Advertisement Feature: Welcome to the Pet Palace
Scampers Natural Pet Store in Soham is one of a kind, as Velvet editor Alice Ryan - a long-term customer - explains
Ask the question “Who wants to come to the Pet Palace?” in our house and two terriers will appear in the wag of a tail. ‘Pet Palace’ is our name for Scampers, the natural pet store in Soham which has been crowned the country’s best no less than three times. Pets are as welcome as owners, and our dogs - 14-year-old Sybil and Margaret, 2 - adore it there, whining in anticipation as soon as we turn into the carpark.
The business, run by Piers Smart and his partner in both life and work Michelle, started in 1985. A self-confessed “high school drop-out” who considered himself “unemployable”, Piers decided to channel his one big passion - animals - into a business venture.
Never one to run with the herd, from the outset he pledged not to sell pets - should a customer enquire, they’re directed to an animal rescue organisation: the Smarts are vociferous supporters of #adoptdontshop - or any products he considers against the animal’s best interests, such as birdcages and choke chains.
It’s this sincere love of animals, which feeds through every element of the business, from the brilliantly trained staff at the counter to the derivative-free food on the shelves, that has made me a loyal Scampers shopper for 15 years now. I trust the team and I trust their products.
Margaret, who came to us from Jack Russell Terrier Rescue as a very sickly pup, has had all kinds of health complications. Rejected by her mum, who’d been rescued from the street heavily pregnant and ailing, she’s got a compromised immune system, which means she had all kinds of infections in the first year, from eye to skin to gut, and has since been diagnosed with pancreatitis.
On advice from the Scampers team, we switched her prescribed diet - which had a long list of additives on the back of the bag - for a mix of fresh chicken and natural, high-meat biscuits from Canagan. I’m pleased to report that she’s now so bonny, she could do to lose a pound!
Piers, who greets me wearing an apt slogan T-shirt: My Kids Have Paws, explains his and Michelle’s shared determination to operate ethically and with unwavering integrity is driven by their love for their own dogs. Since starting Scampers, they’ve owned three Rottweilers, a German Shepherd, a Japanese Akita, a Springer Spaniel, a St Bernard, a Basset Hound, four crossbreeds, a French Bulldog, a Beauceron and five cats. Now “pet parents” to Sardine, a rescued crossbreed French Bulldog, and Rooster, a French Bulldog, “we understand that people want the absolute best for their pets,” adds Piers. “Why would you not?”
The Smarts are fearless when it comes to standing up for - and standing by - their beliefs. Having noticed that his own dogs weren’t looking as happy and healthy as they used to, in 2008 Piers realised the ingredients going into “the big four” food brands had changed: a recipe that used to contain real chicken, for example, was now loaded with additives and derivatives. As is so often the case, cost reduction was, he says, the apparent cause.
A lightbulb moment came at a trade show in Germany, when Piers was introduced to BARF, biologically-appropriate raw food, and the health benefits it could offer. As well as championing raw - Scampers now has a series of freezers, stocked with raw dog and cat foods - in 2010 Piers and Michelle decided to stop selling all brands that use derivatives.
“At the time, those foods accounted for three quarters of a million in our annual turnover,” says Piers. “Some people thought we were mad, but we don’t sell anything we don’t believe in.”
The store now deals with some 130 smaller suppliers and stocks a jaw-dropping 7,500 lines. Every item sold, from collars and leads to toys and beds, is rigorously inspected by Piers and Michelle, who acts as a consultant for various brands, such is her reputation for high standards and knowing what works. “We spent years telling people that small dog doesn’t equal small toy,” laughs Piers, as Margaret attempts to pull a straggly stuffed octopus - roughly her own size - from the rack.
Spanning 5,500sq ft, Scampers has grown into a one-stop shop for pets and owners: as well as an unrivalled selection of products for cats as well as dogs, there’s an on-site vet practice, Aquarius; a nifty iClean DIY dog wash; and an ongoing partnership with Soham’s Hotdogs Training school.
Brilliantly, a Dog Bowl Deli is opening this month, offering such hearty, wholesome delights as savoury ‘mutt balls’ and sweet ‘pupcakes’. Celebrity hound Finn, the police dog-turned-Britain’s Got Talent star, is cutting the ribbon on November 2. Stabbed in the chest as he protected PC Dave Wardell from an attacker in 2016, the German Shepherd made it to this year’s BGT finals with Dave, wowing audiences with his ‘mind reading’ abilities.
“What Scampers offers you can’t get online,” concludes Piers. “Helping pets live happier and healthier lives - that’s what motivates us.”
Scampers is at Northfield Crossroads, A142 Soham By-pass, Soham, Ely CB7 5UE. Call (01353) 720431, email firstname.lastname@example.org and visit scampers.co.uk for more.
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More by this authorAlice Ryan