Pets at Home head of legal Louise Stonier has spent three years establishing Pets at Home’s legal team. The former DLA Piper (then Dibb Lupton Alsop) corporate associate joined pet care retail chain Pets at Home in April 2004 as the company’s first lawyer and company secretary.
“They wanted someone to come in and set up the department,” says Stonier of her initial challenges.
Stonier explains that she chose to go in-house as she was eager to work on a wider range of legal concerns than her corporate finance focus at DLA Piper allowed. Soon after joining Pets at Home Stonier began the daunting task of negotiating and drafting standard terms for suppliers, traders and other related parties, although the company’s property needs were also a key priority.
“The challenge was to get involved [in the business], establish processes and acquire resources,” says Stonier, who adds that the entire establishment process took her around six months.
Shortly afterwards, in July 2004, Pets at Home underwent a management buyout, after which the company launched an aggressive expansion plan with the aim of opening 20 new stores this year on the back of the 20 it opened last year, therefore creating a real need for property acquisitions.
In response to the company’s change in pace, Stonier found herself spending an increasing amount of time on the wider commercial concerns and less on property matters. As a result, and in planning for Stonier going on maternity leave, Stonier hired her first legal staff member. Property assistant Louise Kilshaw joined from Pannone in May last year to oversee Pets at Home’s property law concerns.
“We literally worked together for six weeks before I went on maternity leave,” explains Stonier.
Kilshaw oversaw Stonier’s wider responsibilities during her absence before Stonier returned in November to her position as head of legal, working a shortened working week. “I now work a four-day week, which is excellent,” she says.
Kilshaw’s and Stonier’s property and commercial synergies soon ripened and Stonier now names Kilshaw as a driving force behind the company’s success in meeting its target of 20 new stores last year.
Stonier’s team also consists of two acquisition surveyors, a property agent and a legal secretary, who is studying for a degree in law. Stonier expects to add a commercial contract lawyer to the mix over the next 12-18 months.
The team is currently working on a number of legal issues, ranging from those created by the Animal Welfare Bill, which comes into force in October, to issues surrounding the company’s website going transactional, which is also scheduled for October.
Stonier allocates around £130,000 of the company’s £225,000-£300,000 legal spend towards property and employment disputes, but proudly states that there are no ongoing cases taking up space on her table at the moment.
She cites her former firm DLA Piper as one of her favoured external advisers and has appointed the firm to handle all work regarding the online transactional exercise, which will allow the company to start selling its products through its website.
Stonier is also working on the legal issues surrounding the company’s green and sustainable retailing policies, which include assisting the sourcing of Pets at Home’s own-brand products from ethical suppliers and adopting its ethical trading policies.
DLA Piper also handles all of the company’s Manchester-based work, while Travers Smith is favoured for larger-scale corporate and banking matters. Dickson Minto is the firm of choice for Scottish property law issues and Memory Crystal for advice in Northern Ireland.
Although Pets at Home focuses primarily on consumer retailing of pet-related products, it also facilitates adoptions of animals housed in charities local to its stores and runs in-house veterinary practices, which are joint ventures between the vets and the store.
Stonier is also involved in the company’s charity, Pets at Home Charity, of which she is a trustee and chair of the group’s monthly meetings to discuss fundraising activities and the application of monies.
When she is not at work Stonier has her hands full with her four-year-old daughter and her eleven-month-old son, although working at Pets at Home has put getting a pet on the top of her to-do list.
“Their passion for pets is just infectious,” she says.
Head of Legal
Pets at Home
|Organisation:||Pets at Home|
|Head of Legal :||Louise Stonier|
|Reporting to:||Chief executive Matt Davies|
|Total number of employees:||3,500|
|External Legal spend:||
|Main law firms:||Beachcroft, Dickson Minto, DLA Piper, Memory Crystal, Travers Smith|
|Louise Stonier’s CV:||