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If I Owned a Pet Store




If I Owned a Pet Store

Experts from outside the world of pets offer their ideas of a perfect pet-store experience.

Before delving into this, you need to know one thing: Some of these ideas absolutely, positively will not work. Didn’t expect that, did you? You see, here at Pets+, we aren’t afraid to take a flying leap outside the pet industry for ideas on how to make your store great. We’ve assembled a team of five people here who will be the first to tell you they don’t know the pet business. What they do know is retail inside and out. They know what consumers want, what induces them to buy more, what makes them tick. So you’ll have to forgive us if you see some ideas that may stretch the imagination. They may just have you rethinking your business from the ground up. (Again, sorry about that.) And they may just possibly give you some things to tweak in your business that takes you to the next level of success.


Remove the Barriers


If i owned a pet store, I’d make sure to remove all barriers between the salespeople and the customers. I’d want to make humanity the focal point over the stacks of food. To do that, I’d first ask a lot of questions.

Why? Because the spaces in which people shop have changed. We’ve seen bank lobbies transformed from utilitarian, cold places to line up, into welcoming and warm waiting areas. We’ve seen registration desks at hotels transformed from massive walls of marble, stone and wood into desks at a more human scale.

What does this mean for pet stores?


You have to evolve ….

The sweet spot in any retail display is the area between the bellybutton and the eyes. I’d find a way to highlight the best products at eye level, rather than below crotch level. Stooping over, especially for older consumers, isn’t exactly a preferred way to buy things.

Instead of taking every manufacturer’s cardboard display and just putting it somewhere, I would invest in upscale display racks that would strategically offer customers a curated choice for their pets. If money were an issue, I could begin by facing some of the more industrial shelving with wood to soften it up a bit.

I would break up the long lines of shelving common in pet stores into smaller islands that encourage browsing and creating different areas of discovery.

I’d look at how passive my employees are. If they are only responding to customers’ requests, I’d fix that. I’d train them to actively get the pet yard pen, new dog bed or treat in as many customers’ homes as possible.

I’d shop every competitor. Anything I was doing that wasn’t up to that par, I’d replace — from merchandising units to merchandise, from the point-of-sale system to pointing salespeople.


Most of all, I’d find a way to put the human soul into my operation.

I’d train rigorously that you can’t judge a book by its cover. If Mark Zuckerberg walked in the door in his signature hoodie, flip-flops and jeans, would my associates leave their judgments behind and encourage him as much as if Heidi Klum walked in decked out in Prada? They would.

I’d get out of asking, “Can I help you find something?” I’d teach my employees to become curious. Why on this day, did this shopper drive past dozens of competitors, ignore thousands of online competitors and go through the traffic and trouble of finding a parking spot to shop with me?

Once my training was focused on proactively developing a relationship with my customer, I’d make sure the store environment was clean and full of life — with the perfect sound, sights and even smells — that customers felt transported to a world of possibilities for their pet.

Probably the biggest thing I would do would be to have all of my heavier items available on my own sophisticated e-com platform so my own customers could order subscriptions of their pets’ favorite food and steal back market share from Chewys and other online retailers. 

In short, I would do everything I could to leverage the trust my customers have in my brand, my employees and my years of service to the community by doing a better job. 


I would realize that technology could enhance a sale, but an iPad would never take the place of the human interaction. My associates’ training would be to approach all customers with an open heart looking to make a unique, positive impression.

And yes, I know this would take money, but most small business owners have deep pockets and short arms. They could pay for the changes but don’t — leaving themselves open to a competitor,  either online or down the road, to steal their customers.


Fuse Technology with Experience


Four years ago, I began to discuss the importance of customer experience in retail. 

