Jonny Gould refused to see his dreams destroyed by the 2015 Boxing Day floods. He told Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright how he came out fighting.
ON Boxing Day 2015, Jonny Gould received a call that every entrepreneur must dread.
The River Aire was swollen by torrential rain, and it was threatening to destroy his pet supplies store business.
“We got a call from our landlord saying that the estate was about to be flooded,” Mr Gould recalled. “We did all we could to prevent the flood by sandbagging, and calling friends and family to assist.
“But it was just impossible. We were overwhelmed. The River Aire literally came through our warehouse to about four feet. It was an absolutely disastrous time.”
Mr Gould’s enterprise – Monster Pet Supplies – was among thousands of businesses that faced a prolonged clean-up after the floods of December 2015.
In the months before the floods, Monster Pet Supplies had been flying. It had struck a deal with the supermarket chain Waitrose to launch WaitrosePet.com, an online specialist pet store, and the business also had more than 125,000 registered customers. But the company’s base in Kirkstall, near Leeds, was terribly vulnerable to flooding.
“So how did we deal with it?’’ said Mr Gould. “It all goes back to our resolve and determination, and the culture we have got as a business.”
Monster Pet Supplies – which offers “happiness head to tail” – could have simply pulled down the shutters and waited for the insurance company to arrive. However, Mr Gould decided to confront the challenge head on.
“We went down on site and put a call out for as much help as we could,’’ Mr Gould said. “I went to various shops to get buckets and mops and gloves.”
A call for help on social media showed that community spirit is very much alive in Kirkstall.
Mr Gould recalled: “I was there sweeping up the muck, and I looked behind me and there was an army of 50 local people, ranging from 18-year-olds to 80-year-olds, who were just coming out to lend a hand.”
Mr Gould praised the “absolutely fantastic” work of Leeds City Council staff, who helped the business to get rid of waste and secure emergency funding to help with the clean-up operation.
Sadly, once the clean up was done, it became clear that Monster would have to find a new home.
“We had no choice to move, which really upset us because we love the Kirkstall area,’’ said Mr Gould.
Monster Pet Supplies was awarded a grant from the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership to fund a move into new, larger premises in Maple Park Industrial Estate, Leeds.
The move safeguarded 28 jobs and allows the company to keep growing. Despite the floods, Monster Pet Supplies reported turnover of £6.3m last year, an increase of 47 per cent on the year before.
That’s impressive growth for a business established in 2010, when the UK economy was in a troubled state after the financial crash. Mr Gould has always prided himself on being a step ahead of the times.
Back in the mid 1990s, he was one of the first Yorkshire business people to realise the enormous potential offered by the new-fangled world wide web, which was causing a sensation in the US.
He recalled: “There’s a general rule of thumb, that if something is happening in America, then it usually ends up over here at some point. So I thought, ‘I’ll have a go at this’.”
One of the Management Science graduate’s earliest ventures was an online business which sold socks that were inspired by children’s TV characters.
Monster Pet Supplies was a response to the frustrations Mr Gould had encountered while trying to feed his own dog.
Few people relish the prospect of trekking to a shop, before heading home, groaning under the weight of a month’s supply of pet food. So why not set up a business that supplies pet food to your door?
“My background was online retail and I had seen a niche in the market,’’ he said. “Nobody was doing this particularly well. Within a few months, I recognised I was on to something because of the number of orders that were coming in.
“We’ve gone from a standing start to currently running at a (turnover) rate of more than £6m. We’re growing at 45 per cent year-on-year. I see no reason why that growth won’t continue or speed up. I would expect that, within five years, we could be reaching anywhere between £15m and £17m turnover.”
Since its formation, Monster Pet Supplies has shipped more than 4.3m tonnes of pet food to nearly 500,000 customers nationwide.
“We have no external funding in the business,’’ said Mr Gould. “There are opportunities to leverage that at the right time. For us, at the moment, we are managing to grow off our own steam. It’s the right thing to do, but if we did really want to catapult ourselves we could do.”
The sector that Monster Pet Supplies operates in has seen plenty of mergers and consolidation in recent years, but Mr Gould values his independence.
“We haven’t put ourselves up for sale, we aren’t actively searching for investment. Our plan is to continue doing the great job we are doing.”
“I could have lived in London,” Mr Gould added. “But I love Leeds and I love being a Yorkshireman, and I love employing people from this area because they seem to have that grit within them.
“For example, the guy who heads my IT started as a packer – he’s a Leeds boy. And when disaster hit, from the top to the bottom, every one of my staff turned up, and got covered in sludge. There really is something about being in Yorkshire.”
Name: Jonny Gould
Title: Managing director, Monster Pet Supplies
Date of birth: February 22, 1975
Education: UMIST Management Science degree
First job: Delivering papers for the local newsagent. Never been employed full time by anyone other than myself.
Last book read: The Faraway Tree with my kids (I’m not a big reader)
Car driven: Range Rover
Favourite holiday destination: New York
Favourite song: Smooth Criminal, Michael Jackson
Thing he is most proud of: Kids, wife, dog then starting businesses from nothing, creating value, making money.