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Cute Brute

This store transformed from being a delivery service into a 1,837-square-foot retail space and something else on weekends!

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Furry Friends Inc., Colorado Springs, CO

OWNERS: Debbie & Terry Brookham; URL: furryfriendsinc.com ; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; ARCHITECT: Julie Hardridge/Architexture; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 1,837 square footage; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/furryfriendsinccolorado; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/furry_friends_inc


PASTEL BLUES AND GREENS welcome customers to Furry Friends Inc. in Colorado Springs, CO. A crystal chandelier hangs in the entry. Adorable bakery items sit atop a small pink table, tempting people and pups alike. Tule, ribbon and floral accents abound.

“Whenever someone comes in, we hear the usual gasp and ‘This is the cutest pet store I have ever seen,’” co-owner Debbie Brookham says.

Behind the dainty decor, though, exists a strong business model, one that began in 2002 as a delivery service for private-label dog food Pet’s Healthy Choice. It has since evolved to include the 1,837-square-foot retail space, plus a tech-savvy staff and delivery van that transforms into a treat and ice cream truck on the weekends.

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Private-Label Success

Brookham — who owns and operates Furry Friends Inc. with her husband, Terry — worked with a pet nutritionist and U.S. manufacturer to formulate and produce the private-label food. It has never contained ingredients from China, which proved highly beneficial during the pet food recalls involving that country in 2007.

“One of our customers told a TV station about us, that we had our own line of dog food and it wasn’t affected,” she says. “A news team came out and rode in our delivery van, and every other station in the area picked it up after.”

The service added 222 new customers in just five days, a nearly 30 percent increase. To keep up with demand, the couple added a 600-square-foot retail area to its warehouse.

“And then when Chewy came along, we knew there was a niche that we wanted to fill: our own line of food delivered, but also sold in a cute boutique setting.”

In 2014, the business moved its retail operations to a busy shopping center. Delivery continues to grow, surpassing 1,800 customers and standing out from other services thanks to the white bakery bag of treats included with every food purchase, free of charge. Pet’s Healthy Choice makes up 60 percent of food sales at 22,000 pounds a month.

“Private-label food has been so successful for us.”

Employees Equipped with Ipads

Now a certified pet nutritionist herself, working toward clinical designation, Brookham teaches her team about the various foods and supplements Furry Friends Inc. offers. She also trains them in how to use an iPad as a sales tool.

During a nutrition consultation, an employee can pull up the store’s website and access ingredients and other information about any food on the floor.

“It’s so much easier to read online than to flip over a bag to look at the label,” Brookham explains, adding that DogFoodAdvisor.com also gets frequent use for its reviews and serving size calculator.

“With customers using their own mobile devices, we decided to dive right in with them. It also allows us to show off our really cool website, that offers free home delivery.”

Salespeople use the iPads for other types of content and products, as well, such as videos of pups playing with Planet Dog toys, for example.

Double-Duty Van

Furry Friends Inc. offers delivery Monday through Thursday. In 2017, the couple realized that their Dodge Sprinter van could serve as an ice cream and treat truck at events Friday through Sunday. They built a shelf for the side opening and added a red-and-white striped awning. An updatable whiteboard lists the offerings, with the likes of The Bear & The Rat frozen treats and Nana’s Pupcakes as regular items.

“It’s an easy way to get out into the community to help our business, instead of setting up a booth,” Brookham says. “People can buy something for their dogs, and we give them a $5 gift card. It brings shoppers to the store who have never been before.”

The transformed van sets up at various festivals and farmers markets from late May through September, which lessens the summer sales slump.

“Our sales would always dip in June and July, when people are off on vacation. This makes the register ring during those months.”

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The same TV stations that asked for interviews in 2007 were eager to spotlight the new truck and continue to do so. Add to that Facebook event posts and live videos letting followers know where it will be, and a line often forms at the window.

Event organizers and even apartment complex managers now reach out to Brookham to book a stop.

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Five Cool Things About Furry Friends Inc.

1. THREE GENERATIONS: The business has evolved from mom and pop to nanny and pappy. Debbie and Terry co-manage, and they hope to one day pass the business to their children, marketing exec Tracy and U.S. Navy Commander JB, who are always ready to offer insight. Grandson Spencer, now 20, impresses customers with his nutritional knowledge when he stops in. Grandson Jacob, 16, often rides along on delivery days.

