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How Indie Pet Business Owners Are Dealing With the Coronavirus Pandemic

Stores and service providers are increasing sanitization, expanding offerings and communicating with customers online.

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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, pet businesses across the country are increasing their cleaning frequency, switching to touchless checkout, and promoting online and phone orders — including bulk — with curbside pickup and expanded delivery.

Stores are seeing an uptick as pet parents stock up, with Nancy and Chris Guinn of Dog Krazy reporting that Thursday sales at their five Virginia stores exceeded that of a busy Saturday.

“Customers are buying months worth of dog food instead of their monthly/weekly bags,” Nancy explains. “Our online orders for delivery have spiked over the last 48 hours.”

The Guinns have lowered the minimum order for free delivery to $35 and widened the area to 30 miles from any location. To avoid shortages of particular products, she says, “We are putting a limit on how much food people can buy at one time. We are allowing three bags to leave the store per customer, but anything above that is being paid for up front, special ordered and delivered to their homes the following week.”

Amid the changes, though, locations are facing a shortage of their own.

“We’re paying attention to coronavirus, but right now our biggest concern is supplying toilet paper to our 60-plus employees!”

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Like other indie pet businesses, Dog Krazy has kept customers updated via email and Facebook.

As have Shane Somerville and Adam Felker of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, who have been posting about coronavirus since Feb. 29 because of the early number of cases in their state. The store’s most recent Facebook post thanked loyal customers and asked for their continued patience as they adapt to the evolving situation.

Trace Menchaca of Flying M Feed & Pet Grocery in Houston, TX, shared the changes her staff has made and introduced a weekly Facebook Live during which pet parents can take advantage of deals from their computers or cell phones. The first show lasted nearly 90 minutes due to customer demand and brought in more than $1,400, a welcome boost in these uncertain times.

In the coronavirus Facebook post for her business, Beth Staley of Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove, IL, offered up their sink for hand washing and said there would be plenty of disinfecting wipes available. She also noted that among other increased efforts to maintain a healthy environment, “Our community dog bowl is gone, and we have individual bowls that will be washed.”

Dan Reitman of Dan’s Dog Walking and Pet Sitting in Port Washington, NY, aimed to ease any client concerns about employees coming into their homes as well as about where they are walking their dogs. He did so through this graphic on Facebook and in an expanded version sent via email and posted on the company’s website.

Anna Woodcock of Brown Dog Bakery in Ankeny, IA, promoted her store’s curbside pickup and free delivery, and thanked customers for their ongoing support.

Jennifer Flanagan of Nature’s Pet Market in Wilsonville, OR, where no coronavirus cases have been reported yet, let customers know how they have prepared and announced an expanded delivery area.

After the University of Virginia closed on Wednesday, Pattie Zeller of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, VA, spoke directly to students and staff in a Facebook post.

Sara Gingerich of Three Dog Night in Centralia, WA, recorded a Facebook video announcing her store’s temporary expansion of curbside pickup from pregnant and disabled customers only to anyone who needs it.

Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos Boutique in San Antonio, TX, shared specifics of her staff’s cleaning practices, including that they are sanitizing surfaces hourly and using hand sanitizer between transactions.  She ended her Facebook post with: “We will, of course, be monitoring the situation closely, and will update you immediately if there are any changes. Until then, be safe, wash your hands, and most importantly, hug your pets.”

In addition to sharing cleaning efforts, Danielle Chandler‘s post for Lewis and Bark’s Outpost in Red Lodge, MT, asked customers to keep their small size in mind and place any bulk orders on Sunday for availability on Friday.

Allen and Jennifer Larsen of Firehouse Pet Shop & Grooming in Wenatchee, WA, listed multiple health and safety efforts, including removal their popular popcorn machine. They stressed the importance of supporting small businesses during times like these:

“This crisis is having a brutal effect on so many people in our community. A side effect to the worries surrounding this illness is causing so many people to cocoon for obvious reasons. Sadly there are many small shops, restaurants and other business that rely so much on daily community support that could be drastically effected by the lack of customers.

Please don’t give up on them. Please keep them in your thoughts and support them if possible. Possibly order a gift car over the phone from them. Call and see if they will do curbside carry out for you.”

Alison Schwartz of All Pets Considered also asked for support of small local businesses: “Before you turn to Chewy and Amazon for your pet needs, please think of us instead! We speak for every small business in our community in this plea.”

Bar K in Kansas City, MO, reached out via email and shared a graphic of the letter on Facebook. In addition to sharing cleaning practices, Leib Dodell and David Henley point out: “Based on the best available information from the World Health Organization and other experts, dogs do not appear to be at risk to contract or carry the COVID-19 virus. So, we can continue to rely on our four-legged friends to bring us some much-needed joyfulness.”

Keith and Patrycia Miller of Bubbly Paws dog washes in Twin Cities, MN, also emailed clients, posted the copy on their company’s website and created a pop-up to provide a direct link. Included was a plea to customers: “We also ask our customers for their help; if they are not feeling well, please keep stay home with your pup so our team is not exposed. Should you need to cancel a grooming appointment due to sickness, please let us know as soon as possible.”

Every client of Wag Central in Stratford, CT, received an email from Angela Pantalone that presented her response to the coronavirus in four sections: “What I Know,” “What I’m Learning,” “What I Am Staying on Top of” and “What I Pledge,” with the latter stating, “To be fair and respectful as always of you, the valued clients. Please be assured that expiration dates, cancellation fees, and any other costs or charges relating to this radar blip will be treated fairly.”

In addition to posting about coronavirus cleaning practices and recommending curbside pickup, Margo Tortorelis of My Natural Pet in Brooklyn, NY, “I also sent out a $10 off every $100 ‘Pandemic Preparedness’ Coupon since people are requesting bulk orders.”

If you would like to share how your indie pet business has responded to the coronavirus pandemic, please email pamela@petsplusmag.com for inclusion in this story.

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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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