Furry rabbit ears, ‘furry’ cow ears, tripe sticks and dried liver meat – Roxfords pick ‘n’ mix section is unlike any you find in a local Bristol store.
And then there are the “gourmet” brownie packages – made with liver, honey, egg and salmon – and the “sausage and mash” dog treats.
It’s not that Duke, the newest member of that family-owned boutique on Gloucester Road, is complaining. He is only eight months old but is already bigger than most adults.
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And like most Saint Bernard puppies, he also drools so much that he needs his own washable uniform – well, a red bib emblazoned with the words “official treat taster” just in case unsuspecting customers have any concerns. doubts about his status.
Duke owners Sarah and Michael Barrett have run the Roxfords pet store since 1999, but the company has been in existence since 1963.
The site was originally a branch of the Oxford Food Company, a delicatessen and butcher shops. The original tiles and metal bars can still be seen above the shelves packed with pet food and toys.
Roxfords (the name was simply created by a previous owner who placed an ‘R’ in front of the original ‘Oxford’) is the last old-fashioned pet store on Gloucester Road, but there were at least four in the area. region when the Barretts took over 22 years ago.
When the couple bought the business as a going concern, it was best known for its cat food and accessories, as well as the small animals it sold.
“It was mainly a cat store, but as people’s lifestyles changed we saw more and more people with dogs,” says Sarah, who was a medical assistant at a Cotswold hospital before directing Roxfords.
“We were selling all the goldfish, parakeets, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits and on Saturday mornings we had lots of young children sitting on the floor cuddling the little furry animals.
“Of course if you were selling a guinea pig you were also selling all the accessories, so it was good for business, but it was a lot of fun.
“We only stopped selling them five years ago because there was a decline in small animals. Kids now want more interaction with dogs rather than a hamster that stays in its crate and sleeps most of the day.
Roxfords is still a bustling store open seven days a week. During the hour I speak to the owners there is a constant flow of locals coming in to collect dog food, hay and straw sacks and toys for the dog. cats.
There are decorative festive sweaters for small dogs hanging above the counter and even Christmas stockings for pampered doggies.
Sarah says that like all small independent stores, Roxfords has to compete with online businesses and big chains, but it’s also the change in people’s lifestyles that has impacted the business over the years.
“When we first opened they were lining up outside at 7:45 am on Saturday, waiting for us to open.
“Back then I remember a shoe store, sporting goods store and jeweler next door – Gloucester Road has changed a lot and now there are more welcoming places.
“But lifestyles have changed and people’s buying habits have changed. Wednesday afternoons were very quiet as it was the traditional half day closure and it no longer exists as people want you to be open all the time.
“The Saturday morning lines no longer exist because families have changed the way they plan their weekends – they go out more and have more activities for the kids.
“When we first opened we could predict the customers and the revenue for the day, now it changes from day to day, it’s so unpredictable. “
For Roxfords, the pandemic hasn’t hurt the business as much as many others, and it has opened up new opportunities as well.
“We were very lucky because we fell into the ‘essential’ category as we sell pet food and we have stayed open throughout.
“We have always implemented a free local Saturday delivery service, long before Covid, and more and more people have embraced it and continued with it so that we have gained new customers.
“We adapted quickly and we also offered click and collect – we did everything we could to help people. “
And the pandemic also produced another surprise for the owner of this longtime business.
“There was an explosion of puppies in confinement,” Sarah laughs. “I guess it was the pet equivalent of the baby boomers. We really weren’t expecting this and certainly not the volume of new puppies!
“Some people were also paying incredible prices for their pets – £ 4,000 for a cockapoo, for example – but it’s sad because some are already placed in rescue centers.
“People who bought a cat or a dog during the lockdown now realize how much of a commitment it is and they go back for their vacations and suddenly realize they have a dog to think about and kennels to pay for. I think a lot of animals were taken without giving it much thought.
Although they have a team of staff, Sarah and Michael drive to and from their Tewkesbury home every day and say they still love their jobs.
“Back then, we were just looking for a business, not specifically a pet store, but we’ve always loved animals.
“As animal lovers, we fully understand what people think of their pets and how much they are willing to spend on them.
“Everyone who walks through the door has one thing in common: They all love their animals, whether it’s a little mouse or a big furry dog.
“We see them as puppies and we go with them all the way – we even had tea and sympathized with the owners when they came to tell us that their pet had died.”
While the store carries a few cheaper brands of dog and cat food, most are specialty and more expensive than the supermarket versions.
Sarah says, “People are very aware of what they’re buying now and they don’t want inexpensive cans that don’t have quality ingredients.
“But we need to have a balance when it comes to our pricing structure so that we can cater for everyone and every budget, from low end to expensive.
“We have big bags of dog food that cost £ 79 and a lot of people buy them because the ingredients are better and the animal doesn’t have to eat as much. A lady buys three at a time and the cost is clearly not a problem for her.
“I always say it’s like the difference between fine dining and fast food. You can go to McDonalds for a burger and you feel drunk, but you can go to a Michelin star restaurant and have three courses and you don’t feel full, just happy.
But what about all those dog owners who just want to buy a doggie as a fashion accessory that will look great on Instagram?
“Some people buy pets as a status thing. We don’t have so many here, but sometimes you have a small dog in someone’s purse or some dogs in disguise.
“We sell quite a few dog coats and Christmas sweaters, but we draw the line on anything that is too outrageous.
“We actually tried to sell some of the more ‘bling’ dog outfits once, but we couldn’t sell them so we realized it wasn’t for us.
“We are just a real pet store, well supported by the local population. Our customers are lovely, but animal loving people tend to be nice people in general, right? “
At this point, Duke the enormous Saint Bernard puppy pats me with his giant paw and leaves a trail of drool on my coat.
You probably won’t get this in your local Wilko’s feed aisle.
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