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Retro Experience

Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe's customers come for the service and stay for the ambiance.

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Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, San Diego, CA

OWNER: Leel Michelle ; LOCATION: San Diego, CA ; URL: bowwowbeautyshoppe.com ; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018
AREA: 1,600 square feet ; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time,3 part-time ; FACEBOOK: /bowwowbeautyshoppe ; INSTAGRAM: /dogbakerybowwowbeautyshoppe


LEEL MICHELLE BELIEVES in creating an experience for her customers.

“A business shouldn’t just be a place to buy things,” she says. “All of the stores I treasure also have an amazing ambiance.”

That philosophy — developed over years working in the fashion retail and amusement park industries — informs Michelle’s Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe in San Diego, CA. As does her love of all things retro. They combine to win the 2018 PETS+ America’s Coolest Store title.

Fabulous ’50s

Michelle was born in 1975, but as a child she obsessed over an earlier decade. The theme of her 13th birthday party? The 1950s. Favorite gift that day? A Chubby Checker record.

“The music, colors and glamour were so beautiful, happy and interesting to me.”

Michelle carried that passion into adulthood. She used it — along with art and fashion studies in Italy and New York — to design her pet store, both in its original location in 2006 and where it exists today as of January.

Neutral walls and floors allow mint and pink paint to pop, whether on furniture repurposed as fixtures or on ’50s fridges that keep gourmet cakes fresh. She likes merchandising to surprise. Vintage suitcases elevate dog beds. Tiered cupcake stands hold tennis balls. Hair dryer chairs anchor displays that include another interest: pinup models.

“I’m most interested in pinup artwork from artists who put beautiful girls in a silly situation, and preferably with an animal! It makes it more fun and keeps one from taking life too seriously.”

All Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe employees don Retro Stylist Wear, the award-winning grooming apparel line Michelle launched in 2015.

“It goes with the store’s theme and keeps us looking professional and uniformed.”

Add to all this ’50s music and a friendly staff, and the ambiance she works so hard to create attracts a customer base heavy with regulars.

“Doing something special cements loyalty and makes it hard to go somewhere else.”

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High-Profile Groomers

Thanks to Retro Stylist Wear’s success and 11 years as an in-demand groomer, Michelle has a stellar reputation with peers and clients alike. Her name attracts business and contributes to the overall experience. That proved a challenge when a growth opportunity presented itself before the recent move, one that wouldn’t leave much time for salon management.

Fortunately, her award-winning head groomer wanted to buy the department.

“Gabriel Feitosa is a rising star in the grooming industry, invited to judge competitions all over the world,” Michelle says. “It worked out really well for both of us.”

Now called Gabriel Feitosa Grooming Salon at Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, it continues her tradition of high-profile groomers providing pet and show cuts in a salon setting.

Gourmet Bakery

The previously mentioned opportunity involves the gourmet cakes that make this store a top destination for dog birthday supplies. Michelle has always created her own recipes — with veterinary guidance — and icing designs, but she outsourced baking. When her longtime baker decided to retire last year, she needed a new plan. After all, bakery items account for 60 percent of retail sales.

“I couldn’t find anyone that had the look. Or they did, but didn’t want wholesale volume. I said, ‘I guess we’re going to have to do this ourselves.’”

And they have. A new baker filled in while Michelle built a bakery at Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe. It opened in May with an explosion of color and taste. Pink and mint carry through to the counter, and are joined by blues and reds and yellows behind in a mural that resembles the icing drips on her cakes.

Additional offerings are in the works for both retail and wholesale, as are on-site doggie birthday parties and Very Important Pup service at ’50s chrome tables and chairs.

“I don’t want it to be your average dog bakery,” she says. “I want it to be a fun and memorable experience for people and their pets.”

It certainly will be with Michelle involved.

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Five Cool Things About Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe

1. POST-GRAD: Most groomers graduate from school, and then work for a salon. Not Michelle, her next step was to open Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe. She says her lack of salon experience allowed her to thrive while her corporate background kept her grounded.
2. STORE DOG: Mumsie the Standard Poodle holds court at the store, serving as greeter — or security if someone commits a fashion crime, as she’s a very stylish girl. Mumsie, of course, gets coiffed by Gabriel Feitosa.
3. DO CALL THEM: Fans of Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe who also want to work there shouldn’t wait for a want ad. Michelle says the best employees have sought her out. She even includes a “Why would you like to work for Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe?” link on the store website.
4. JUST BROWSING … AND HAUNTING: Michelle moved her business into the 1912 building amid rumors of ghostly sightings. She hasn’t had any experiences, but a plumber she told of the paranormal sightings has yet to return.
5. MERCHANDISING 101: Michelle runs a popular Facebook group for pet business owners. In it, she shares standout merchandising examples from her store as well as advice. Search for “Pet Boutiques” under groups.

