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From menagerie to management – Stephen Holland’s inspiring Pets Corner journey
21 August 2017
Stephen Holland was a 14-year-old work experience student when he first set foot inside a Pets Corner store. A Saturday job followed, then an apprenticeship, and thirty-three years later Stephen is now a hugely-respected director of the company. Read our Q&A with Stephen to discover the secret to his amazing success.
How did you feel when your school sent you to Pets Corner for work experience?
Annoyed! Pets Corner was my second choice. I was at school in Hassocks and Pets Corner was in Haywards Heath – I didn’t even know where Haywards Heath was! But the minute I walked into the store I knew I was in the right place. During my work experience I got involved with absolutely everything, using the till, handling the animals, working in the stock room etc. Everything just clicked - I gelled with the staff and somehow it felt quite emotional when I left on my last day. A short time later I had a call offering me a Saturday job and I jumped at the chance.
Did Pets Corner have many branches at this stage?
Just Haywards Heath and Hove. It was 1984 and Mark and Sandra Richmond, who’d founded the first shop back in 1968, were very much hands-on with the business. Even Mrs Richmond’s mother, Mrs Nettleton, worked in the shop sometimes (it’s strange but I’d never refer to them by their first names – they wouldn’t mind but it wouldn’t seem right to me!).
When did you start working full-time for Pets Corner?
I didn’t have any firm career plans, but I was keen on nature and science. I never really enjoyed school and knew I wanted to get a job rather than carry on in sixth form. So when Pets Corner offered to take me on as a trainee under the YTS apprenticeship scheme I was absolutely delighted. I started in the summer of 1985 when I was still only 15. I earned £26 a week Monday-Friday as a YTS employee, then another £6 for my Saturday job.
I was quickly given extra responsibilities, such as ordering stock, and I loved working with the team. Caring for the animals was a bonus too, and I have to confess that I started to add more and more pets to my family over the years. At one point we had chickens, geese, ducks, an aviary, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, doves and a rescue goat! Most of the money I earned was going back in the till to buy food for the animals. Luckily my parents had a big garden and were very tolerant!
Can you tell us more about the team you worked with?
They were a great bunch of dedicated people. Mr and Mrs Richmond were brilliant employers and felt like part of my extended family. I even babysat for their children, although Dean, their oldest son and now CEO of Pets Corner, was probably around 14 at the time so he denies ever being babysat by me! Mandy and Dawn became particular friends, and in fact I met my wife, Helen, through Mandy.
One thing that always struck me was how genuinely everyone cared for the animals. That was why we stopped keeping kittens in-store by the late 1980s. We all doted on the kittens but it was wrong to keep them in cages. Our philosophy as an ethical pet retailer is so important, and it’s one of the reasons I’d never want to work anywhere else.
How did your career progress?
After the apprenticeship I became a sales advisor, and spent eight years in the role. In 1993 I was promoted to assistant manager at Haywards Heath. It was an exciting time for the company because Mr and Mrs Richmond’s son Dean was now heavily involved in the business, and opened a third store in Brighton. Soon another shop followed in Crawley and I was thrilled to be asked to manage the Brighton store, and then a brand new shop in Ditchling. Before long I was regional manager, and by 2003 my title was Head of Human Resources. At that point we had just opened branch number 25, and now we have 150! From this September I’ll be Director of Retail, overseeing the senior management team and staff training as well as many other duties. It’s another huge step, but I enjoy every new challenge and look forward to this next phase.
Can you share any tips for a successful career?
I think the number one tip is to enjoy what you’re doing, and to believe in the company you’re working for. The day I wake up and don’t want to go to work will be the day I decide to move on. Of course there will be some periods that are stressful and more challenging than others, but if you keep working hard, and to the best of your ability, your commitment will be rewarded.
Finally, what happened to the menagerie?
I no longer feel the need to keep quite so many pets! These days we have just two cats and two guinea pigs, but they are very much part of the family. At some point we’d love to get another dog, but that might have to wait until I retire, which isn’t likely to be any time soon!
Thank you, Stephen, for sharing your memories on our blog, and congratulations on your new role.
Would you like to join the Pets Corner family? You could have a fun, challenging and rewarding career at the most ethically driven pet company in the UK. Click on our recruitment page to find out about jobs in your area!