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AJ from Park Pets on being an 18-yeard-old shop owner

Meet the teen entrepreneur who turned his lockdown dog-walking venture into a fully-fledged retail business

How did you end up becoming an 18-year-old shop owner?

When I was 15 I started offering dog walking and dog sitting services to all my neighbours in East Village. It was originally kind of just for fun, plus I needed to make some money, but it turned out to be a really good venture to do during Covid as so many people had got pets over that time. That’s how it all started. Then I was at Hackney Bridge one day and saw a sign on the door here advertising ‘free space for young creatives’. I applied for it, not thinking I get it. The process was really long involving making a video, but I just told my story and explained how I wanted to upgrade the business from walking and sitting dogs to selling pet supplies and ended up winning the space rent-free for a year. I then invested my dog walking savings to get it all set up.


Tell us about the concept behind the shop?

My intention from the start was for it to be an environmentally friendly, zero waste business, and for it to feel a bit like a pick and mix for dogs. We’re actually using human sweet dispensers, but instead they are filled with dog treats, and people can come and refill containers for their pets without the packaging. Also, in comparison to grocery stores and supermarket treats, which are full of preservatives and additives, ours are extremely raw and natural. They are much more healthy for dogs, and are made from the scraps from human food production; things like pigs ears and chicken feet, that would otherwise just be disposed of.


How did you find all your suppliers?

I did like a lot of like primary research, sending questionnaires to local pet owners asking what they like and what they want their pets to have. Then it took a few months to find the best ethical wholesale suppliers, because I didn’t want to source from people who are solely making treats for dogs. I wanted to divert the scraps from butchers and mass food production, which are so good and healthy for dogs. For example, we sell hairy rabbit ears, which some people are really freaked out about – even I was freaked out about it in the beginning – but they have so many health benefits for dogs, including being a natural dewormer and flea treatment.


What have the first couple of months as a shop owner been like?

Everybody keeps telling me how pleased they are that we’ve opened as there’s no local pet shops around here, its all cafes. I saw that when I was applying for the space and knew there was definitely a market for all these new pet owners. A lot of people my age say they want to open their own business, but I never really had that mindset. It’s just been a journey from walking other people’s dogs as a side hustle to suddenly owning a shop.


Where do you think it’s all going to lead next?

I feel I’m quite a spontaneous person, so I’m just seeing where it takes me. I still aim to go to university, but this year I’ve delayed that to focus 100% on the business. I haven’t hired any staff yet – my mum and my friends have been super supportive helping me voluntarily – but all the money has been invested back into building the business. I’m slowly expanding the products that we’re selling, like now we’re selling like pet bandanas which are handmade, and we’ve got cat toys. I want to appeal to a wide range of customers, because I was really surprised how many people want to have a vegan lifestyle for their pets, so we’ve expanded the rage to appeal to them too.


What do you friends think about your career?

A lot of them say they want to start their own ventures, but none of them have done something like this yet, really. And it’s super hard. There have been times when I ask myself why I’m doing all this, and that maybe a 9 to 5 would be easier. It never stops – even when I’m sleeping my mind is thinking about what I can do next to help the business grow. I still want to be out with friends partying and everything too, but they all say to me that I’m only going to be an 18-year-old business owner once, so I should try and make the most of that and enjoy all the opportunities that come from it.

Visit Park Pets at Unit E, G05 Hackney Bridge, E15 2SJ

Follow on Insta @parkpetsshop

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