James Davidson, co-founder and CEO, Tails.com
1.What is the greatest opportunity for your business?
We are currently serving over 9 million tailor-made meals a month and have around 200,000 dogs signed up on tails.com. And yet, there are around 9 million dogs in the UK. We therefore have a huge growth opportunity just in the UK alone, providing more dogs a complete diet which meets their individual nutritional needs at an affordable price.
2.What is the biggest challenge to your business?
All British businesses have been dealing with significant Brexit uncertainty for years now. We are no different, it brings risk to our cost base, availability of labour and international expansion. However, by our very nature as an entrepreneurial D2C business, we are set up better than many to adapt to whatever changes come our way.
3.With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently so far?
I’ve been very open with the fact that in the first few months after the launch of tails.com, we were so focused on the genius-ness of our product and how we were pioneering an entirely new sector for the pet food market, we essentially lost sight of the true needs of our customers. That was an error which nearly closed the business before we really got started and a tough – but important – lesson.
Now, as tails.com continues grow rapidly we make sure we always evaluate our priorities from the perspective of our customers. The product is the priority, but to get the right one, we focus on the customer first.
4.What is the future of the physical store and the high street?
Although we are an online D2C subscription business, many of our customers and prospective customers really value access to in-person expert advice. So I do believe there is a future for the physical store to play an essential role in providing a relevant ‘hands on’ experience for consumers.
5.What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?
We are making significant investments in the capability of our software platform which will start to pay dividends for us as part of our enhanced tails.com proposition next year. Most crucially this will help us scale for success as we continue to expand beyond the UK.
6.With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control your growing digital landscape?
In terms of ‘digital wildfire’ referring to the speed at which misinformation can be spread online, this isn’t a major area of concern for us.
Our proposition at tails.com is very clear and we invest heavily in our long term relationship with our customers to make sure we’re available for them online and on the phone for expert advice, help with specific dog concerns and to give support with orders.
We don’t aim to ‘control our digital landscape’; we aim to provide a great product and service to everyone.
7.What other retail business do you admire?
Ocado is a tough one to beat. It is a retailer which has been able to deliver an operating business and a platform business, driving two significantly different models in terms of B2C and B2B. We will have to see how the recent 50% sale of Ocado Retail to Marks and Spencer plays out but I hope it continues to thrive.
8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?
An inventor. I love to be creative; not just in having ideas but also making them happen. So I’m fortunate to have been part of a new business that has established a new model that is changing a traditional retail category for the better as there are opportunities to invent every day of the week!
9.What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?
Well, others seem generally to be impressed with what we’ve achieved at tails.com. And it is true to say we’ve consistently achieved beyond expectations – 7% market share in 5 years is quite good going. But for me, I can also see all the things we could do to make tails.com so much better. So I’d say out of 10, the right answer is somewhere between 6 and 8.
This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in our annual report ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100′