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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.

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

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 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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