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Leel Michelle

One book:
The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk by Palden Gyatso. This book has taught me to stay humble and grateful.

One gadget:
Cellphone

Best advice ever received:
“If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time!” — Lana Preston (My older — by 20 years — sister!)

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?
Repeatedly discipline an employee I really liked.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?
My Standard Poodle Mumsie!

Advertising campaign I wish I’d thought of:
Yelp but better. Where we could equally review the client!

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If money were no object, I’d do _________ to my store.
Order a fantastically expensive neon store sign at least 6 feet high!

Favorite film:
Amelie

Best vacation ever:
Living in Italy for two years!

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers:
Retail merchandising! Feeds my nagging mistress: creativity!

My hero is …
Myself. I was born into foster care, emancipated myself at 16, graduated high school a year early, lost my previous store mascot, Frida two years ago, followed by the death of my very close twin brother three months later, and I still have an optimistic outlook on life!

Favorite store that’s not my own:
Pet Store: fifiandromeo.com. They set the bar high!

 

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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PETS+ Live with Candace D'Agnolo

Learn More About America's Coolest Store Winner, Bar K

Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! Lunch & Learn webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Candace on location at Bar K in Kansas City, MO. Find out how owners Leib Dodell and David Hensley implemented their idea for a dog park/restaurant/bar that owners enjoy as much as their pets do — and learn why the business took top honors in the 2019 PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores contest.

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America's Coolest

Partnering and Pop-Ups: A Downtown Store Extends Its Customer Base Through Creative Outreach

Owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit balance their slick store with warm smiles and genuine sit-down friendliness.

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The Modern Paws, Tampa, FL

OPENED FEATURED STORE: Dec. 26, 2018; FOUNDED: 2014, ran an e-commerce store from home; 2015, expanded to sublease 200 square feet of a neighborhood grocery store; 2018, opened brick-and-mortar storefront; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 2 part-time ; AREA: 1,628 square feet ; FACEBOOK: themodern4paws; INSTAGRAM: themodernpaws


Midwesterners Lisa and Ben Prakobkit brought their heartland ethos to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

TO UNDERSTAND WHY TWO Midwesterners thrive at The Modern Dog in Tampa, FL, you’ve first got to get a feel for the Channel District, where you’ll catch an occasional celebrity sighting in the midst of wild dolphin cruises, maritime oddities and the Amalie Arena. It’s a small community inside a busy district of young renters, out-of-towners and business professionals.

Tucked in the highrises of Florida’s Gulf Coast, The Modern Paws is a warm and friendly surprise, with bright lights and soft pastel accents. Owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit balance their slick store with warm smiles and genuine sit-down friendliness.

“People come visit us very often,” Ben says. Customers come through every other day to pick up a quick treat or say hi. “It gives us a chance to ask, ‘How is his foot doing?’ and ‘How long did the treat last?’ I think it makes a big difference. When you can have a great conversation, just hearing about their day, it shows more of a family and friend community versus just a store.”

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To beat the big-box stores and online competition, they offer free weekday delivery and get out into the community every chance they get. “In this day and age, it’s about who you work with,” says Ben, who is originally from Chicago. “It’s not work, it’s connections. The community, at the end of the day, will support.”

The Modern Paws grew from an e-commerce site that delivered pet food throughout the Tampa Bay area to a grocery-store partnership.

“The owner of the grocery knew what we were doing with the e-commerce side of things and said, ‘What if I sublease some square footage to you from our store and you could sell your product out of the store?’” he says. “And we were like ‘Yeah, that’s wonderful.’”

The day after Christmas 2018 they opened their first storefront — 1,628 square feet — and it’s become a popular pet store and grooming spot for Tampa Bay’s young and mostly childless crowd.

Friends and Neighbors

The couple is from “up North,” and Lisa’s Michigan friendliness is warm even in Hillsborough County, a neighborly area often voted one of the best places to live in the bay. “Even here people are like, ‘Wow, you’re so nice,’” she says. “We’re Midwest people, and we are definitely different, even though we’ve been down here eight years now.”

Their dedication to community outreach has helped them develop good relationships in the neighborhood, where they both live and work. Even though it’s a young crowd that loves to shop online, they get repeat customers because people want to support a local business.

Their store is in a downtown location, so they take their show on the road, working with rescues and showing up at apartment complex popups and dog park grand openings to share food and treat samples, chat with friends and let people know The

Modern Paws is out there, offering free delivery to anyone in the county.

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“That’s how we let them know we’re located here, and that we do grooming, have self-dog wash and do delivery,” he says. “It’s just getting to talk to the residents.”

In December, a miniature of The Modern Paws opens in a PODS moving container at a holiday festival.

POD People

Every year in December, around the anniversary of their store opening, the Prakobkits pack up a best-selling selection and set up a tiny pop-up at Tampa Bay’s popular Winter Village festival.

