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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.”

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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 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

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.”

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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!

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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America's Coolest

A Salon So Upscale, It Attracts People Without Dogs

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3RD Place: BARKER’S LANE | Davie, Fl

Strike a Pose

 

A salon so upscale, it attracts people without dogs.

OWNER: Juliana Reese | WEBSITE: barkerslane.com | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION : 2007 | AREA: 1,173 square feet | EMPLOYEES: 2 | FACEBOOK: barkerslane | INSTAGRAM: barkerslane


IT’S THE ULTIMATE before and after story. In 2006, Julianna Reese was reconsidering her career path as a special education teacher. She looked to her rescue dog, Zeta, for guidance and inspiration.

“I thought, ‘I would love to be with her all day, every day. That would be so cool,’“ Reese recalls.

She began searching for pet businesses for sale in South Florida and found a grooming salon in Davie.

“I went and looked at it. The location was bad. It was dirty, just gross. Also, I knew nothing about grooming or running a salon.”

She saw the potential, though, within those walls and herself.

“Everything in my gut told me to go for it.”

Reese bought the business in 2007 and has since transformed it into the glamorous and profitable pet spa Barker’s Lane.

Pups awaiting pickup can relax in a private suite at Barker’s Lane. They also are available for overnight boarding for existing grooming clients.

Changes, Slowly Then Quickly

After taking over, Reese immersed herself in all aspects of the salon.

“The first two years, I had a perpetual headache from all of the learning,” she says.

Reese trained with her staff and enrolled in online courses. As her knowledge and confidence grew, she began making changes.

“Grooming was matter of fact when I got here. Dogs got a bath, blow-dry, haircut, their nails clipped, anal glands expressed and ears cleaned.” The former owner “used chicken coops as cages.”

Now clients can choose from an extensive menu of services for their pets. Blueberry facials and hand-drying come standard with every level of groom. Among the many add-ons are exfoliating mud baths, pawdicures, and hair coloring and feathering. She also offers hot towel treatments for senior dogs.

“We take the towel and put it over areas where they have arthritis.”

Classical music and aromatherapy fill the air at Barker’s Lane, helping to lessen any stress pets might feel. Zephyrhills spring water fills the bowls. Depending on their size and temperament, dogs can relax in a kennel or private suite while they await their appointment or pickup. Some even chill on one of the vintage settees that contribute to the salon’s glamorous decor.

“Every time I saved a little money, I would put it into the business. I would paint a wall or add a piece of furniture. Eventually I was able to make it completely my own.”

That happened with a remodel in 2016. The result: a setting that could easily be mistaken for an upscale home, one worthy of a feature in an interior design magazine.

“This is my place,” Reese explains. “I come here every day, and I want to be surrounded by beauty.” She adds, “The pet industry has changed. People see their dogs as children now and like to take them to places where they are comfortable and surrounded by pretty things.”

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Contributing to the aesthetic are features not commonly seen in a pet business. In the bathing area, marble tile surrounds two sleek white tubs, with an elegant chandelier hanging in between. Leopard-print wallpaper covers the grooming room walls, and gilded vanities provide storage. Porcelain tile floors that resemble wooden planks run throughout the salon. Orchid plants and small decor items complete the look.

In the lobby, faux boxwood frames a large bookcase that holds dog books, figurines and home accessories. Business licenses and other information display as if they are treasured mementos. A teal vintage settee sits in front, atop a patterned area rug.

The fireplace with a menu of services framed above anchors another wall, with an adjacent gallery wall looking straight out of Pinterest. Fresh flowers add additional pops of color, as do the rich pink shelves that hold a small selection of grooming products and treats.

Building the Brand

The interior design serves an additional purpose for Reese.

“Every wall is set up for pet photos that can be used for advertising and social media, and also sent as personal photos to clients,” she says.

A closer look at the mirror above the lobby’s pink settee reveals #strikeapose and the Barker Lane Facebook and Instagram handles.

“People are obsessed. We even have some who come in without a dog to take pictures.”

Reese also holds special client events such as wine tastings and tours, plus casting auditions for their dogs with a local talent agency.

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“It really makes for a fun, interactive and trust-invoking relationship. The ability to make both pet and pet parent comfortable opens up so many doors to solid friendships, referrals, true loyalty and overall good vibes.”

She looks back on the past 12 years, the previous two in particular, with pride.

“The remodel was the best thing I have ever done. Our business has skyrocketed. We currently have an estimated 320 percentage growth for 2019.

“I never stopped believing in this journey of mine. My journey became a passion, it became an experience of personal growth, and a true commitment.”

And an amazing pet business.

Judges’ Comments

Beth Miller: The exterior aligns with their merchandising style and gives a sneak peek to passersby.

Jane Harrell: Their use of classy, feminine decor, combined with a glam/Hollywood aesthetic makes them instantly recognizable and alluring without having to stick their logo on everything.

Beke Lubeach: I love the consistency of high-end design with high-end services.

Leel Michelle: I love the clean and glamorous look of this store! There are so many individual, creative, unique and beautiful touches!

Kristen Levine: Spectacular design inside and out. Branding is fantastic and their passion for dogs shows in the environment they’ve created to care for them.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)
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5 Cool Things About Barker’s Lane

1 STOREFRONT APPEAL. The location — inside a shopping center, not visible from the road — leaves a lot to be desired. Reese more than makes up for it with window decals. Brown “curtains” with pink trim frame the salon logo and view into her lobby. Furniture for people and pets, plus a cocktail cart, move into the breezeway for special events.

2 SUPER WOMAN. Two years ago, Reese decided to be the sole groomer at Barker’s Lane. Her staff consists of two assistants who bathe, dry and otherwise handle dogs, but she does the 10 to 15 cuts scheduled per day.

3 TEXT ME. Reese moved from a landline to a salon cell phone. Clients message her appointment requests, photos of desired cuts and cute notes about their pets. “It works so much better. I can keep it as a log and go back at the end of the day to fill in my book, and it creates a family-type atmosphere.”

4 WAIT, WHAT? On the menu of services is a “Doggy Brazilian.” You guessed it, the private parts get trimmed.

5 VERY IMPORTANT PUPS. Only grooming clients can board overnight in one of the glamorous private suites at Barker’s Lane. “This allows us to keep it fun and exclusive to our clients,” Reese says. “It’s more of a V.I.P. feel.”

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