Kormushka: Taking Сare of Pets

We talked with the owner of the Kormushka pet shop chain Igor Gurin about meat math, the market for pet supplies and promotion on the Internet.

Igor Gurin

Director of the Kormushka pet shop chain.

Igor, can you tell us about your work experience? How did you come to what you're doing now?

I graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in 1993 with a degree in Electronic Engineering. For several years I worked in trade: I supplied wholesale food to stores, worked as a sales manager at a confectionery factory. Over time, I wanted something of my own, but I realized that I lacked economic knowledge. The realization finally struck me when an American book on economics for children accidentally got into my hands. I was surprised that the children's book described simple economic laws, about which I, a man with a higher technical education, did not suspect and did not even think of. So, I decided to get a second degree in economics and, perhaps, to start my own business.

The first attempt was not quite successful. In 2001, together with my relative we began to produce filter materials. It went well, but the lack of our own laboratory and qualified personnel limited our work to the production of cat litter. It did not take long to make such an enterprise profitable.

At last, engineering education came in handy: I myself wrote the technical specifications, registered them in Rostest, and with the help of lawyers patented the production

In 2002-2003, we actively promoted our own brand of filler, attended pet supplies exhibitions, including ones in Moscow. And in 2003 we even received a medal and a «Best pet supply of 2003" diploma».

Those fillers are still being produced. Unfortunately, due to disagreements over the further development, production had to be abandoned. But I gradually developed connections, and after a while opened a pet shop. At the moment I am engaged in wholesale and retail trade of pet supplies, I have three permanent stores and an online store at www.korm1.ru. I am also a distributor of Canadian Acana and Orijen food brands in the Sverdlovsk region. For more than 10 years those are recognized as the best in the world.

How to evaluate the quality of animal food?

I like the Acana system, where everything is clearly structured and understandable.

I support the BaFriNo concept. It is based on the fact that cats and dogs are predators, they should eat meat, just like they do in the wild.

BaFriNo - is:

  • BA - Biologically Appropriate.
  • FRI - Fresh Regional Ingredients. Not just fresh ingredients are used, but only those that are produced near the factory. And their delivery takes a minimum amount of time.
  • NO - No Outsourcing. The whole process is controlled from start to finish; nothing is outsourced.

Acana uses «meat math» to assess the quality of the food. There are only 3 meat questions: how much meat, how fresh is it and how many types of meat are in the food. Almost all other foods are made of meat and bone meal. Acana on the other hand consists of several types of fresh meat and absolutely does not contain any cereals. Only meat, fruits and vegetables. It is better when the food contains more meat, especially fresh, and when there's a variety of meat types.

Do you have any pets?

We have a cat and a turtle. Of course, having pets helps in the work. I did not want to take such responsibility for a long time. I realized that good care was required for pets. Then my son asked for a cat, so we went to the exhibition and picked a beautiful kitten. The whole family loved him! And we got a turtle as a dowry from the daughter-in-law.

How do you stand out from the competition?

Since 2005, we began to use «Every Dog Knows!» slogan on banners, business cards and flyers. After a while I noticed that others also began to copy it.

Periodically I visit exhibitions to see what others sell. We keep a decent range of natural foods and make sure that our customer does not have to suffer choosing. We help to choose food for their pets judging by activity, age and other criteria. We have known many customers for more than 10 years. Each of them has a favorite seller to chat about cats, dogs, and even family and children.

The very attitude towards animals is also important. Once at a pet supplies exhibition in Moscow, one lady said that it’s not that she wanted to feed pets, all she wanted was to earn money. At that moment a thought crossed my mind – well, I’ll be the one to feed the pets, then. I'm not as pleased with the money, as with the fact that pets receive everything they need.

I like to listen to the stories of customers about their pets. For example, one customer told me how he was walking with a dog at 10 o'clock in the evening, and she dragged him to our shop. The owner tried to explain that the shop was already closed. The dog lied for a couple of minutes near the door, whined, realized that they won't be able to visit the shop today, and only after that agreed to walk on. You can't buy such soulful stories for any money.

We want everyone to be able to get healthy food for their animals.

Cats and dogs are easy to deceive, because they are not very picky in the taste and usefulness of food, and react exclusively to the smell.

Many manufacturers use this in the pursuit of profit, adding flavoring agents to the food, which are often not even indicated on the packaging. Therefore, the owners have a high social responsibility for the healthy nutrition of their pets.

Imagine if a small child is offered a choice of candy or porridge. Of course, he will pick a candy. Although we are well aware that porridge is much more useful. Animals behave the same way. Smells play a huge role in their lives. Therefore, they may think that food with flavoring agents, but without meat, tastes better. But we need to discard stereotypes, think a little and understand a simple thing that meat food without flavoring agents is much more useful for them.

Transferring to a healthier diet is not as difficult as it may seem. It is no secret that a number of breeders work closely with the producers of Royal Canin and ProPlan food, receiving food from them for free or at a huge discount. It is beneficial for both sides. We bought our kitten at the exibition, and the seller recommended that we feed him only Royal Canin. But I, as a person who visited many of their factories, and as a caring owner, chose a more healthy food. The kitten was indignant for two days, but then started to eat Acana instead of Royal Canin.

