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Cats Rule, Dogs Drool

A recent expansion at Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming elevates kitty products and makes pup parents — and employees! — even happier.

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Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming, Wenatchee, WA

OWNERS: Allen and Jennifer Larsen; WEBSITE:firehousepetshop.com; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2015; AREA: 7,700 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 11 part-time; FACEBOOK: firehousepetshop; INSTAGRAM: firehouse.petshop.and.grooming


Firehouse-Pet-Shop-Allen-Jennifer-Larsen

Allen and Jennifer Larsen brought 30 years of retail experience to Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming. Right, Mr. Carmen awaits new adoptable cats.

WITH A NAME like Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming, first-time visitors might expect a Dalmatian to greet them at the door. Instead, a Domestic Shorthair named Mr. Carmen welcomes all. The three-legged cat has been a beloved fixture at the Wenatchee, WA, store since it opened in 2015.

“You can often find Mr. Carmen sprawled on his back, legs in the air, in the middle of an aisle,” says Jennifer Larsen, who owns the business with husband Allen. “He’s pretty well known to our customers. They come in looking for him.”

The rescue kitty got additional room to roam in November, when the couple added 1,700 square feet from an adjacent building to the existing 6,000. The expansion has allowed for a dedicated cat area and for all dog products to be on the main floor, leaving the downstairs for self-wash, grooming and employee training.

Cats Only

Customers now enter through doors to the new space, where they find 1,100 square feet just for felines. A glass-front freezer holds raw foods, with canned and dry spanning the wall next to it. Litter and boxes line the back, giving way to a wall filled with beds and toys. Trees and other furniture sit on top shelves. In the middle, colorful gifts catch the eye.

“Cat people are thrilled because they have their own store basically,” Jennifer says, with Allen adding, “Everyone who walks in is blown away. A mentor early on told us that people will spend a ton on dogs, but not on cats. We’ve found that not to be true. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there.”

Falling into that category are the Scratch and Sniff trees that turn heads, especially when displayed outside. They feature driftwood, making each one unique, and range in price from $140 to $480.

“We’re so glad we built up our cat business because it has been just awesome. Every category is up 50 to 65 percent,” Allen says.

Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming also creates new kitty customers with its Search and Rescue Adoption Center. There, those looking to add to their family can meet adoptable cats from the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society.

“They get to roam around inside a fun room, versus being scared in a cage,” Jennifer says. “That was actually the biggest piece of us opening a store. Whatever we did, it had to give back.”

More than 600 cats have found new homes thanks to the store — and Mr. Carmen, who mentors and plays with the kitties to make them feel comfortable. The couple also looks forward to hosting post-pandemic events for OkanDogs rescue again. All adopters get a packet with coupons for products and services, including grooming.

The Firehouse Way

The Larsens also want their staff to have fun and enjoy coming to work. As part of the expansion, they developed an interactive training program with that and creating successful sales associates in mind. New hires spend four-hour shifts, five days a week over three weeks, attending class and learning on the job.

For example, Allen teaches a Firehouse Traditions session on the first day.

“I talk about who we are, what we stand for and how we got here,” he says, referring to their decision to leave corporate retail to pursue their dream of opening an atypical, solution-based pet store, which happened during one of the worst fire seasons in Washington. “We had a lot of gratitude and pride for our firefighters. We wanted to salute them and how they served, and reflect how we wanted to serve.”

After that class, the employees complete tasks, such as exploring the historic buildings or taking a selfie with Mr. Carmen. Product training may include watching videos on manufacturer websites, then working the category on the sales floor.

“We want them to become real advocates. So with toys, we want them to learn and touch and play,” Allen says. “Then we add a quiz, like “What were your three favorite toys and why, and how would you sell them, to help them retain the information.”

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Dog parents can now shop all products on the main floor. Left, cat people get what feels like their own store in the new addition..

Happier Employees, Higher Sales

The new training approach has been a hit with staff members, including those hired prior to its implementation who want to take the classes, too. Jennifer and Allen are looking at ways to reverse train.

That enthusiasm combined with the expanded focus on cats and the consolidation of dog products have helped bring about 25 percent total sales growth year over year.

PHOTO GALLERY ( 13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming

1. STATION STYLE: The firehouse theme informs the physical design through red, silver and black store colors. The logo features a Dalmatian in a fire hat and a certain black cat. And thanks to the expanded space not having sprinklers, a large fire door separates the sides, staying rolled up until needed.

2. KIDS & teens MORE THAN WELCOME: Staff makes everyone who comes in feel welcome. Children get a free fire hat and their own mini shopping cart — complete with a “Customer in Training” sign — and attention from Mr. Carmen. Everyone also gets a bag of popcorn, on the way out until the pandemic allows for in-store snacking again.

3. WHAT’S IN THE BOX?: On the first day of training, new hires arrive to a gift box on their desk. It sits there until the session ends, when they finally get to open the box and find inside their own fire hat, swag and gift items from the store.

4. ALL AGES, TWO JENS: Employees range from 17 to 70 years old, with the senior, Deborah “DJ” Goodell, hosting barbecues at her house that the teens attend. Jennifer and Allen work full time at the store, with store manager Jennifer Bethel helping to lead the team.

5. SMART KID: The store offers an IRA to full-time employees and matches their contributions up to 3 percent. Aidan, the couple’s 20-year-old son, has been the most eager contributor and encourages his peers on staff to do the same.

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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