Author Wayne Burkan

If I were to design a pet store, I’d avoid emulating the most successful stores. After all, they have far more experience in that model than I ever will, and far deeper pockets.

Their greatest strength, however, is also their greatest weakness. All that experience creates the same blindness that struck Sears, Radio Shack, Kodak, Marshall Field’s and hundreds of others. Their expertise both defined and limited their approach to their customers, and they became incapable of shaping a new direction.

The pet store model is an old and reputable model, but to win, I would need to find a new approach.

Don’t get me wrong: Pet stores have transformed in multiple ways. The largest offer grooming, obedience and even veterinary services. The smaller, single stores seem to have given up on the one-stop shopping experience, but I’d embrace it.

I’d form a reference alliance with a quality grooming service. I’d ally myself with one or two local vets, as well as obedience trainers. I would get a referral fee, but more important, my customers would get well-researched service recommendations (with potential discounts). I could at least approximate one-stop shopping, and do it one better by offering best-in-class services.

Marvin Traub, who transformed Bloomingdale’s, defines retail success as being able to “add value to the shopping experience.” The way most pet stores add value is by incrementally improving on the way it was done before, but this would only add limited value to my customers. Simulating one-stop shopping can transform the shopping experience with no investment at all. Of course, the one-stop shopping experience can apply to groomers and kennels as well. Anyone can become a trusted adviser. The only investment required is your time.

Another area I’d change is inventory, and here even the biggest players seem to miss the point. I recently stopped by a local pet store, looking to replace the shock-absorbing leash for my standard poodle. They showed me their inventory on the wall ... and that was it. Had they shown me and recommended other specialty leashes (on a laptop, tablet or even a book), I would have placed the order on the spot. I returned home, went online, and did the research myself.

The one thing these recommendations have in common is they shift the pet store from simply being a source of goods and services to that of trusted adviser. This was how Best Buy took over the electronics market. 

I wouldn’t stop there. I’d make sure all my staff members are prepared to be, not greeters, but “exiters.” Instead of watching potential customers leave empty-handed, I’d have them ask if there was something specific they wanted that they didn’t see, or didn’t think we could offer. I might be able to recover a sale I would have otherwise lost. More important, however, I’d gain invaluable insight into other areas in which I might transform. Learning from these “edge” customers is one of the best sources for innovating any pet store.

Wayne Burkan is author of Wide Angle Vision: Beat Your Competition by Focusing on Fringe Competitors, Lost Customers and Rogue Employees, and speaks globally on the topics of change, transformation and the future. He has been featured on dozens of talk shows, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Success Magazine. wayneburkan.com


This article originally appeared in the September-October 2017 edition of PETS+.