Today, it is all anyone is talking about. But here is why. Over the last two years, I have been conducting a survey of customers asking a very simple question:  How likely are you to return to a store if it does not meet your expectations or if does meet your expectations? Unsurprisingly, customers responded that there is only a 20 percent chance they will come back to a store if it does not meet their expectations. But if the store did meet their expectations, then there is a 49 percent chance that they will return. That’s right — even if you meet their expectations, there is only a 50-50 chance they will return!

In the same survey, though, customers said there is a 96 percent chance they will return if the store exceeded their expectations. And this is why customer experience is so important.

But in a pet store, there are actually two customers — the owner and his or her pet. Many pet stores today have actually begun to work on the owner experience, but what about the pet? Shouldn’t we focus on their experience as well? Absolutely. 

So my store would fuse technology with experience. First, pets today have a chip in their skin in case they get lost or stolen. What if you installed technology in your store that read that chip and then interacted with the pet? Imagine the owner and pet strolling in the front door and the store greeting the pet by name.

If you created a link between your CRM and the chip in the pet, then you could do all sorts of things for the pet and owner. For example, as the pet strolls down the food aisle, the owner’s mobile device could be sent a text with a coupon for the food or treat their pet loves. (You know this because of the purchase history.) 

As you stroll the store, there are areas where the store interacts with the pet. Costco gives me samples every time I come in; my pet would love the same experience. Grooming takes on a whole new experience if the technology tells the groomer the “likes and dislikes” of the pet. And as you check out, the pet becomes the loyalty card. No need to carry one or type in a phone number. The register recognizes your pet and tracks your purchases and points.

In fact, your pet could receive points throughout the store. The more displays and areas it visits, the more points it receives. Think of it as finding Pokemons in the store. As a store owner, you can drive people to new products and expose them to new services you offer simply by giving them points for checking it out.

Finally, as you leave, the store says goodbye to your pet and tells them to enjoy the “pupper treats” he just bought. Now that would be an experience an owner would want to have for themselves as well as their “kids.” An experience that would exceed their expectations and get them in your store and not online every time. 



Be Unique or Die


If I were opening a pet store, grooming salon, pet boutique or kennel today, the first thing I’d do is remind myself that I’m in business to make a profit. While I may have a passion for pets, as a business owner, my first and primary role is that of Chief Visionary Officer and my second is Chief Marketing Officer.

Statistics confirm, decade after decade, that the vast majority of businesses fail in their first five years. Why?

I suggest it’s from a lack of a vision that would enable the business to differentiate itself from the competition and lack of a consistent, direct-response approach to marketing that results in a steady stream of prospects and customers through the doors.

Whether you’re just opening your store today or have been struggling for years to achieve the prosperity and independence you got into business for in the first place, you can use a better approach to both these functions to develop the pet-related enterprise that will make all your dreams come true.

First, as Chief Visionary Officer, you must develop a concept; an idea; a vision of what your business is, and perhaps just as importantly, what it isn’t.

In today’s big-box, big chain, internet world, it’s no longer good enough to say, “I love pets and I want to serve them and the people who own them.” You’ve got to be a lot more specific than that.

Obviously, you can’t compete on price. The big boxes, chains and internet have that position totally wrapped up.

That’s OK. Research indicates only 27 percent of buyers are price shoppers anyway, and in the pet arena, odds are it’s even lower than that.

So how can you be different? Well, you could adopt the absolute highest priced position, and if you do, you’ll have to build a company that justifies that position. It may have to do with your décor, your inventory, the expertise of your people, the depth, breadth and quality of the services you render and the education you provide; even the way the staff dresses, how people are greeted; the look and feel of your business.

A high mountain to climb? Perhaps, but Starbucks has pulled it off. Why not you?

Other ways to differentiate … you can specialize in certain kinds of pets, partner with a local vet or vets, provide special educational events or training, be highly involved in community action, partner with charitable, animal rights organizations, etc. You don’t have to do them all. You do have to do some … or at least one.

What you can’t do is be just like everybody else. Differentiate or die!