2. BILLION-DOLLAR ADVICE: In 2010, Shark Tank invited the Brookhams to pitch Furry Friends Inc. for franchising. Their interviews with producers and hosts didn’t air, but Debbie Brookham says “Getting advice from billionaires took us in new directions.” Two years later, they opened the current store, complete with grooming and DIY bathing.

3. HELPING PUPPY MILL SURVIVORS: Since 2007, Furry Friends Inc. has been the official pet food partner for National Mill Dog Rescue in nearby Peyton, CO. To donate food, supporters can buy food at a 15 percent dicount from the the store’s website.

4. NO-BAKE BAKERY: “Even though we’re not a bakery, we appear as one! We’re known for our beautiful cakes and cookies displayed like a quaint bakery. We’ve gotten the word out via Facebook that we are the place to come for your dog’s birthday,” she says. “Bakery makes up about 18 percent of our business now.”

5. DOGGIE SPA DAY: Furry Friends Inc. takes a spa approach to its grooming. Dogs get one-on-one time with Crystal Parrott, and among the many menu offerings is a Posh Package that comes with teeth brushing, pawdicure, mud mask, facial and head massage.

ONLINE EXTRA: Q & A

One book:

EMyth

One plane ticket:

Italy

Most significant mentor and why:

Bob Negan from Whizbang Retailers. He has his own past experiences with retail and now mentors thousands of retailers in all different industries. This is a great crossover because we often need to get out of our own box. If something is working at a candle shop, maybe the process could work in a pet store. It reminds me to think differently and more forwardthinking.

Favorite business book:

EMyth

Favorite book:

Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats by Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Best advice ever given:

My Daddon’t sweat the small stuff….and it’s all small stuff.

Advice for a new store owner:

Hire what you don’t know. Do what you enjoy and don’t be afraid to give up responsibilities. You will be much happier and your store will flourish.

If I’d known  …

To hire more employees then, life would have been a whole lot easier.

What superpower would you like to have?

Flying in a wink

What’s the best customer service you’ve ever experienced?

I bought a Cadillac in 1995, and they still keep in touch (even though I sold it many years ago). The receptionist greets you at service, they wash your car even if you don’t get anything done. That is exceptional. I think it all stems from being a “giver” and knowing it will be returned. When it was time to purchase another vehicle, I stopped at their lot first (and bought a used Buick) however, knowing their service, I knew I would not be disappointed.

Tell me about your perfect day.

My husband and I went to Italy. Best day ever, riding a gondola, eating in a corner restaurant and renewing our wedding vows of 40 years. We both cried.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?

I think sharing the sadness in our profession, over the loss of a pet is truly the hardest thing. We cry with our clients and feel their grief with them.

When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is …

Their sincerity.

Favorite film:

Gone with the Wind. Who can resist Clark Gable telling Scarlett “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Don’t we all have days like that?

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Best vacation ever

Wind Surf Mediterranean Cruise to Italy, Croatia and Germany. Largest sail ship in the world. Loved it!

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers:

Marketing. It’s fun to go create and watch it become a success

Current career goal

Working on becoming a Clinical Pet Nutritionist. I’m looking forward to helping people and their pets on a deeper level.

Current life goal

Some day passing the business on to our family and living in a warmer beach climate. Not retired, cause I don’t think that would be any fun:)

Favorite store that’s not my own

I really like Happy Dog Barkery. They provide us some of our bakery items. They are on a Main Street with a park for their events right across the street. How cool is that? Their place must smell delicious!

I am most frustrated when …

Vendors drop in unannounced. Running a business doesn’t require one to be at the store all the time. The reps just drop in unannounced, taking up my employees’ time because they missed me. Having been a medical rep, I understand the sales process and you need to get to the person that makes the decisions. So, why not set up an appointment with the person you ultimately need to influence?

I am happiest when …

I have helped solve a clients problem for their pet whether it be food, a supplement or a toy.

Weekend activity

Camping and enjoying the outdoors

The thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t:

You know, I try not to worry. I would rather think things out and figure out a solution. I hate wasting my energies on worrying which resolves nothing. Either you can do something about the situation or you can’t. And, usually if you think about the solution you can do something! Remove the worry and resolve the issue.

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.”

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!

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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