A POPULAR independent pet shop is in line to win a top award after gaining widespread recognition from the industry.

About 3,500 shops were in the running for the Small Pet Retailer of the Year but Colchester Pet Stores has fought of stiff competition to make the five-strong shortlist.

The family-owned business, based in Short Wyre Street, will find out its final position at a ceremony next month.

But owner Mark Larner is already over the moon to have made the shortlist.

He said: “We couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call.

“There are 3,500 independent pet retailers across the country and to get to the final five, for me, is just incredible.”

Each shop is voted for by industry experts, including suppliers and other retailers.

Mr Larner added: “I think with the direction we’ve gone in as a shop, it has really helped us.

“We have moved away from the traditional big brands and the treats they are well-known for simply because we’re a pet store and we don’t really want to sell things which are bad for our pets. Some treats are very high in sugar and salt and that just isn’t good for pets.

“So we’ve focused on much more natural treats and that is really paying dividends.”

The 50-year-old, who lives in Peldon, added although large pet stores are open in Colchester, a strong customer base has ensured the business continues to flourish.

He also poured cold water on a myth independent shops are more expensive than larger retailers.

The shop boss added: “Every week I spend some time and price check against Pets at Home and I can honestly say, apart from the really large bags of food, item for almost every single product we are cheaper.

“And actually what we’re finding is that people are coming back to us.

“They’re coming back because of the price and because they know we can help them with whatever problems they may have.”

Up until recently, only vet surgeries have been licensed to stock stronger flea and worm treatments.

But those restrictions have been lifted, which has meant the shop is now able to sell some treatments, but not at vet prices.

Mr Larner added: “Obviously, there are some things which people will just have to take their pet to the vet for but we can help in a number of ways and we’re finding people are taking our advice.”

The shop opened in Short Wyre Street 35 years ago having had previous incarnations in Priory Walk and St John’s Street.

The business also spent 44 years on Colchester Market, stopping only shortly after it returned to High Street in 2015.

Mr Larner is the third generation of the family to run the businesses and 15-year-old son Charlie looks set to follow in his footsteps in the coming years.

He said: “It seems as though we’re doing something right at the moment so I’ll have to make sure I train him up right before I take my step back.”