Quitting his job as a partner at McInnes Wilson, colleagues thought Steven Perissinotto had gone a little mad.He was leaving to start an online business at a time when online shopping was in its infancy.
It was a decision between law books or pet supplies as his family had ties in veterinary care.Luckily, the allure of working with animals was too great and more than 15 years later Vet Shop Group is now Australia’s largest online pet health retailer.
“They all thought I was crazy,” laughs Perissinotto.“People were supportive but they didn’t really know why I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
“It was more that the opportunity existed and I could see a lot more personal satisfaction in building a business from scratch.”Perissinotto began practising in property and commercial law in 1995.
In 1996, eBay was launched, and in 1999 came Vet Shop Group.“The internet was very young,” he says.
“I’ve always been a bit of a computer geek and I thought ‘this is going to get real exciting’.“As a family we’ve always had an interest in animals. My brother is a vet, it all just kind of made sense.”
By 2007, the business had reached a level of intensity where it was impossible for Perissinotto to continue juggling his profession and his business.He officially left McInnes Wilson, taking on the role of director while brother Mark Perissinotto took on the role of CEO.
“Having the analytical mind to work out how to complete a project, and work backwards from there, was immensely useful,” he says.“In property law, when you’re buying a shopping centre, you know you need to do your contracts and due diligence. I was used to working on deadlines so I could set them and keep them.”
Experience in law has also come in handy when dealing with restrictions on trade .Although veterinary drugs are not considered prescription drugs, their distribution is still heavily monitored.
“I spend a lot of my time working out the laws with international selling, so I spend a lot of my time working on cross-border trade. Laws for all countries are different so it can be time consuming.”And while the business has gone from strength to strength, Perissinotto admits the personal and career journey was less smooth at times.
Self-motivation and time management had the potential to build or break the business.“Because of the nature of the practise of law that I did, there was pressure on you from your clients to perform and deliver,” he says.
“Now that I was an online retailer, if we didn’t start ourselves each day no one cared. That was a big difference for me."Law was a co-operative and responsive activity, whereas in retail you have to drive yourself.
“It’s terrifying. If things go wrong how do you feed your family? I work twice as hard as when I did when I was a lawyer.”The group has won a host of awards and manages up to 10,000 orders a week.
The industry is relatively niche, with only two or three strong competitors.Perissinotto stresses the business is more than a pet shop, employing fully qualified, licensed, practicing veterinary surgeons and animal health professionals.
“We have a chief vet, another vet and some vet nursers," he says."We don’t sell doggy nail polish or diamante collars. We’re a vet shop, not a pet shop.
"We’re really passionate about customer service and animal health is at the basis of everything we do.”Perissinotto says the group has grown as much as it can organically and will now be looking at potential acquisitions or expansions within animal health, possibly into manufacturing or physical retail.
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