Scottish Fold cats have a genetic danger that the tail will turn out to be inflexible, like a stick. It could get to the point where the hind legs are paralyzed. Therefore, they need glucosamine and chondroitin. These ingredients are found in fresh meat foods. In meat-bone flour foods they can only be added artificially. Our cat is 3 years old now, and his tail has become much more flexible than in 4 months, when we bought him. And we never bought him any vitamins and minerals.

What happens in the pet supplies market?

Until 2014, there was a steady growth in sales of food and related products. The last 5 years are pretty difficult, revenue is falling. We have to constantly invent something, import new goods. Food is now the main part of sales. Toys, treats, clothes for animals fade into the background. People used to afford more: the customer saw a nice toy and bought it without any doubts. The customer saw some interesting clothing or collar and had no reason not to buy it. And now they only buy food, and practically nothing more. But oddly enough, sales of Acana and Orijen food grow. This means that an increasing number of people care about the nutrition of their pets and understand that the duration and quality of life of animals depends on the right food. Even I, unknowingly, when I was not engaged in the pet business, fed the cat with Kitekat. This makes me feel ashamed now.

Ekaterinburg is unique in the way that Moscow and St. Petersburg shop chains constantly enter the market, despite the great competition. From the experience of other regions I know that both individual stores and entire networks are closed there. In our city in those years not a single significant store (or a chain) was closed.

Only business sales took place. In addition, people who come from other business areas with big money open new shops and fitness clubs for animals.

When did you launch the online store?

In 2004 I opened a pet supply office, in 2005 - the first store, in 2006 - an online store. It was the first online store for pet supplies in Ekaterinburg. But as marketing specialists told me, people were not ready to purchase online at that time. And I abandoned it. A year or two later, other online stores began to appear. In 2007-2008, people began to actively make purchases there. I reacted late to the change in the situation, and I had to catch up.

Tell us about the promotion of the online store.

Previously, there was an unpleasant experience with companies and freelancers who were engaged in the promotion of Internet resources. We worked with SEO employees, paid more than 100,000 rubles a month, and did not even get additional profit worth of 10,000 rubles. It gets even funnier when it comes to freelancers: at first, they all talked beautifully, and then they took an advance payment and disappeared.

At the end of 2018, Syncweb conducted an audit of the site, gave recommendations to full-time employees concerning content, organized a photo session, uploaded new photos to the site, redesigned the site structure, and implemented SSL certificates. Since 2019, Syncweb promotes the web site. I don’t know much about it (and I don’t see any reason to delve deeply), and I prefer to entrust it to specialists.

How much profit does the web site make now?

The web site brings 35%-40% of sales, the remaining 60-65% falls on three permanent stores, so the online store brings more than one regular store. This is due to the fact that people began to buy more on the Internet. In 2006, there were almost no orders made online, despite the 3% discount and free shipping that we announced. Today many literally live on the Internet. And in a couple of years, I think, this ratio will shift even more towards online sales.

Who orders food from the online store?

Our typical online customer is between 30 and 60 years old, and has no time to visit shops in search of good food. Also, often adult children order pet food for their old parents, who are in another city or country, thereby taking care of them.

I remember one case. Around 2011, an 80-year-old lady ordered goods on our web site. I called her on the phone to confirm the order and was surprised how fluent in modern technology she was. She gave me a whole lecture on which online stores in our city were good and which were not. So, even the older generation knows how to order online.

What do you do to promote your business offline? How do you plan to develop?

We plan to open another store this year. In the niche of pet supplies, competition comes at the service level. For example, in other regions, many stores were closed for the May holidays, and almost all of ours worked, and delivery was carried out on the day of the order, even if the product was ordered after 6 pm. We try to deliver orders quickly, as in Ekaterinburg the customers are demanding. Sometimes I deliver myself, if there are no free couriers.

Veterinarians don't cooperate, they have their obligations towards other brands. It often seems that it is unprofitable for people to feed their pets with better food. But we develop good relationships with the groomers. We also use old methods of advertising: we ordered putting up ads in several areas of the city, offer prompt delivery on the day of the order. We also want to act as sponsors at a dog exhibition.

I've been thinking recently about the subscription system. Periodical mailings would remind our customers of us. There are examples of implementing an automatic order after a certain time. I hope this year we will implement a similar system in our online store.

What advice can you give to pet owners?

Cats and dogs are predators, they need a large amount of animal protein. In Russia (unlike in European countries), the composition of the food is prescribed correctly, as the content of ingredients decreases. In the composition, it’s meat that must come first, not corn, rice or gluten. Many cats and dogs suffer from diabetes because they eat foods with a high glycemic index. It is not for nothing that they increase the meat content and decrease the cereal content in medicated food. Remember that high-quality food is cheaper, despite the higher price, due to the fact that it has a higher meat content and, consequently, is consumed in a lesser amount. It can relieve pets of many health issues. Pets can’t choose their own food, and this choice is entirely up to you!

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