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A Unique Experience

Muttigans combats big-box and online competition by giving customers what they can’t get anywhere else.

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Muttigans, Emerald Isle, NC

OWNERS: Wendy and John Megyese; WEBSITE: muttigansplace.com; FOUNDED: 2016; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2017; ARCHITECT: Julie Hardridge/Architexture; FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES: 1 low season, 3 high season; PART-TIME EMPLOYEES: 3 low season, 8 high season;AREA: 3,000 square feet; FACEBOOK: MuttigansEmeraldIsle; INSTAGRAM: Muttigans


EMERALD ISLE, NC, HAS 3,784 permanent residents. During the summer, population swells to more than 50,000 thanks to tourists. Such a difference presents challenges to any business there that stays open year-round. Add to that for a pet store, increasing online competition.

Wendy Megyese understood this well when she opened Muttigans in 2016 with her husband, John. “We recognized that in order to not only survive but thrive, we had to create a unique customer experience.”

They have done exactly that. Through a welcoming atmosphere and a smart mix of products, food and drink offerings, and special events, the business attracts locals and visitors alike, both pet parents and not.

Shop, Sip And Stay A While

Emerald Isle souvenirs for people and pets are popular at Muttigans, as is store Pug Josie.

The two-story shingled building that houses Muttigans greets customers with large front windows and an 80-foot wraparound porch. Inside, a country charm aesthetic spans 3,000 square feet of retail and cafe space.

Pet supplies make up 48 percent of overall sales, with 45 percent of that in food. Health Extension, Fromm, The Honest Kitchen, Diamond and Merrick are among the brands carried. Staff special-order others so that residents can shop local instead of ordering online or having to leave town for supplies.

“When you live on the island, going over the bridge is a big deal,” Megyese says, adding that she also has learned to keep small bags of Blue Buffalo in stock during high season for those visiting with their dogs.

Chews, bulk treats and gourmet cookies are popular purchases across the board.

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“Tourists especially love the cookies that say Emerald Isle or Muttigans. They’re very Instagramable. Or if they’re vacationing without their pets, they take them home as souvenirs.”

Boutique items such as those with store motto “Paws and Enjoy Life” do well, too, making up 10 percent of overall sales.

Dogs who do get to tag along, whether from near or far, can enjoy a Pup Cup — whipped cream with a choice of lamb, beef or peanut butter biscuit — in the cafe.

“We are very fortunate in that the state health department and county codes consider coffee and our other menu items low-risk. Dogs are allowed anywhere in our store.”

Humans can order for themselves baked goods prepared and individually wrapped off-site as well as smoothies, beer, wine, and hot and cold teas and coffees. The lattes have adorable names such as Mastiff Mint, Milky Bone and Berry Bloodhound.

Seating includes couches and at high-top tables made from upcycled barrels. A variety of board games are available for play, from chess and checkers to Connect Four.

“We want people to feel comfortable. The longer they stay, the more they spend,” Megyese says, adding that the cafe accounts for 42 percent of overall sales.

Customers can also enjoy the island air from one of the rocking chairs or swings on the front porch. Installed carabiners keep their pups in place.

Pets Not Required, But …

Megyese points out that many Muttigans customers do not have a dog or cat to shop for but simply “come in to enjoy the great atmosphere, their beverage of choice and to give Josie, our Pug, a coveted back scratch.”
She does try to convert the locals, though.

“We host monthly adopt-a-thons and several of our coffee-only customers have become proud pet parents as well.”

Wine tastings and painting parties are among other events that draw in a variety of people. Most benefit animal rescue, with local group Misplaced Mutts receiving more than $5,000 in proceeds last year. The fundraising directly ties in to the store and cafe’s name, and the Megyeses’ pets, the previously mentioned Josie and Presa Canario Moka.

“One of the reasons we chose [Muttigans] is that it’s a play on the golf term mulligan, which is a second chance or a do-over. Many of our dogs, including mine, are rescued. They have been given a second chance at life. They are do-over dogs, so we thought the name was very appropriate.”

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Muttigans

1. STORE SECURITY: Wendy and John Megyese are both former law enforcement professionals. Wendy’s last role was as a school resource officer, and John retired as a police detective after 37 years on the force. Needless to say, they excel in theft prevention. John also takes on human resource duties at Muttigans.