Once you’ve figured out how to be favorably different, you’ve got to scream it from the rooftops! I mean scream in the figurative sense, of course. Point is, you’ve got to let people know.

Thus your role as Chief Marketing Officer.

You must embrace this role, recognizing that it’s your job to get the people coming and keep them coming.

I recommend you become a student of marketing and advertising. This is not a role to delegate. Nobody will care about the success of your business as much as you do.

I advise a scalable, testable, measurable approach to marketing. That involves making specific offers in your advertising and tracking the results. It involves split testing your advertising to see which ads work best, so you can “genetically engineer” your marketing for ever-increasing success.

By the way, the word “offer” is not the same as “discount.” There are many kinds of value-added offers, far more compelling than discounts. But then again, that’s why you must become a student of marketing.

Yes, if I owned a pet business, I would treat it as a business and see myself as a businessperson, with my primary responsibilities being to differentiate my business from all competitors in a way that appeals to my target customers, and then let those customers know all about it. And that would make all the difference.



Sell an Experience


I’d want it to be an extraordinarily different kind of pet store. It will be a true destination where pet owners can find wonderful things and experiences to enhance their lives and that of their pets. I’d want my store to be an exciting place where people and their pets can experience shopping in a brand new way. I’d make my pet shop POP!

Retail today has evolved from a product business to a people business. When people simply want a product, they can get it “internet-easy, internet-fast.” Going to a store to shop today is a choice, no longer a necessity. So I’d organize my store to make the shopping experience rewarding, engaging and personally satisfying to both pets and their parents. Surely, I’d want to have cool products for pets, but I know that the success of my store will hinge not on what I sell, but how I sell it. That means putting the people and pets that come to my store first. In other words, the product follows, not leads. 

Full disclosure: I am not a pet owner. It’s not because I wouldn’t love to be one, but the responsibility of being a good pet parent doesn’t fit in my current lifestyle. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am going to borrow ideas from one of the extraordinary pet specialty stores that I profiled in my book Shops that Pop!, Mohnton, PA-based Godfrey’s Welcome to Dogdom, owned by Pat and Barb Emmett. 

I will be guided in launching my pet boutique by throwing out the old model of marketing based upon the 4Ps — Product, Price, Placement, Promotion — and replacing it with the 4Es — Experience, Exchange, Everyplace, Evangelism. Customers today have moved beyond the needs and motivations on which the old 4Ps of marketing are based. That 4Ps marketing model has been disrupted and replaced with the new 4Es model that has evolved along with the customers’ priorities and expectations. Here is my plan: 

Experience Replaces Product

Everybody talks about the experiential economy, yet when you look across the retail landscape, few understand how to shift gears to make the shopping experience the focus, not the products. Yes, customer service is important, but it takes more than that. You ultimately must turn the products sold into a true experience for the customers.

One way to do that is to make shopping in my store an experience of discovery where pet owners can find new ideas and inspiration to enhance the health and well being of their pets. Like Godfrey’s, I’d want to stock only the highest-quality, most healthful food for pets. And I’d provide advice and guidance to pet owners to make the optimum food choices. 

It goes without saying that pets would be welcome to shop along with their parents. But I’d also want to provide special play experiences suited to the special experiences pets, most especially dogs, love. Taking a cue from Godfrey’s, I’d locate my store in a place that has room to put a dog park, where pets can romp off-leash and pet owners can organize play groups. 

Price Becomes Exchange

While sales and cheap prices have become the knee-jerk way retailers drive traffic today, it is impossible for a specialty independent retail store to try to beat the competition on price. 

The opportunity is not to think how low you can go, but how much more value you can deliver for the price. That is the idea of Exchange. It involves more than money in the till; it is the entire value experience a customer derives through the process of engaging with the store. Part of the exchange can be respect for the customer’s time, including making the time they spend with you meaningful and memorable, like the joy of seeing their dogs romp in the play yard with their friends. It can be special insider knowledge that helps pet owners navigate their lives, like my pet food counseling service. 

