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Their Kind of Store

Jordan Lee and Matthew Guevara turned a singular vision into reality with The Public Pet.

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The Public Pet , Honolulu, HI

OWNERS: Jordan Lee and Matthew Guevara; URL:thepublicpet.com; FOUNDED: 2016; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 900 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/thepublicpet ; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/thepublicpet


IF WE WERE dogs, where would we want to shop?”

This was the question Jordan Lee and Matthew Guevara asked themselves after deciding to open a pet store where they live in Honolulu on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The answer informed every aspect of their business plan.

Lee says, “Matthew and I really wanted to create a space where pets and pet nutrition intersect with our love for urban art and culture, fashion and sustainability.”

They did exactly that in 2016 with The Public Pet, located in the eclectic and indie-friendly neighborhood of Kaimuki. The co-founders have continued to evolve the answer to their question and subsequently the store, turning it into a stylish hub for raw food expertise and high-quality pet products, including unique goods made by local designers and artists.

Jordan Lee, left, and Matthew Guevara

Jordan Lee, left, and Matthew Guevara

Masculine & Welcoming

Before moving to Hawaii, where Lee grew up, he and Guevara lived in San Francisco. Lee graduated with a BFA in interior architecture and design, going on to work in visual merchandising at the corporate level for luxury fashion brands. Guevara also worked at the luxury level, in hospitality management. They drew from their professional and personal styles and experiences to create The Public Pet’s look and feel.

“So many pet stores are known for having a bright and modern aesthetic, but we wanted to go in a different direction with a darker more masculine palette, industrial finishes and fixtures, and eclectic visual props. We love how pet products, which are typically colorful, look against our black interior,” Lee says.

Collars and leashed in bright hues pop against the dark walls as they hang from one of the fixtures Lee built with sustainability in mind. It uses reclaimed pipe fittings and wood, with a top shelf holding framed art and personal photos, including one of original store dogs Lola and Phiefer. Even more leashes sit nearby atop a large wooden spool painted black. The dark backdrops also visually expand the 900 square feet.

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“In interior design, it’s all about creating the illusion that the space seems a little bit bigger than it is,” Lee explains. “The black ceiling and walls eliminate the boundaries of the room.”

Adding a welcoming warmth to the aesthetic are a leaf-green checkout counter with light wood trim and the bevy of recycled baskets that hold products throughout the store.

“I know how wasteful the retail industry can be, so we try to use things that are secondhand, give them new life,” Lee says.
Other items contribute to these efforts while adding more personal touches.

“Our store is an extension of our home,” Guevara says. “They actually look alike because we rotate decorations and plants between them.”

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Colorful bandanas by local designer Roberta Oaks, above, and gear pop against the black wall. Maluca strikes a pose.

Quality Not Quantity

Lee and Guevara also use product selection to make The Public Pet inviting, which leads to simplicity in store design and an elevation of customer service.

“The flow of our store is spacious and allows customers and their dogs to shop effortlessly,” Lee says. “We carefully curate our stock so each category isn’t overly saturated, leaving room for conversation as to why we believe in our products.”

Perhaps the most important discussion with customers revolves around pet food. It makes up 70 percent of the store’s revenue, with the majority of those sales from raw despite not a single freezer sitting on the sales floor.

Frozen products moved to a back room during the pandemic to reduce what customers touched, and the owners as well as staff prefer how interactions now happen.

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Guevara explains, “When a new customer comes in, we give them the layout of the store and ask if they’re interested in raw food. We then bring out the product and lay it on the counter.” Existing customers simply order from a menu at the counter. “Buying food has become a much more personal experience because of this.”

It also has become an educational one, as store manager Stephanie Miki earned certifications in Raw Dog Food Nutrition, Pet Food Nutrition and Advanced Canine Nutrition through Dogs Naturally. Her deep knowledge combines with Lee and Guevara’s passion for the diet — Lola and Phiefer ate raw, and current store pup Maluca does — to drive strong food sales that contributed to 2021 overall revenue being 50% higher than that of 2019.

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Five Cool Things About The Public Pet

1. WORK OF WALL ART: A colorful streetside mural by Matthew Tapia captures the spirit of the store and acts as a design element for the Kaimuki neighborhood. “We’ve rotated it twice since opening and look forward to more designs going forward,” Lee says.

2. SINGLE INGREDIENT: The bestselling treats at The Public Pet are those they source and package themselves. “It’s a really exciting and expansive part of our business,” Lee says. “It’s been really cool to support ranchers and farmers in Hawaii, to cut out shipping from another state or country.” The single-ingredient treats have fun names like Chovy Bits, Chewy Tendoncies, Kuku Crisps and Pawty Fowl, and they align with the store’s focus on raw feeding.

3. INFLUENCERS: The Public Pet has nearly 15,000 social media followers. Lee and Guevara use their platform to spread awareness of social, environmental and political issues. Lee says, “Many of these issues affect our daily lives, and we want to be heard. Most importantly, we use our digital presence to promote a fun, happy and healthy lifestyle for pets and their families.”

4. FREE STUFF: Customers show up early when the store offers limited-availability free items like tote bags or even a simple sticker. Guevara says, “We get a line around the building, people up at 7:30 a.m. with their lawn chairs and coolers.”

5. POP UP: Lee and Guevara love to pop up The Public Pet. They have set up shop at local department stores, music festivals, hotel pools and street fairs. Pre-pandemic, they even had plans to pop up in Tokyo and capitalize on their popularity with Japanese visitors to Oahu, thanks to the store being featured in numerous travel guides. With Guevara recently returning to his position as a flight attendant with Hawaiian Airlines, such travel will be possible again once safe to do so.

See more photos of The Public Pet.

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Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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