Pets at Home CEO to step down; trading strong

Pets at Home CEO Peter Pritchard

Wilmslow-based pet and vet retailer Pets at Home Group said on Wednesday that its CEO Peter Pritchard has “agreed with the board that he intends to step down” in May 2022 after 11 years in the business and four years as chief executive officer.

This follows the successful turnaround of the business, in which he developed and implemented the group’s pet care strategy, in support of its ambition to become the best petcare business in the world,” said the company.

Peter will remain fully engaged in his role as chief executive officer until late May 2022, to oversee the presentation of the group’s 2022 preliminary results to investors and to ensure a smooth transition period to his successor.

“The search for his suitable successor has commenced across internal and external candidates, and a further announcement will be made in due course …”

Pets at Home shares fell up to 4% on the news, before recovering some of the lost ground.

Pets at Home also published a trading update, saying: “The UK pet market remains robust, and the strong performance witnessed across both parts of the business during the second half of last year has continued throughout the past six months.

“Based on trading year to date, the board now anticipates that group underlying pre-tax profit for the 53 weeks to 31 March 2022 will be at the top end of the current range of analyst expectations, ahead of previous guidance …

“As at 2 November 2021, the company-compiled consensus estimate of analyst expectations for the 53-weeks FY22 full-year post IFRS-16 underlying pre-tax profit was £131m, with a range of £128m to £135m.”

On Pritchard’s departure, the company added: “Pets at Home is thriving under Peter’s leadership.

“In the four years since his appointment as CEO, its share of the pet care market has grown significantly and its market capitalisation has increased almost fourfold, with the exceptional progress being made recognised externally through numerous awards …

His strategy to leverage the group’s capabilities, bringing together joint venture veterinary services, grooming, product, multi-channel, and subscriptions has transformed the business into the UK’s market leading omnichannel pet care provider focused on serving the needs of the pet owner. 

Underpinning this turnaround and Pets at Home’s future growth has been strong investment in capacity and capability, creating a best-in-class data capability around an award-winning VIP loyalty club of more than 6.5m active members and, more recently, the £20m investment into building a unique, proprietary digital interface that seamlessly connects the group’s ecosystem of products and services for customers across all channels.

“The opening of a purpose-built, highly automated warehouse in Stafford in 2023 will enable a significant further increase in capacity and productivity to serve the UK’s growing pet population, and the development of the new pet care centre format is the cornerstone of the Group’s revitalised physical estate.”

Pets at Home chairman Ian Burke said: “On behalf of the board and colleagues across the group, I would like to thank Peter for his significant contribution to Pets at Home since becoming CEO in 2018.

“His tireless work and dedication as leader of this great business has given it a very firm foundation for growth long into the future, for which we are all very grateful.

“We will all be very sorry to see Peter go, and he will leave us next summer with all our best wishes.”

Pritchard said: “I have loved my time at Pets at Home.

“It is a privilege to lead such a talented and passionate group of colleagues on this journey and I am incredibly proud of the results we have collectively achieved.

“We are the market-leading pet care business which, supported by a highly capable executive management team, has really good momentum and is primed to continue growing its share of market for many years to come.

Having completed everything that I set out to achieve in 2018, next summer is the right time to take well-earned rest and to hand over the reins to a new leader who will continue this journey in becoming the best petcare business in the world.

“I would like to thank the board for their support, and I look forward to maintaining the strong momentum in the business through the next few months and working with them to find and appoint a suitable successor.”

Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst Sophie Lund-Yates said: “The market reaction to Pets at Home’s CEO walking away is simple disappointment.

“Mr Pritchard has overseen an impressive turnaround, and guided the Pet superstore through astonishing growth during the pandemic.

“However, this is a natural time to walk away.

“This isn’t a case of a less savoury ousting or running for the hills.

“The baton being passed onto any successor is in a much better condition than it was, and the wider challenge for the newcomer will be coming up with ways to keep gathering momentum.”