I was four, five or 10 years ago.

“People don’t use the city center for their groceries anymore like 10 or 15 years ago” – Gavin Wood

“But the nature of shopping changed around this time. I’m going to get out of retail.

“I’ve been there 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, especially the bargain stores.

Mr. Wood mostly blamed the change in the ring road.

The Smeeth resident said: “It was a one-way system, so it took three minutes to go around, but now you’re looking at probably around 20.

“It’s good that the town hall is investing in the city center, but that does not facilitate people’s access to the city.

“People from further afield, including once regular customers, have stopped coming because it’s so difficult to get into the city center.”

Marks and Spencer staff thank customers for their support as the store closes for the last time
Marks and Spencer staff thank customers for their support as the store closes for the last time

Having to close the shop is even more difficult for Mr. Wood given his humble beginnings.

He started his working life alongside his father, Brian, and mother, Ann, at the family stall at Elwick Road Market.

Established in 1983, the pet supply stand moved with the market to Main Street – where the woods would be open three days a week.

“We got to the point where we were at the market three days a week, so I said ‘why don’t we have a store? “” said Mr. Wood.

“The family business was a big thing to me.

“Both of my parents are no longer with us, so this is the end of a massive era.

“They are dead and this is my last connection to them – at one point my heart was saying ‘I can’t give up’ but my head says I have to.

Ashford Debenhams closes its doors
Ashford Debenhams closes its doors

“My dad was my best friend so it was terrible when he went.

“The last thing I wanted was for it to fail because then I would have felt like I was failing him, but it was taken out of my hands.

“That’s all I’ve known so it’s going to be a huge change in my life and I don’t know what the future holds for me.

“If the big guys are in trouble and they have over 200 branches, how is a one-man band going to survive?

“I feel better that it’s not just me, it’s an industry-wide issue.

“We have valued the loyalty of our customers for many years, from our family market days until today.

“Thank you very much for your support and we are sorry to let you down, but the economic situation is forcing my hand.”

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