As the temperature hangs around 70 degrees, the city gives this palm tree paradise a snowfall feel with an outdoor ice skating rink, holiday concerts and Christmas-themed movies. Handpicked by festival planners to represent boutique shopping in downtown Tampa, The Modern Paws is one of the select vendors to get an 8-by-8-foot moving container to build out as a satellite store. From Day One of the festival, they drew a line around the block.

“The moving company that supplies these moving containers ended up doing an article about us and the success we’ve had using the PODS. Out of majority of the PODS pop-ups, we’re probably one of the busiest,” Prakobkit said. The tiny space can fit about two dozen shelves and a few standing displays, but not much else. It’s 1/25 the size of their brick-and-mortar store. “It’s 64 square feet. We’ve mastered the small space.”

Owning the Phone Tech

People who live in the area are younger professionals who more often have pets instead of kids. “They’re tech-savvy. They shop online,” Ben says. “We’re that type of customer, too, and when we price things out we keep that in mind.”

They counter the one-click ease of Amazon with their own perks, like same-day delivery Monday through Friday. “It’s hard to beat. However we do actually beat it — we have a lot of our customers take advantage of that,” he says. They also offer frequent-buyer programs, rotating discounts and buy-one-get-one sales.

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“Our big thing is nutrition. When we’re able to help pet owners get their dogs healthy or keep them healthy, it’s a rewarding feeling,” he says. “When people say, ‘The new food really took care of all the skin allergies’ and things like that, it’s definitely a good feeling.”

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About The Modern Paws

1. Stories as a Secret Weapon: A silly skit or a quick talk on nutrition in an Instagram Story brings in a ripple of business. “We try to spice it up and do a few different things,” Lisa Prakobkit says. “We don’t want to bombard them with dog pictures.”

2. Four-Legged Foot Traffic: Located in the bottom of a residential building, The Modern Paws draws in almost every dog in the building. “We have dogs that will literally pull their owners to the store,” Ben Prakobkit says.

3. Phone-Friendly Tech: In a nod to clientele who rarely put their phones aside, customers can instantly book grooming appointments with a swipe up on the store’s Instagram Stories. Because their customers prefer to text, they’ve developed communication streams through text rather than calls.

4. A Tiny Staff: The small but mighty staff includes just two part-timers outside the groomer and two owners. Everybody has a specialty, like training or creating great social media content, and the size gives shoppers consistency in staff. “Customers get accustomed to seeing familiar faces when they walk in,” Ben says. “You can refer back to something you talked about in a previous visit, and it makes them feel like, ‘Wow, they remember me.’”

5. Huge Online: The store’s website is clean, fast and easy to navigate. Customers also check out products online before shopping in-store, or opt for same-day delivery in the area. For those farther away, The Modern Paws offers free nationwide shipping.

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America's Coolest

Splitting the Ps: How One Couple Shares the Load to Create a Cool Store

How Deborah and Mark Vitt use their corporate experiences to rock their micro economy.

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Mutts and Co., Dublin, OH

OWNERS: Mark and Deborah Vitt; URL:muttsandco.com ; FOUNDED: 2007; OPENED FEATURE STORE: 2007; EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time, 7 part-time ; AREA: 5,000 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/muttsandco; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/muttsandco


Mark and Deborah Vitt have hit upon the magic sauce of management by splitting duties based on their skills and interests.

DEBORAH AND MARK VITT OPENED Mutts & Co. in Dublin, OH, as an 1,800-square-foot-store, half services, half retail. Right away, they realized the footprint was off.

“We were cramped in there with just enough room for a few products, some cookies and a few treats,” says Mark. “It was like going to the dentist’s office, where you can buy a couple of toothbrushes.”

They didn’t want to be like the dentist’s office, so they took over the space next door, expanded to nearly 5,000 square feet and doubled the grooming area. Many remodels later, they’ve got a ratio that works. “There are only so many dogs you can groom or bathe in a day,” Mark says, “but every dog has to eat.”

The Science of Shopping

The Vitts brought complementary marketing and retail skills to their first pet store, and as a team they’ve learned how to draw in traffic, stock the right products and staff a good team — all by splitting up the Ps. Deborah fields purchasing, product assortment, procurement and pricing, and Mark handles personnel, new store placement and promotion.

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Deborah’s executive training and keen insight about what makes people buy is what sets this store apart. “She’s parlayed that into owning a business that takes advantage of her retail knowledge and keen sense of merchandising,” Mark says. The store’s floor plan keeps customers crossing paths with bones, treats and toys on the trek for the items they came in for. It’s not a forced journey, but a thoughtful layout.

