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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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America's Coolest

A Mother-Daughter Duo Brings Southern Hospitality, Design Flair and an Eye For Unique Products to a Pet Boutique

They made their dog boutique an extension of the customers’ homes.

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Southern Barker, Lexington, KY

OWNERS: Leslie Stewart, Sarah Stewart; URL:southernbarker.com; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 part-time; AREA: 1,002 square feet; FACEBOOK: southernbarker; INSTAGRAM: southernbarker


LESLIE AND SARAH Stewart embody the spirit of Southern hospitality. The mother-daughter pair are warm and welcoming, helpful and kind. It comes as no surprise that their dog boutique in Lexington, KY, shares these characteristics.

“We want our customers to feel like Southern Barker is an extension of their home,” Leslie says. “We always try to make them feel comfortable, cared for and respected.”

The duo does exactly that with a combination of stylishly rustic decor, inclusive product offerings, and by celebrating the bond between people and their pets — all with a Southern spin, of course.

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Designing Women

When Leslie and Sarah decided to realize their dream of opening a pet store in 2017, they found an unfinished space in a shopping center. It didn’t even have a floor, just gravel. They hired Cathy Burgess Interiors to design and oversee buildout.

Daughter Sarah and mother Leslie Stewart opened Southern Barker based on a business plan Sarah forged in college.

“She helped make the vision in our heads come to life, and really helped us figure out the Southern Barker brand,” Sarah says, with Leslie adding, “We gave her tons of pictures from Pinterest.”

They also shared human stores in Lexington with their desired aesthetic: artist Rebecca Puig’s Sugarboo and actress Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James.

“Sugarboo is eclectic and rustic. Draper James has a very Southern feel to it. Both both have a touch of elegance,” Leslie explains.

Using the above influences, and pulling from Leslie’s own retail merchandising experience and home decor blogging, the three chose for Southern Barker warm flooring that mimics hardwood, a creamy paint palette and plaid wallpaper. Dark metal chandeliers cast a soft glow.

“And we use furniture instead of store fixtures,” Leslie says. “I found myself literally taking pieces from my home.” Her husband had to ask at one point, “Where’s the foyer table?’”

Displays use straw baskets, iron hooks, wooden ladders and crates, with the “Barker Bar” centerpiece offering bulk treats in old-fashioned glass candy jars.

Big Pups & Dog Dads Welcome

The Stewart family Portuguese Water Dog, Lily, served as inspiration for initial product selection — and continues to guide Leslie and Sarah.

“She was our first female puppy and our first larger dog. We wanted to spoil Lily but could not find what met our style as well as fit her large frame,” Leslie says.

Sarah adds, “We don’t deal with vendors that don’t have big sizes available in their clothes. That way, people with larger dogs won’t be disappointed when they come in and see something they like.”

Among their favorite brands are The Worthy Dog and Hotel Doggy, and stocking them has made Southern Barker the go-to store for stylish big dogs.

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“We actually sell more larger coats than ones in smaller sizes,” Sarah says.

And while dog moms certainly make up a significant percentage of their customers, Leslie and Sarah make sure to have something for dog dads, too.

“We have just as much for the dog dad who fishes and hunts as we do for the dog mom who wants rhinestones,” Leslie says.

Camo-print collars and leashes from Finnegan’s Standard Goods, stuffed ducks and pheasants from Fluff & Tuff, plus collapsable bowls and other gear, are good sellers.

Of course, Southern-themed products are scattered throughout the boutique and regularly make up displays, such as one for the Kentucky Derby. It featured horseshoe bandanas and bow ties from Chloe & Max, a stuffed horse from Fluff & Tuff, plus Kentucky-themed T-shirts, glassware and decorative pillows for humans.

At left, all canine visitors are encouraged to pose for a pic in the dog house. At right, Southern Barker Sweet Tea squeaky toys add to the branding.

