In a career that has gone full-circle, with plenty of milestones along the way, the latest highlight for Stella Kendall, manager of Pets at Home’s York store, has seen her elected on to the council of the regulatory body for animal medicines advisors, AMTRA.
Stella has been a qualified Registered Animal Medicines Advisor (RAMA) since 2008, this being the new title adopted by the animal healthcare sector to better reflect the qualified skills of these registered animal medicines advisors, also known as SQPs.
Her election to the council as companion animal RAMA representative, not only gives Stella the opportunity to represent her fellow professionals, numbering some 2082 RAMAs across Pets at Home alone, but also to help raise awareness amongst pet owners of this valuable resource for advice, guidance and access to animal medicines.
So how did Stella get here, and what are her aims and aspirations for the future?
Q – So how did it all start for you, following a career focused on animal healthcare?
It was a convoluted approach for me, and one that has turned full circle, returning to my initial Pets at Home store here in York.
In fact, my original career was as a chef, a vocation I moved into as there was not space for me in the family business, with my brother and sister being twins! The family wheelwright business, with its many arms, including an undertakers, joiners and gun-shop, was closely aligned to the local rural community.
So, my background was rooted in the countryside and rural pursuits, and my love and passion for animals developed from there. I did work experience in kennels, but initially it was my training as a chef that brought in the money.
The pull of animals eventually won, resulting in a drastic change as I applied for a new career at the Pets at Home store in York. Back then, it was just store number 11 of the growing Pets at Home portfolio, and in fact I was interviewed by founder Anthony Preston.
So, 11th November 1994 was the start of my Pets at Home journey, starting as assistant manager and then moving up to manager of the York store. I oversaw a major refit during this period, we were the first store to have marine fish brought in, with our own aquatic team working alongside pet colleagues.
I then moved onto the Colton store, then store number 10, before being offered the brand-new Leeds Crown Point store. Here, I started from a blank canvass, recruiting and training all colleagues before the store launch. Next step was the flagship Birstall store in Leeds, were I spent seven years, working alongside in-store vets and colleagues in the Groom Room.
25 years on, the journey has gone full circle as I have returned to York, although in what is now also effectively a brand-new store, following a major refit. Sadly, the opening date coincided with lockdown, so we have had to curtail some of the major launch plans, but we have been able to operate under the government guidelines and with Pets at Home support.
Q – What does a typical day involve for you, appreciating of course these are not ‘normal times’
No, these are not normal times, but we have had great guidance and been able to provide essential services to our customers (detailed below), and for me, much of the core activities do continue.
As a senior manager, one step down from area manager, my key responsibility is to manage the store and stock, organise and facilitate all training and basically ensure everything is legal. There are 23 stores in my area, and I am responsible for the training and disciplinary procedures across all these stores, so rely heavily on the support of my teams.
I do have to take a step back and share responsibilities, enabling my deputy manager to run the York store and help develop management progression. Delegation engenders greater team effort, and I feel colleagues benefit from that added responsibility.
My career path shows the opportunities available, and the support of colleagues also helps me to move forward. Being elected as a RAMA representative on the AMTRA council also enables me to further support my colleagues, as well as being the voice for Pets at Home, so I have received a lot of support internally to pursue this role.
Q – What is the most important aspect of your role as a RAMA?
The most important thing to understand is that customers are very different. Understanding and assessing the customer will ultimately be key to providing the best service for the pet, so it is crucial to talk, but even more so to listen.
You need to consider budgets and affordability, and having a full and thorough knowledge of the products is essential.
There really is such as huge number of different products out there, and my AMTRA training and RAMA qualification has always been key for me. So much so, that in January 2019 I became Pets at Home’s first Gold standard RAMA/SQP. This standard recognises an elite group of RAMAs committed to furthering their knowledge and expertise, and I am now supporting two other Pets at Home colleagues to achieve the standard.
Q – How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted upon your work?
Of course, as I have alluded to earlier, the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown has had a specific impact on our launch plans for the new look store here in York, but across the entire Pets at Home family, the situation changed very rapidly.
While stores remained open, it was essential items only so huge restrictions on stock. We followed all the guidelines, with limited numbers in the store, managers at the door to oversee this, and requesting payments by card whenever possible.
We had lots of support, our Group Chief Executive Officer Peter Pritchard posted daily video updates and thanked colleagues for their efforts, and there was a clear focus on colleague support and mental health awareness throughout.
From a practical point of view, we provided specific opening times for our vulnerable customers and for NHS personnel, also putting in place a 10% discount for NHS workers.
We were very grateful of the information from AMTRA and others, particularly the decision of Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) to temporarily enable remote prescribing, following strict guidelines. Pets at Home also prepared documentation for our RAMAs to make this happen effectively, meeting all requirements.
Our vets also undertook video calls, and while our trading hours were adjusted to 9am to 6pm, the vets were still providing a service through until 7pm.
Q – What is next for you on your Pets at Home journey?
We are all starting to see some return to normality, and as restrictions ease, I am very excited for the future at our new look York store. Apart from anything else, it is great to be able to just walk to work!
I am very proud to have achieved my Gold RAMA/SQP standard, and am keen to encourage others within Pets at Home to follow and further develop the ever-evolving skills that enable us to provide the right medicines and the best treatment advice, specifically tailored for that customer and that pet.
Being elected on to the AMTRA council as a representative for my fellow companion animal RAMAs, both within Pets at Home and other premises around the country, is also a great responsibility.
I am particularly keen to work with AMTRA to help raise public awareness of what we can do as animal medicines advisors. The move to change the name from SQP to RAMA is certainly a great start, and really helps the customers to understand more about our training and qualification.
We are Registered Animal Medicines Advisors, we have worked hard to achieve that status, we follow CPD (continuing professional development) to keep up-to-date with a constantly changing industry, so it is important our customers understand that, and have even greater reassurance that their pets are in safe hands!