“We’re trying to make it so people see the full breadth of the products that are available,” he says. “It gives us an opportunity to talk about them, cross-sell and up-sell. ”

A Design to Match the Mission

Head to tail, this store has an old barn feel. Antique barn wood covers the walls and cash wraps, and wooden bins hold the bulk items. Chalkboard headers, held in handmade wooden frames, identify each product section. Out front, original artwork promotes the day’s sales.

“It’s become something of a badge of honor to be one of our elite chalkboard graphic artists,” Mark says. All these human touches give the store a natural appearance, which aligns with natural products and a homemade line of specialty items by

The Pet Foundry: candles and clothing that support the area’s foster and adoption community.

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This store is known as the go-to place for natural pet nutrition, and they take their product selection seriously. Mutts & Co. recently stepped away from a few larger pet food brands that went into big-box stores, mostly through mergers and acquisitions.

“We knew the quality of the product was going to degrade so we went out and found alternatives, knowing that we’ll have to convince customers to trust this lesser-known brand,” he says. “When you can start to find it in Kroger or Target or other big-box stores — not even pet retail stores — that’s not special anymore.”

Standout Staff

The Vitts ask a lot of commitment from their staff, a mix of full- and part-time workers. They train almost exclusively in-store, and in addition to manufacturer training, they do bimonthly training sessions to focus on particular products, general industry trends, categories, and best practices when talking about nutrition.

That’s why they focus on getting the right people, getting them the right training and offering the right products to address all of these potential concerns.

“People come to us because they know we’re there for their pets’ well-being and not just the sale,” Mark says. “We have to give folks a reason to come to us and that’s why we focus on health and wellness for the pets, and that starts with having good products and good people.”

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Ultimately, you’re talking to a pet parent whose dog or cat is part of their family and you’re making a health recommendation for the wellbeing of one of their family members, he says. “We take that very seriously.”

Their staff members are prepared to point customers in the right direction on whatever health concerns come in. “That can be the toughest but most rewarding part, customers who come back and say, ‘My dog had a terrible condition and your recommendations have really helped turn it around.’ But that takes a lot of time and training.”

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Mutts and Co.

1. Adopt Don’t Shop: Mutts & Co. just sponsored its fourth adoption event called Fetch A Friend, where hundreds of animals are befriended at the Columbus Fairgrounds Expo Center in a one-day adoption extravaganza. Deborah Vitt coordinates the event through a local advocacy group.

2. Efficient Grooming: Baths and trims are modeled after hair salons for people, with a centralized booker who keeps the door rotating. Dogs are in and out quickly, no kennels necessary. “We felt it would be a better approach to reduce the stress if we keep them there for the minimum amount of time,” Mark Vitt says.

3. It’s Always Social Hour: Instead of hiring a trainer in-house, they bring in professional trainers for in-store pet training, and invite cats and dogs to come into the store to hang out.

4. Cats and Dogs Exclusively: Two years ago, they eliminated fish, small animal and birds because the market just wasn’t there. “There’s just a smaller pool of customers, and it was harder for us to stay on top of those trends when it was such a small portion of our business,” Mark says. “We felt like it was almost doing a disservice by letting small animals just kind of exist, so we cut it out.”

5. Generous Delivery Options: Customers can order curbside pickup or home delivery. “Online sales are going to be the most critical part of business going forward, because it is becoming just a staple in the pet shoppers’ mentality,” Mark says. “We knew we had to have it, so we created that channel for customers to shop with us in that convenient way.”

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America's Coolest

America’s Coolest Pet Stores 2019 Winners Announced!

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We’re reporting live from PETS+ HQ to bring you results from the 2019 America’s Coolest Stores Contest. It was a tight race this year, with some of the most impressive campaigns we’ve seen yet. We wish every business could win!

To narrow the field to first, second and third place, plus nine honorable mentions, a team of editorial staff and independent pet industry judges evaluated the entries, which included mini-essays on a variety of topics, photography and media.

The top three winners impressed judges with their ability to transform a traditional pet business model into something truly special in their communities.

Let’s get to it!

3rd place
Barker’s Lane

 

1st place
BAR K

 

2nd place
WAG Central

 

First place — Bar K in Kansas City, MO. Dogs and humans alike love going to this activity-packed dog park and restaurant that spans 2 acres on the Missouri River’s south bank.

Second place — Wag Central in Stratford, CT. This doggie day care and boarding facility also invites pet parents to join in on the fun, with an indoor dog park, training classes and cafe.

Third place — Barker’s Lane in Davie, FL. Not only do dogs get the spa experience at this upscale grooming salon, every square foot of space serves as a stylish backdrop for Insta-worthy pet portraits.

We hope their stories — as well as the nine Honorable Mentions appearing in upcoming issues — will inspire you to break with tradition yourself. What better way to compete with big-box stores and the internet than to offer what they can’t in new and exciting ways. Bonus: If you do, we just might be reporting about you on these pages next year!

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