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Top 50 Q&A: Steven Perissinotto, VetShop

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2019 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. You can find this year’s Top 50 report here, and see our previous Q&As here.

This week, Internet Retailing interviews Steven Perissinotto, co-founder and director of VetShop Australia, a business he co-founded with his brother, Mark, in 1999. Perissinotto ranked 47th in this year’s report. 

Short on time? Here are the three key takeaways from the interview:

    • Try to be the boss you wish you’d had.
    • Allowing pets in the office has had a direct and measurable impact on productivity, and contributed to a healthier, happier workplace.
    • Anyone can have low prices or great service, but doing both is the hard part.

Internet Retailing: What does an average day look like at VetShop Australia for you?

Steven Perissinotto: Both myself and my business partner (and brother) Dr. Mark, make sure that we start each day by saying a quick hello to each of our staff members. There are usually between 15 and 20 staff in our head office on any day, and as we grow, it’s getting harder, but we feel that it’s important that the team know we appreciate them and recognise them as people, not just numbers. And of course, it helps us to keep our finger on the pulse and gives them a chance to tell us what’s happening in their lives, both professionally and personally.

It’s also an opportunity to see what pets are in the office and give them a quick pat! For those team members not in the head office (we have remote team members and an office in Manila) a quick Skype chat does the job.

After that it’s time for a coffee and 15 minutes to check my emails and plan my day. I try to have a couple of hours uninterrupted first up to get through my workload, and then the rest of my day is usually taken up meeting with others – either my direct reports from the marketing and IT teams, people from other teams or with suppliers, contractors and consultants.

We invest a lot of time and effort in understanding what our customers want, and a big part of that is getting all the parts of our business (marketing, IT, customer service, dispatch, etc) talking to each other. Mark and I see the role of management to be facilitators of that.

The day usually ends with a catch up and de-brief with Dr. Mark to look at the issues of the day and work on our forward plans .

IR: VetShop has a pretty lenient policy in regard to employees taking days off to care for their pets when they are sick. How have employee-first policies such as this impacted the morale and efficiency of staff?

SP: When try to live by the maxim “treat others as you would wish to be treated”, and when it comes to staff we try to “be the boss we wished we’d had”. It’s probably not surprising that for us pets are family, and so we give our staff the same carer’s leave entitlements to look after pets as they have for other family members.

I know our team members love being able to bring their pet into the office to keep on eye on them, if they are feeling a bit off colour or blue (the pet that is, although having pets in the office sure helps the human’s well-being as well!). It all contributes to a happier, healthier workplace for humans and pets and that has a direct and measurable impact on productivity.

IR: The business also runs a yearly pet-surfing championship. How does the business go about utilising the connections it forges during this event, and turning them into customers?

SP: We love hosting the Surfing Dog Championships each year. Next year will be our 10th year, and we’re planning something big! While obviously as a business, our goal is to attract customers, and we use the event as an opportunity to create heaps of beautiful, compelling video and other content and really engage with our customers, for us the real upside is being part of our vibrant, happy community and promoting a healthy outdoor lifestyle of people and pets.

IR: How has the acquisition of PetProductsDirect, LoveMyPet, OurPetPharmacy and MyPetSolutions improved/impacted the business? What are you able to do now that you couldn’t have done prior to the acquisitions?

SP: As a retailer of fast-moving consumer goods, our success turns on our efficiencies and economies of scale. Anyone can have low prices, and everyone wants to give great service, but doing both without going broke is the hard bit! Growing both organically and by acquisition has allowed us to drive the best deals with our suppliers which in turn keeps our retail prices low, and also allows us to continue investing in staff and technology to make our service even better.

IR: VetShop Australia also created a virtual assistant to help customers purchase pet medicine. How has this changed the experience for customers since its implementation? Is this something that could be integrated into the brand’s other websites eventually?

SP: We’re excited about Penny the PetScripts Virtual Assistant. Using AI has allowed us to assist customers in the buying journey 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s certainly not perfect (yet) but it’s been well received, and we do plan to continuing to use AI to support our customer service team. We’ll never replace our human team, but we can help them serve our customers even better, by enhancing the depth of answers and speeding up response times.

IR: Selling medication of any kind must come with some kind of risk, let alone doing it over the internet, and internationally. How does VetShop Australia handle the risk associated with its product? Have you run into any issues in regards to this?

SP: All business has risk, but in the 20 years we’ve been operating online, we’ve never had any real issues in terms of product safety. Coming from an animal health background, we understand the products and carefully select only those that are safe and suitable for mail order. We also have processes, checks and balances in place to ensure our customers and their pets are getting the best available.

IR: VetShop Australia ships into many countries, what are some of the methods it uses to keep the costs of doing so down? Do you have international warehouses, or is everything exported from Australia? What are the challenges associated with this?

SP: I’m reluctant to give too much away because our logistics ability is very much part of our competitive edge, but I am happy to say we’re constantly working to improve delivery and keep delivery costs down, particularly to our international markets. We’ve developed relationships with all the major logistics companies and have an internally developed system to determine where product is shipped from, what shipper we use, for what products and to were. We’re proud of the fact that we have a very, very low delivery failure rate and we know we have our systems and our outstanding team to thank for that.

IR: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Anything upcoming in the business to look out for?

SP: We’ve got some great initiatives around customer service and satisfaction that we’ll be launching later in the year which we’re excited about. We’re also celebrating our 20th year online this year, and we plan to use this as an opportunity to thank everyone, staff, suppliers and of course customers, who have contributed to our success.

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Simon

June 11, 2019 at 5:59 pm

Good stuff Steve. Loving the pet sick leave.

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Sue

June 11, 2019 at 6:04 pm

I want to work somewhere i can take my dog to the office! What a great initiative.

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KarynR

June 13, 2019 at 5:20 pm

I’ve been a customer of VetShopAustralia for 5 years and I love them. With 3 cats and 2 dogs in the house the pet bills add up and I could not afford them if it wasn’t for Vetshop. Not surprised that its run by someone like this who puts staff and animals first.