2. BUZZ ONLINE: Travel websites list Muttigans as a must-visit destination on the state’s Crystal Coast. The store and cafe also has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor and Facebook, and #muttigans and #pupcup regularly appear on Instagram. All of this helps attract tourists during high season, which accounts for 60 percent of annual business.

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3. THE BEST SEATS: Emerald Isle’s Christmas parade features more than 100 floats, and it passes in front of Muttigans. Rocking chairs and swings on the front porch provide prime viewing and seating. The store “sells” these spots during the parade and donates proceeds to the local animal shelter.

4. MORE MUTTIGANS: Pet parents on the mainland recently got their own store in Swansboro. They appreciate not having to contend with tourists in the summer. The second location also offers grooming, which the main store could not because of local regulations.

5. FAMILY BUSINESS: Daughter Danielle Rinehart and son Joshua Velazquez have joined the Muttigans team. Rinehart works as the events coordinator. Velazquez handles e-commerce, and recently launched the store and cafe’s app. It allows users to earn rewards for buying pet products and coffee, and they can use it to book grooming appointments.

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Wendy Megyese

One book: Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

One website: Pinterest

One gadget: My cell phone, of course

One plane ticket to: Puerto Rico

Most significant mentor and why: His name was Anthony Masi. He was like a second dad to me. I learned the impact storytelling can have, especially while breaking bread.

Favorite business book: the classic Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

Best advice ever given: Live each day as if it were your last because one of them will be.

Best advice ever received: Out of every adversity comes a seed of equal or greater benefit. Always look for the seed.

Advice for a new store owner: Create a place you would go back to again and again if you didn’t own it. Make it an extension of who you are. It will happen anyway, so be purposeful about it.

If I’d known: How much of an impact the company you keep makes then, life would have been a whole lot easier.

I drive a Honda Accord. If I could choose any car… it would be a black Cadillac CTS with premium Bose sound system and heated and cooled leather seats. (Yes, I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while now.)

What superpower would you like to have? I’d love to be able to live and breathe underwater.

What’s the best customer service you’ve ever experienced? I vacationed in Emerald Isle four summers in a row from 2006 to 2009. I would always go to a gift shop called Elly’s. I was the typical tourist who bought post cards, seashells and Emerald Isle branded items. I did not return again until the summer of 2014. When I walked in the store, one of the employees looked at me and exclaimed “Wendy! How have you been? How did things work out for you? I haven’t seen you in so long!” Not only did she remember my name, she remembered the details of our last conversation five years earlier! In my mind, I was just another tourist. One among thousands who come through there every week, but she made me feel so incredibly special. She is a long time employee of that store, and if I could get her to work for me, I would do so in a heartbeat. But I have settled for having her as one of my very dear friends and one of the best examples of what superior customer service looks like.

My perfect day: Wake up early to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Let the dogs out and watch them play as I sit on the dock drinking my first cup. Get dressed and pull on my leather boots because I’m taking my Harley Davidson into town to check on both stores. After making sure everything is good, I’d take a leisurely countryside ride with my husband. Get back home and after having leftovers for lunch I’d take a 20-minute nap. Then I’d grab my bathing suit and a book, and spend a few hours on the river. At dinner time, my kids and grandkids come over and we share a meal and some laughter. Then I’d end the day sitting on the couch, watching a movie with my hubby and the dogs. Perfection.

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What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally? Fire employees that I had grown to like personally.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save? Assuming all people and pets were safe, I would grab the collar that belonged to my Cane Corso Maya.

If money were no object… I’d get all new display fixtures for my store.

When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them: is their body language.

If I were a pet… I would be a cat because no one would judge me if I wanted to ignore them.

Favorite film: A Knight’s Tale

Best vacation ever: Emerald Isle, NC, summer of 2015. We spent two weeks here and decided we wanted to make this our home.

If I weren’t a pet business owner, I’d be: a writer and coach.

Current career goal: Grow Muttigans into a national chain.

Current life goal: Allow myself to enjoy time away from the business.

My hero is: my husband. He spent 37 years as a law enforcement officer and daily saw the worst side of humanity or rather inhumanity. Yet he still has an amazingly tender and giving heart.

Favorite store that’s not my own: Elly’s Gifts in Emerald Isle

I am most frustrated when: I can’t figure out how to make certain technology or gadgets work

I am happiest when: I am spending time with my family

Weekend activity: boating on the Bogue Bank Intracoastal Waterway

The thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t: Am I living up to my potential?

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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