Two east Belfast dog lovers have opened a new shop selling luxury gifts for pets in Belmont after seeing sales from their online business increase over lockdown.
Business partners Karen Breene and Judith Scott who own Murphy and Bailey, launched in 2019, have just opened the store at premises previously occupied by Strandtown Electrical on the busy Belmont Road.
As well as gifts for pets and pet lovers, Murphy and Bailey sells take away tea and coffee, and treats for animals and their owners.
Karen and Judith, who got to know each other through walking their dogs – Murphy, Karen’s Lhasa Apso and Bailey Judith’s Sprussel – in Belmont Park, said that they believed it was the right time for them to open the store despite the challenges Covid-19 presents, as sales for pet-related products continue to rise.
In 2019 the UK petcare market was estimated to be worth almost £7bn by the Office of National Statistics and research also published last year showed that Northern Ireland had the highest percentage of dog owners in the UK, with more than a third of households here home to a canine friend and around 12% having a cat.
These figures are thought to have increased since lockdown with families keen to welcome animals as they spend much more time at home.
Launching Murphy and Bailey is a huge career change for both Karen and Judith who have both worked in corporate careers for over 20 years.
Karen previously held senior global roles in BT, while Judith, who has had a long career in banking, will soon leave her senior role to work in the business full time.
Karen explained: “Although we are using skills and knowledge from our corporate careers it’s been a huge learning curve for both of us running our own business, but as passionate pet owners we are really excited about what we bring to the market.
“Since launching our online business last year we have seen high demand for lots of our bespoke locally produced goods like our Northern Ireland themed dog bandanas and our luxury sheepskin beds.
“Anecdotal evidence would certainly suggest that not only have more people welcomed pets into their families during lockdown but that they are also spending more time and money on their furry friends and we’ve seen the benefit of those trends in our business.”
Murphy and Bailey stocks goods from designers and makers including Irish Woollen Workshop in Sligo which produces luxury sheepskin beds, Mud Ireland Pottery in Portadown which makes their dishes and Belfast-based pyrography company Dribbly Yak which has designed bespoke wooden pet-themed Christmas decorations.
Working with Lurgan-based textile manufacturer Lamont the business has designed its signature brightly coloured Northern Ireland themed bandanas for dogs. They include the Harland and Woof, the Ulster Fry, the Giants’ Pawsway and the TerrierTanic, and have proved extremely popular online.
Judith added: “We were always keen to have a physical store to meet more of our customers and although Covid-19 has meant that we are opening later than intended, we are thrilled to be able to welcome animal lovers and their dogs to our Belmont Road store now.
“We are limiting the numbers of visitors to our store at any one time and social distancing measures are in place but we believe that we can operate very safely if the public sanitise their hands on entry and remember to wear face masks – we have some beautiful dog-themed masks in the store too!”
Karen and Judith are gearing up for a busy period ahead of the festive season as it seems many pet parents are just as keen to spoil their animals as their human friends and family!
A recent survey by Money.co.uk found that despite tougher economic circumstances for many, family pets are set to feel the extra warmth of a more expensive present this Christmas – with last year’s Christmas spend on pets presents expected to rise from £27 to £31 in 2020.
Judith said: “As a family we have always had a Christmas stocking full of treats and toys for each of our dogs, or a new coat, blanket or bed – and I know that’s also the case in the homes of many animal lovers across Northern Ireland!
“As well as stocking some award-winning pet treats, we are working with local suppliers to offer some new and exclusive Christmas gifts for pets and their owners so no-one gets forgotten.”