Smallholders - on countdown

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Smallholders, the pets and garden centre of  113-117, Woodgrange Road, has had a brief reprieve from its impending closure.

Smallholders, today
Earlier this summer, Kevin Shaw, the shop's proprietor, was given three months notice to quit the premises, as his lease was nearing its end. Kevin was able to amiably negotiate a year's extension from the leaseholder, and is now on the look-out for new premises, from next September.

Smallholders - like Barry's, the butcher and Websters, the iron mongers - has been one of the fixtures on the Woodgrange/Woodford Road strip for decades, offering a retail plus professional advice and experience for relevant E7 and beyond shoppers.

The outlet was originally established by John Frost in 1948. His family still has the freehold on the property and  is looking to sell, as part of tidying up his business affairs.

Originally from Ridley Road, Kevin joined John, as a 13-year old "Saturday boy" in 1985, and has been working at the shop ever since - apart from an unsuccessful five month stint,  in the late 80's, as a pipefitter. Kevin took over as proprietor in 1999, and has since transformed the business.

Kevin at work
The shop's original main selling points were pets and plants, but times have changed and the business focus has changed with them. Kevin sells few live pets, these days - there isn't the demand, and only has a couple of busy times a year on the "plant" side now.

The sale of live animals is tightly controlled by legislation, and inspected regularly by local authority animal inspectors.  Kevin and his shop have never had problems on this front, but he says the demand for pet animals has declined locally because of the changing demographic profile of the area, and the fact that so many Forest Gate people live in flats, these days.

When plants were bigger business
He has a much greater turn-over of pet food and toys than he does for animals they are aimed at. But even here, he suffers from strong competition from pet supermarkets. He makes only pennies from packages of pet food, and a ruthless accountant would advise him to discontinue the lines - as they take up too much space for too little reward. He continues with them, though, mainly as a service to long-standing customers.

Pet supplies - not profitable lines; poor
financial returns on considerable shelf space
His plant business suffers now from competition from large garden centres, although his Christmas tree offers are good value and save a transport problems for local purchasers.  The quality of his  plant seedlings in the summer, provides him with a reasonable stream of business. As far as fresh flowers are concerned, he is squeezed at one end of the market by the cheap bunches from supermarkets and petrol stations and at the more exotic and high end, by florists, such as Molly and Bill's a little further along the road.

Kevin's major business, these days, is in the area of exotic fish - as a visit to his website will testify. He reckons it now accounts for 70% of his turnover. A visit inside, and you'll soon find out why.  It almost feels as if you have stepped into an aquarium!

From the website: some of the fish on offer
Such has been the success of the "fishy business" that Kevin has almost doubled the floor space of the shop, since he first took over, those 19 years ago, with most of the additional space occupied by tanks of exotic fish.

They have become fashionable, and Kevin is able to get them from almost all over the world - on demand.  Importing of fish is, of course, subject to animal welfare and health and hygiene restrictions - the fish have to go through a quarantine period having entered the UK, for example. And Kevin knows his way around these complexities.

Smallholders will be homeless in a year, unless Kevin can find another shop.  He admits he's been well treated by his former boss and present landlord, and is grateful for the support he has received.

 But rental of an equivalent space locally will cost in excess of £20k per year, before taking into account business rates, fuel bills and the other overheads.  Sums like this are simply unaffordable, even without taking into consideration the limitations on trade imposed by parking restrictions on shopping streets in Newham.

Almost an aquarium today:
exotic fish and supplies by the tank load
So - why doesn't Kevin go down the road of so many of Forest Gate's other innovative retailers - and get a railway arch? The problem, he says, would be the vibrations from the trains as they pass, they would disturb, frighten and in extreme cases, possibly kill the fish.

Kevin is having to look further afield for an affordable relocation. Further into Essex is an option - as Barry the butcher tried, before returning to Forest Gate. Kevin could offer a free delivery service on appropriate orders to local customers, should he move further east.  But, as Barry discovered, that can be easier said than done.

Hurry down - while stocks last!
If Kevin has less than a year to go, give him a good send off. A Christmas tree there, in December, perhaps? A new interest in exotic fish? Or planting out his seedlings next summer - as a fond farewell?


  1. Very glad to hear he's staying until Sept. I have always got my fish from there and pond food, plants as well as advice

  2. Good Luck Kevin. We will miss you and your family so much. But I think good things Will happen for you because you are a lovely person.
    Love from Margaret and family

  3. This place is a gem, and historic place for me and my family, have been going there ever since I was a child - I now take my niece and nephew there to get things for there fishes as well bits for my cat. Would hate to see this disappear


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