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Better, Not Bigger

Four Muddy Paws focuses on improvement rather than expansion, with winning results.

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Four Muddy Paws, St Louis, MO

OWNERS: Jeffrey Jensen and Matthew Brazelton; Website: fourmuddypaws.com; FOUNDED: 2004; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2007; EMPLOYEES: 3 full-time, 5 part-time; AREA: 2,800 square feet; FACEBOOK: four-muddy-paws-117919245293; INSTAGRAM: fourmuddypaws


SOME PET BUSINESS owners see success as an ever-growing number of locations. Others prefer to focus on one, maybe two stores. Matthew Brazelton and Jeffrey Jensen of Four Muddy Paws in St. Louis, MO, chose the latter.

“A while back, we were talking with our banker,” Brazelton recalls, “and he said, ‘You can open more stores, but how much more money will you really make? And keep in mind, you’ll be spending more and managing more employees.’”

Jensen continues, “He asked us, ‘Thinking about your life and everything you have going on, what do you really want?’ We said, ‘You know what, we’re good with the two.’

“We decided to improve our stores instead of opening more.”

Historic Growth

Jeffrey Jensen and Matthew Brazelton with their dog, Potter.

Jeffrey Jensen and Matthew Brazelton with their dog, Potter.

The partners in life — going on 26 years — and business opened their first Four Muddy Paws in 2004. When presented with the opportunity to buy and renovate an early-1900’s two-story building in the Lafayette Square neighborhood, they took it and reopened there in 2007. Further renovation in 2018 has them using all 2,800 square feet of the first floor for retail, self-wash bathing and drying, and grooming.

Originally three individual storefronts, the building presented structural challenges that Brazelton and Jensen used to create a strategic flow to their business — they simply connected the spaces instead of opening up the entire floor.

“We wanted to design it in a way that if customers were coming in for food, they had to pass by all of the fun stuff first,” Jensen says, referring to the front door that opens into where collars and leashes, toys, housewares and gifts, and treats are on display.

A passageway leads to the middle storefront and four self-wash stations, the raw food and treats area, and a robust cat section complete with brick walls, a lamppost and metal trash cans.

“We have the hallway that goes to our back room,” Brazelton describes. “So we made it Pussycat Alley.”

Another passageway leads to the third storefront, where the remainder of dog and cat food, plus supplements, are found.

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“With new customers, we can have a conversation as we walk them through the shop to the food room,” Jensen says.

Outstanding Customer Service

Four Muddy Paws has long offered in-depth nutrition consultations, extensive product knowledge, and loyalty programs for food and self-wash. In February, online shopping, an ACE and Shopify integration, launched. Add to that already available delivery and curbside pickup, plus contactless grooming boosted by the MoeGo app, and the store was well prepared for COVID-19.

Jensen — who handles all communications and events, while Brazelton covers operations and finance — keeps customers up to date on store hours and policies through a weekly newsletter and social media. He even went live every weekday morning on Facebook from March through June.

“We wanted to let them know what was happening,” Jensen says. “We got a lot of positive feedback. Customers liked seeing us, and it helped us stay top of mind.”

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Also helping them stay relevant has been the continuation of “In the Kitchen with Four Muddy Paws” series on Facebook Live.

“We have casual conversations with brand reps in our home kitchen. We figured that’s where most people feed their pets and where we can connect with them about the unique benefits of foods. We wanted to create an opportunity for our customers to learn in a convenient setting so they don’t have to come into the shop. They can ask questions live and we respond to all of the questions that come through on both Facebook and YouTube.”

Cat parents get their own section with Pussycat Alley, left, and original store dog Salem has a coffee blend named in his honor.

Cat parents get their own section with Pussycat Alley, left, and original store dog Salem has a coffee blend named in his honor.

Community Investment

Like many independent pet businesses, Four Muddy Paws supports local animal welfare organizations through fundraising events and donations. They also think globally.

“We’ve had a special day where the proceeds of our sales went to the One Orlando Fund after the Pulse Nightclub massacre. Being an LGBTQ-owned business, we knew it was the right thing to do,” Jensen says. “We also made a large donation to the World Wildlife Federation after the fires in Australia. Our customers know that their support of our small business makes a real difference both in our community and around the world.”

Brazelton and Jensen also donate personal time to a variety of causes in their community — their home sits just two blocks from the store. They read to at-risk children and provide homeless people with rides to shelters in the winter.

“We’re just built to give back. It’s in our DNA,” Jensen says.

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And while they make an effort to maintain a work-life balance, their launch of online shopping crossed the line during a mission trip to Africa in March.

“I did a Facebook Live from Mozambique. Schools were starting to close, and we had to let people know what was going on.” He adds, “Every member of our store teams makes a difference every day, but they really stepped up during the pandemic.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • SPENCER WILLIAMS: They are running a strong business that fits well into their community. The website conveys the importance of healthy pets and has a local personality. It was easy to navigate product online and to purchase, as well as to understand the changes due to COVID-19.
  • TRACE MENCHACA: Absolutely wonderful. So perfectly merchandised, such a wonderful use of fixtures. A really creative space — and so fabulous from the outside.
  • LEIB DODELL: Great use of video on social media to promote the brand. The “In the Kitchen” series is excellent and a way to communicate with their audience in a relaxed but educational way.
  • MATT ALDRICH: I really love the patio. There’s a lot of ways to use that space creatively. It’s nice that they have a memorial for their original store dog, Salem, on their website.
  • MELISSA KAUFFMAN: I love pet stores that both have professional grooming services and a self-service dog wash. I also love that the store is a renovated historic building, which gives it atmosphere.
PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Four Muddy Paws

1. SAVING THE PLANET: Solar panels, LED lighting and bamboo flooring were installed during the store’s renovation. At the St. Louis and Edwardsville stores, energy credit purchases help to offset their carbon pawprint. Anything recyclable gets recycled. The groomers use only natural and biodegradable products. Bulk treats go into biodegradable poop bags, or clear compostable bags if a gift. Customers who bring their own bags get entered into a monthly gift certificate drawing.

2. PUPS ON THE PATIO: Brazelton and Jensen enclosed the alley next to their building and look forward to hosting adoption and special events there again soon. Last summer, customers and their dogs practiced yoga there once a month.

3. REVIEWING REVIEWS: Jensen responds to every Google and Yelp review. When a Yelp Elite member lowered his review of the store after he felt ignored during a visit, Jensen reached out and invited him back. “We talked face to face. I told him that that wasn’t the level of service we expect and walked him through the changes we were going to make. Ever since, he’s been one of our best customers and continues to give us five-star reviews.”

4. PETOGRAPHY: During renovations of the building, Brazelton and Jensen found a box of black and white photos. Turns out, there was a photo studio there in the 1940s that specialized in pet portraits. Jensen says, “They had beautiful backgrounds and little beds and chairs. We thought, well that’s a good sign.”

5. SALEM’S BLEND: Brazelton and Jensen founded Four Muddy Paws for Salem, a sweet pup they rescued during a camping trip. To celebrate the store’s 15th anniversary, they created a custom coffee blend with their neighborhood roaster, and 20 percent of proceeds go to local pet-related charities.

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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