Small Talk: Online pet medicine man moves into farming

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The Independent Online

An entrepreneur already shaking up the pet medicine market is set to launch a website catering to farmers. Ricky Thomas founded the online pet medicine retailer 18 months ago following changes in the law which allowed animal owners to take prescriptions from vets to another business acting as a dispensary. Feeling short-changed after being presented with a whacking great bill at the vets for his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Monty, the 28-year-old came up with a solution – selling on the web.

With a background in IT, including managing systems at IG group, Mr Thomas has been able quickly to overtake other sites on the market, and he says that his is now the leading internet site selling pet drugs. A key move was to make his site the sole supplier to animal charities. Turnover last year hit £2.5m, and this year is expected to reach £4m.

Mr Thomas, who has based his company at Greenwich, now wants to repeat his success with the farming community after coming to the aid of a farmer who needed to treat his cattle with ringworm but could find no one in the local area to supply him with the necessary drugs in time to get the animals to market. Mr Thomas has already recruited a former Defra employee and is set to launch within weeks. Next up, he has his eye on the ethical retail market.

Mr Thomas likes a challenge. He is training for the Marathon of the Sands – six marathons in six days across the Sahara desert – at the end of March. It was the first time he took part in the endurance race two years ago that convinced him to give his web idea a go. After sharing a tent with a life coach who was himself at a crossroads in his life, the thought of returning to a boring IT job gave him the impetus to quit and throw his £80,000 savings into his new venture.

Polo Resources

Polo Resources, which invests in projects to serve the Asian market, is set to issue its re-admission document today, bringing to an end three months of suspension from AIM. The move should allow the shares to start trading again after Polo's announcement in November of its intention to buy a portfolio of 26 exploration licences in Mongolia.

The transaction, for licences covering coal, uranium and tungsten, qualified as a reverse takeover, and under AIM rules the stock had to be suspended. In the meantime, Polo has bought a 20 per cent stake in GCM Resources, raised £25m and appointed a new chairman and chief executive.

Coal of Africa expands with £8.6m deal

The AIM-listed Coal of Africa is enjoying the benefits of the global resurgence of coal.

Following hard on the heels of a storming 2007, in which the share price rose 300 per cent, the coal producer will today announce a deal to expand its presence in South Africa. The group is set to buy the remaining 30 per cent interest in its Mooiplats project in the country, in a transaction worth £8.6m.

Simon Ferrell, the company's managing director, described the deal as a "significant milestone" in the company's development in the region.

Mooiplats will become the first of four projects in the country to be set fully in motion.

Mr Ferrell added that the plant is "perfectly located", less than two kilometres from a power station owned by the state utility Eskom that will use its coal.

Much of the coal, however, will travel far greater distances. "Our margins are going to be made from exports as spot prices are currently at about $100. But we will continue to sell some coal to Eskom for political reasons, given what's been going on in South Africa," Mr Ferrell said.

In recent weeks, power shortages have plunged much of South Africa into darkness, forcing Eskom to pledge $45bn (£23bn) towards overhauling the country's power supplies.

One power executive working in the region added: "With the disruptions, we are under huge pressure to install new capacity fast."

Matra Petroleum faces acid test in Russia

Matra Petroleum suffered a major setback last week after all its high hopes of gas discoveries in Hungary. The well it drilled in the country failed to yield gas, leaving it with a sinking feeling as all it found was water. It was also hit with disappointing news last week that a well in Russia had been damaged, sustaining substantial "bore formation damage".

A spokesman for Matra, said that the owners of the oil and gas company were "philosophical about the whole thing", despite its share price "taking something of a beating".

Matra has decided to suspend further activities in Hungary until test details have been fully reviewed. In Russia, meanwhile, it hopes to begin a course of acid treatment within the next two weeks to improve the flow of gas, which is estimated at 96 barrels a day.

Peter Hind, Matra's managing director, is optimistic the company will bounce back from its recent misfortune. "In Russia, we expect to see a higher production rate once the treatment is completed. In the meantime, we are continuing to plan our 2008 two-well exploration drilling programme in Hungary."