Interview with Fressnapf Group CEO Torsten Toeller

From shop to ‘local community manager’ in a new business eco-system

The pet retail landscape needs to change to create solid foundations for the next stage of growth. Europe’s biggest chain is the Fressnapf Group, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020. What is Torsten Toeller planning for the company he founded?

Successful 29 years

Since its launch, the Fressnapf Group has built the biggest pet retail chain in Europe, mainly based on its franchise system in Germany. Each year, sales and profit have outperformed the previous year. The many cornerstones of this success:

  • a sustainable internalised value chain 
  • building competences for running stores or affiliate store networks
  • e-learning to improve employee knowledge and advising skills
  • continuous range optimisation 
  • 15 own exclusive brands
  • fast expansion at and in the right locations 
  • gaining competences for international expansion
  • centralised systems and processes, but localised customer service
  • shift from mass marketing to loyalty program and CRM systems, for example PAYBACK in Germany and Austria
  • using big data and customer insights

“All of this remains essential, but is by no means enough for the next phase,” says Torsten Toeller, chairman of the Fressnapf Group. To pave the way for future success, the Fressnapf Group has collected more than 1,500 ideas from employees, franchise partners and the management team, clustered in 27 focus areas. This input, combined with management vision, will guide the group to a prosperous future. The process is led into the corporate strategy ‘CHALLENGE 2025’.

Going cross-channel

In today’s fast-changing world, the retailer has to be where the consumer wants to buy, no matter when or where he wants to shop at Fressnapf – 24/7. Integrating the online channel into your retail concept needs to be based on customer insights and deliver the right connection between the different platforms. A mix of service apps, social media and digital assistance should be linked via big data solutions. The result is an eco-system for pet lovers. 

Innovation lab

Transforming its core business has to be achieved step by step within the existing matrix organisation.
It will mean changes to all departments and all core processes. Today’s successes are no guarantee for the future, so innovation must always be part of a business strategy. To ensure that innovation in the company continues to thrive, the Fressnapf Group has created an innovation lab in Düsseldorf: a separate DMU, with its own budget to develop ideas and investigate start-ups. Promising concepts will be tested and if successful transferred to the central organisation. A company-wide app, the ‘FRESSNAPP’ has also been launched. Here, employees can discuss topics, propose ideas and reach out to management.
Keeping the human connection

Consumers still like to meet ‘real’ people, getting advice from expert employees. A pet shop should be more than just a place to buy products; it should solve problems, provide services and also be somewhere where you enjoy being. This is what the new eco-system should deliver along all customer touchpoints – whether online, mobile or at the local store. So the shop manager will gradually become a local community and customer manager. 

“We must also be realistic. The consumer will not pay for additional services delivered via apps,” says Torsten Toeller. “As an omni-channel platform, you have to be a problem solver and deliver a set of services that make the consumer’s life easier. You offer them a yearly subscription with a low fee. Just like Amazon is doing with their Prime clients.” 

Franchises part of the DNA

Torsten Toeller believes that the overall number of pet stores will decrease within the next few years, but the number of Fressnapf | Maxi Zoo stores will still grow. It is simply the survival of the fittest. They do have to be in the right locations, close to supermarkets, because the online market share will grow but still be limited. Most Fressnapf | Maxi Zoo shops are already where they should be.

Fressnapf’s German franchisees are part of the company’s DNA. They invest in, trust and engage with the concept. They are key players in the operation who will benefit from the products and the full service concept.

Sustainability in the community

Today’s consumer requires sustainable products and solutions. The Fressnapf Group is therefore building sustainability as a strong USP. This goes hand in hand with investing in local social responsibility options. For instance, stores adopting shelters to donate pet food to. Here again, the shop manager can play an important role. 

An eco-system for the future

The Fressnapf Group eco-system will be open to all suppliers, service providers and others in the pet industry. The intention is to share the platform and customer data in order to give the pet lover and their pet the best possible experience – solving their problems and making their lives easier, better and happier. The company’s vision ‘Happier Pets. Happier People.’ and its experience with the journey it is about to embark on, may well later benefit the pet industry as a whole. 


Corine van Winden

CEO, GlobalPETS & PETS International