The Southern Barker Experience

Every canine customer gets a warm welcome, complete with complimentary treats and an invitation to pose in the Southern Barker dog house, after which their photo goes up on the Wall of Southern Barkers. They can enroll in the birthday club to receive a free bone and special discount, which can be used in the party section or anywhere else in the store. A “Barker of the Month” contest encourages engagement on Facebook.

“We want to make shopping with us an experience,” Leslie says. “Not for them to come in and get their dog food and say see you later. We want people to think of us as more than a pet store.”

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Helping them meet that goal are a variety of celebratory events. Breed meetups, yappy hours and a Kentucky Derby Hat Contest, just to name a few, draw pet parents and their pups, while painting parties give the humans an opportunity to socialize solo with like-minded individuals.

The Stewarts also share in the sad times with their customers.

“I got a phone call from a lady asking me about a pawprint keepsake item,” Sarah recalls. “She broke down crying on the phone, telling me about having to put her dog down. I told her, ‘I really just want to give you a hug right now.’

An hour later she walks in the door and says, ‘I came for my hug.’”

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Southern Barker

1. SCHOOL PROJECT: Sarah was a senior in college, studying marketing, when she and her mother decided to open Southern Barker. A business plan Sarah developed in school served as starting point for the store.

2. YAPPY HOUR: From 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, customers get 30 percent off Barker Bar treats. Leslie says, “The margin on bulk treats is pretty good, so we’re not losing money. The discount gets them in the store.”

3. PRIVATE LABEL: Southern Barker has created its own treat and toy lines. Among the offerings are Barker Baked Goods Treats and Sweet Tea Squeaky Toys. The store also has begun making T-shirts, including one that says “Woof Y’all.”

4. EXPANSION: In 2019, a Louisville pet store with two locations went on the market. The Stewarts did an acquisition sale, took over the leases and rebranded the businesses. The new stores had and still have much more of a focus on food. That combined with Leslie and Sarah learning more about nutrition to help their own pets has resulted in the Lexington store now carrying 10 brands of food, including the full Answers line. Leslie says, “We’re really excited to help build the raw community in Lexington.”

5. THE FAMILY THAT WORKS TOGETHER: Leslie and Sarah split their time between the three stores, and dad John, son/brother John and his wife Alex also pitch in as needed. Grandson Elliot is literally growing up in the family business, as he spends weekday mornings with Leslie and Sarah.

 

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America's Coolest

Dog Krazy Marches Across Virginia, with a Fifth Location that Includes a “Barkery”

It started with a Bulldog…

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Dog Krazy, Leesburg, VA

OWNERS: Nancy and Chris Guinn; URL:dogkrazy.com ; FOUNDED: 2006; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2018; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 4 part-time ; AREA: 2,800 square feet; FACEBOOK: dogkrazy; INSTAGRAM: dogkrazy; TWITTER: dogkrazyva


IT STARTED WITH a Bulldog.”

Nancy Guinn says this whenever sharing the story of how she founded Dog Krazy.

“In 2006, I met my soulmate Piglet. I wanted to spend every day with her, and that’s what I did. The first store opened in 2006 and the second in 2015, the year she left this earth. From the time she was 6 months old to her passing, we spent every day working together.”

The English Bulldog continues to be a guiding force for Nancy.

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“I want to spread my love for her by helping customers provide only the best products for their pets.”

Nancy now meets that goal in partnership with her husband, Chris, who joined the Virginia business full-time in 2015. They have since opened three more Dog Krazys, with the Leesburg location opening in 2018.

Dog Krazy + Lola’s Barkery

Like the other Dog Krazy stores, Leesburg features brand colors red, black, yellow and blue. They combine with exposed brick and ductwork, wooden floors, and pendant and twinkle lights to create a warm industrial vibe. The layout caters to all customers.

“The aisles are set up so that dogs who are selective, timid, overly excitable or fear-aggressive can come in, and the dog and owner can comfortably shop without worrying about another dog approaching too quickly,” Nancy explains. “We purposely added corners and aisles all over the store, so that owners whose dogs need more space can tuck them away from another dog (or owner) who doesn’t have the best manners.”

