Pets at Home brought to heel as it shuts Barkers chain

Pets at Home is closing its upmarket, dogs-only grooming and accessories chain, Barkers, four years after opening its first shop.

The UK’s largest pet supplies retailer said it would close all seven stores by the end of March, after launching the premium pampering brand in Wilmslow in 2014. The other stores are in Marlow, Ilkley, Sevenoaks, Farnham, Muswell Hill and Clifton.

All 55 Barkers employees will be offered alternative roles at local Pets at Home stores, the company said.

The brand was launched to capitalise on the growing popularity of dogs, which now outstrip cat ownership in the UK, and consumers’ desire to splash out on their pets. Barkers offers spa treatments and grooming including a “pawdicure” for £15, a “VIB” treatment for £29, and a full-body groom from £35. It also offers a range of accessories as well as food and treats.

A spokesperson for Pets at Home said Barkers had been a trial concept and that although the products and services had been popular among customers, the cost of renting the high street stores meant they were not profitable.

“There are a number of positive aspects from the trial that we will incorporate into our core Pets at Home stores,” she added.

In a trading update the retailer said it expected the store closures to generate one-off costs of about £2m associated with its shop leases and writedowns on fixed assets.

Shares rose 8% making Pets at Home the leading FTSE 250 riser after the company reported a 7.2% increase in like-for-like sales – which strip out the impact of new stores – in the 12 weeks to 4 January. Total sales rose 9.6% to £223m over the period, and guidance for the full-year was left unchanged.

“I’m happy to report further progress in the third quarter, where trading momentum in our merchandise division built over the Christmas period,” said the Pets at Home chief executive, Ian Kellett. “In the year since we launched our lower pricing initiatives we have seen a really strong customer response to the investments we have made.”