Pets at Home sees ‘exceptional levels of demand’

Wilmslow, Chesire-based pet and vet retailer Pets at Home Group Plc said on Thursday it has experienced “exceptional levels of demand” both in-store and online as the COVID-19 crisis has developed.

In a trading update for the year ended March 26, 2020, Pets at Home said it now expects its underlying pre-tax profit for the full year to be “slightly above the top end of the range” of current market expectations.

“For most of our fourth quarter the group traded in line with market expectations, reflecting the continuous execution of our proven pet care strategy,” said Pets At Home.

“In the closing weeks of the financial year we have, however, experienced exceptional levels of demand, both in-store and online, as the COVID-19 crisis has developed, and have seen existing customers increase average basket size by pulling forward purchases as well as new customers access our pet products and healthcare services. 

“Our previous investments in omnichannel capacity, new customer acquisition channels and subscription services had equipped us to meet above-trend levels of demand and, with disruption in Far East supply stabilising relatively quickly, our product availability held up well. 

“Accordingly, we now expect underlying pre-tax profit for the full year to be slightly above the top end of the range of current market expectations …

“Our designation by the UK Government as an “essential retailer”, together with the national distribution of our UK store estate, means that we can continue providing those pet products and health care services that are deemed essential to the nation’s pet owners, at a time when pets are playing an increasingly vital role in our daily lives. 

“In seeking to strike a balance between providing essential services to the public alongside safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues, we have closed our Groom Room salons and implemented all Government advice regarding social distancing across our operations.

“While nearly all of our First Opinion veterinary practices, and all of our Specialist Referral centres, currently remain open to provide urgent and emergency pet health care, in line with industry guidance, we do anticipate reduced customer revenues.

“This, together with the likelihood of lower store revenues resulting from other necessary measures we have implemented, is expected to have a negative impact on our normal levels of group turnover as we start the new financial year …

“Given the uncertain backdrop, we do not think it is appropriate to give financial guidance for FY21 and beyond at this stage …”

Pets At Home CEO Peter Pritchard said: “While FY20 has undoubtedly ended strongly for Pets At Home during this unprecedented time, the period ahead is uncertain for us all, and Pets At Home will not be immune to these challenges that we collectively face.

“I am extremely grateful that our colleagues and operations have shown such resilience and flexibility to meet the recent exceptional level of demand from both existing and new customers. 

“As ever, in difficult times consumers turn to trusted brands and advice, and that is why we are working tirelessly to ensure that we continue to provide essential products and healthcare services for the UK’s pets. 

“The health and safety of our colleagues, partners, suppliers, customers and pets remains our top priority.

“We continue to take all appropriate action in line with government advice and remain vigilant to the potential impact of COVID-19 as we start the new financial year.

“We are also providing support for the communities that need us through £1.1m of funding to nominated pet charities, a £1m crisis fund for colleagues and discounts to NHS workers as they care for the nation’s health …”