Dierapotheker

“We do many things to strengthen the relationship with our customers.”

Interview with Robin Holle — Managing Director at Dierapotheker.

Dierapotheker

Dierapotheker is a true pioneer among web shops: it has been around since 2006. Owner and founder Robin Holle: “Back then it was definitely unheard of in the veterinary world to start selling products online. From a business perspective, however, it was extremely interesting. You could cast your line and always end up catching something. Not only were the margins huge, there was also little competition.” Since then, Dierapotheker has gone from a self-built platform to Shopware and transformed itself from an interesting hobby project into one of the largest online pet shops in the Netherlands.

Dierapotheker (which means “veterinary pharmacist” in English) was born from Dierenartsenpraktijk Horst, Robin’s animal clinic in the town of Horst in Limburg. The shop is therefore the result of a veterinarian’s expertise. Robin: “Many veterinary medicines are prescription-based. A veterinarian must have seen the animal, and the medicine cannot be provided without a prescription. But there are also a number of other medications, such as anti-flea treatments, that are readily available. These come in small boxes that easily fit through the mail slot. That’s how it started.”

A woman in front of the building of Dierenkliniek Horst

Heavy bags of food

For consumers, things took some getting used to. “In those days there was still a lot of fear surrounding online payments. iDEAL had just recently been introduced. Back then it was mostly about gaining the consumer’s trust.” However, the novelty of home delivery was very helpful in this regard. “Imagine that a dog has kidney problems, and the vet prescribes a kidney diet that must be followed for the rest of the dog’s life. Customers at that time were thrilled that it was even possible to have such heavy bags of food delivered to them at home.”

Several large bags of animal food

No software package

It started with a few orders per day, but the numbers quickly grew. The shop went from a corner in the clinic’s auditorium, to a computer with a packing table in the hallway, to a portable unit, to its own building.

Robin: “It was unstoppable: at one point we even had people packing orders during Carnival. Then we hired someone for customer service and she had no idea what she was getting herself into. We didn’t know either. There was no software package, so each order would be manually retyped from the web shop to our administration system. That was error-prone, obviously. The advantage was that the logistics were right there next to us, so we immediately knew what was in stock and what wasn’t. That’s also why we have never outsourced fulfillment. It’s nice to be on top of things, and our customers notice that too.”

A Dierapotheker employee in the warehouse with a package

Because there was no software package, Dierapotheker started with a self-built platform which it continued to use for quite a while. Robin: “It was literally in the garage: two guys in Almere who offered hosting and picked up the web shop for us. It worked great. If we needed something, it would get built right away. Anything was possible. But it was also dangerous, since it was actually just one guy managing our entire shop. A monstrosity of links that no one understood, except for him. That makes you extremely vulnerable, so in the end we decided that we had to switch to something else.”

Dip in conversion

That something was Shopware. “We saw a lot of possibilities with Shopware. We can easily do things ourselves, which wasn’t possible in the old web shop. The Shopping Worlds tool allows you to build pages yourself, and before you know it you have something that looks really good. Now we can do much more with cross-selling and upselling. There are all kinds of opportunities that we will get much more out of. Still, it was a bit daunting. We talked to a lot of people who had serious problems with this type of transition and experienced a sharp dip in their conversion. We made the switch in the evening, and everyone who had been involved was watching as if we were about to land on the moon.”

“Everyone who had been involved in the transition was watching as if we were about to land on the moon.”

Robin Holle Managing Director at Dierapotheker

But Dierapotheker saw no dip in its conversion. “That’s because we launched a number of great campaigns at the time, including giving away discounts. Regular customers received a discount voucher worth €10, and anyone who subscribed to our newsletter received a discount as well. We had never done anything like that before and it worked better than expected. We also increased our budget for ads, which in turn caused the Return On Ad Spend to fall slightly.”

Goodies and treats

Not everything went completely smoothly, however. “As soon as we were live, the login process wasn’t working properly. We had to give away some extra Pet Points then. We are very dedicated to our customers and we do many things to strengthen the relationship. Pet Points is one of them: you earn these when you place an order, and once you have 250 points you get a €10 discount. We once had the slogan: free goody or treat. We still do that today: you always get something free with your order, like dog biscuits, for example. We get videos from customers who receive a package from us, and their dog is already nudging it with his nose and nearly opens the box himself. That’s amazing to see. It may be small, but it makes us feel connected.”

A box with animal food ready to go out

Fully committed to customers

“All that customer contact is very important to us; we really understand how important our customers’ pets are to them. That’s why we also do other things, like making blogs and videos. I write a lot myself and we record the videos with one of our veterinarians, who can share the information in a really nice message from the consultation room. For instance, the video ‘What should I do if my dog has an gland infection?’ has been viewed 77,000 times. Our customer service staff hear those types of questions quite often as well. We have a handful of great people on the customer service team who are fully committed to our customers. That happens to be something Mollie is very good at, too. With your chat function, we get a response almost instantly. When you can help people so effectively, that also makes it more fun to work in customer service.”

A smiling customer service employee at her desk

“We ended up at Mollie purely because of Kiener (who helped us make the switch to Shopware). You just turn it on and it works. You can adjust the payment page to match your own website with simple things like your logo and colors, which takes all of three seconds. In addition, you can see that Mollie continues to develop its services, but that doesn’t cost you anything. I also thought it was nice that you took the initiative to contact us yourselves when something had gone wrong with the fees, and immediately indicated that you would credit the amount we had overpaid. We have had very different experiences with that in the past. We weren’t keeping an eye on it directly ourselves, so the action from Mollie creates a lot of trust. We actually don’t have to do anything in this regard anymore, and we can focus on the growth of our platform.”

“You just turn it on and it works.”

Robin Holle Managing Director at Dierapotheker

« Pour arriver au succès, il faut d’abord faire ses preuves. Ce qui n’est pas toujours synonyme de salaire. » — Curtis, Avant Arte