Leesburg boasts the company’s first on-site bakery, Lola’s Barkery. She chose the name for two reasons: Lola was Piglet’s puppy name, and Lola means “grandma” in Tagalog, a nod to Nancy and her mother’s Filipina heritage.

The couple chose the location, in the open-air center Village at Leesburg, because Nancy’s parents live nearby, and she wanted her mom, Maria Powell, to be involved in the business.

“She runs the barkery, and I do the decorating, so we get to spend more time together.”

Among the menu items are traditional bone-shaped treats and ready-made celebration cakes, but the mother-daughter team surprises and delights with creations such as Doggie Nachos, Ice Cream Sandwich and Hamburger with a Side of Fries. Their custom cakes also impress, with a recent one topped with “fettuccine” for birthday boy Alfredo. Nancy completed a 500-hour program to become a clinical pet nutritionist, so customers know they can trust the ingredients.

The Dog Krazy Way

Nancy handles product purchasing, human resources, bakery operations and marketing. Chris tackles finances, expansion and “everything and anything else the stores need,” she says.

Leesburg carries on the high standards the couple has set for all aspects of their company.

“No matter how much we grow, our values and why I started this business will always come first,” Nancy says.

“It’s not always about the bottom line,” Chris adds. “It has to do with what makes Dog Krazy so special and not losing that as we grow.”

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The couple tests all products with their personal pets before adding them to inventory. Once approved, products are available in a variety of ways to suit all customer preferences: shopping in-store and online, the latter with pickup in-store, curbside, local delivery and free two-day shipping on orders $99 or more.

Marketing efforts also involve the Guinn family pets.

“All photos I use are of our pets, and I invite customers into our lives,” Nancy says. “I’ve been told multiple times that my marketing techniques show the heart and soul of our business, our pets.”

To announce the Leesburg opening, dogs Stirfry Fatguy, Pork Wonton, Sushi and Tala each wore a chalkboard sign around their neck with an existing Dog Krazy location name, with pig Jimmy Dean wearing a sign that said “Dog Krazy 5 Coming Soon!”

Grooming appointments at all five Dog Krazy stores are by two-hour appointment only.

“We groom our customers’ pets from start to finish so that they are not sitting in a kennel all day and so that they can get back to their owners as quickly as possible.”

All employees go through Whizbang Retail Sales Academy, and the couple recently created a training manager position and promoted from within.

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“Her job will be to teach all new employees the Dog Krazy way, to make every customer feel like they are a part of our family,” Nancy says. “Because they are.”

Building on the Success of Leesburg

Lola’s Barkery and a recently added on-site bakery at the Stafford location provide treats and cakes to all Dog Krazys. When considering their next expansion, Chris looks to the newest store.

“It’s been successful, and our customers love it. When we open our next location, we’ll make sure that there’s enough space for a bakery in there as well.”

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Dog Krazy

1. VIPP FB: Dog Krazy has one Facebook page for all of its locations, but it also invites customers to join the Very Important Pet Parents private group for their home store. Nancy says, “It helps us offer different specials at each location, to help with items that may sell well at one but not another, along with featuring items that we may have at one store but not another.”

2. 49 PERCENT: Nancy made her business relationship with Chris as official as their personal one earlier this year. “Dog Krazy had always been 100 percent owned by me. For his 40th birthday, I had a cake made that said ‘Happy 49.’ When he asked why, I told him I was signing over 49 percent of the company to him — my accountant said one of us had to keep 1 percent more.”

3. AWARDS GALORE: Dog Krazy won 2019 Best Multi-Unit Retailer at the Retailer Excellence Awards at Global Pet Expo and 2018-19 Retailer of the Year in the Marketing category at SuperZoo. The stores have also won multiple local “Best of” awards.

4. HAPPY STAFF: Nancy says, “I recently had an email from another business owner who said my store is one of the few places he frequents where every employee is genuinely happy to be there. It is the best compliment I have ever gotten.”

5. EXPANSION BEYOND DOG KRAZY: Look for Lola’s Barkery treats and cakes to be available wholesale in 2020.

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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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