But everybody likes to get a deal, so I’d want to offer some extra incentive to get customers to spend. Borrowing an idea from Barb that has been super successful at Godfrey’s, I would establish a reward program that allows shoppers to accumulate rewards points to apply toward future purchases. 

Everyplace Instead of Place

The concept of Everyplace includes the idea of allowing customers to engage on their own terms, through their own paths to purchase, whether it be online, in-store, at home or by phone. So my store website will be e-commerce-enabled, featuring only top 20 percent of best sellers, because that is the most efficient to manage and will be of most benefit to my customers. 

Everyplace doesn’t have to be only via the Internet. It can be taking the customer experience directly to the customer, face-to-face, person-to-person. It can also be person-to-pet with mobile pet grooming, or store-to-home with delivery service. 

Evangelism Replaces Promotion

The next step in the 4Es strategy is to build a network of store evangelists that will help spread the word about my shop. Pet people are passionate about their pets, and I will use my passion to engage those passionate customers and reach out to others who may not yet know my store. 

Rather than investing in paid newspaper advertising, I’d focus on communicating pet passion through content marketing, social media, traditional public relations and influencer blog posts. I’d write a monthly newsletter to distribute via email to customers whose email addresses I would religiously collect in the store. Then from that newsletter content, I’d use social media to extend its reach further. 

The content for the newsletter and social media posts will be news pet parents can use, not self-serving promotional messages. For example, Barb follows all pet food recall notices and shares that important news with her followers. 

To help manage my social media and email outreach I’d look at a service like Snap Retail, which is designed for small retail businesses and makes internet marketing tools a snap to use.

Further, I’d look out into my community to find platforms to communicate important pet information — a regular column in  newspapers, magazines or even television, like Barb who hosts a monthly “Dog Is Family” show on the local cable TV network. 

This would be my plan to build my pet boutique on the new 4Es marketing model. In doing so, I’d make my pet shop POP!


Go Contemporary Minimalist


If I owned a Pet Store, it would be an urban store that welcomes pet parents. 

First, the design of the store would welcome animals so all materials would be easy to maintain. 

The flooring would not only be easy to clean but also antimicrobial and sound absorbent.

Walls would be painted with a paint low in volatile oil compounds.

Color would be used thoughtfully throughout the store — for example, Pantone’s Greenery, their color of the year for 2017, combined with Shadow, Benjamin Moore’s 2017 color of the year. 

The ceiling would be sound absorbent since dogs can be noisy sometimes.

The store would have big windows with daylight pouring in or light glowing out, depending on the time and season. 

The big window(s) would not be crowded with product. I would have a bi-weekly window story that is funny or informative or graphically striking so that people would say “let’s go see what they’re doing this time.” This window(s) would display product but in a memorable way. 

Most pet stores are beige and tend toward the sentimental. I would have a contemporary, minimalist design with areas showing the “maker” sensibility such as a locally crafted cash desk with a feature wall behind it with the store’s name, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram URLs to encourage connection with my store and my pet owners. 

I would have minimalist-looking, very strong gondolas for product but nothing would be displayed on the floor so that the floor would always be the closest to immaculate that is possible.

I would lay out the store so that all the high gondolas and coolers were against the wall. The doggy daycare and dog grooming areas and a smaller cat grooming area could be the center and focal point of the store. 

The store entrance would be planned to honor disabilities with a 36-inch-wide door with an 18-inch-wide sidelight on the handle side with lever handles. 

There would be a 36-inch-wide by 32-inch-high maximum area at the cash for helping wheelchair bound and other physically challenged customers. 

The center open area would be designed so that it could be reconfigured for talks and training. Who wouldn’t want to see a K9 dog working with his trainer companion?

I would use a big “pinnable” board for people to post lost animals, pet sitting, vet services and other pet related information. This would be kept current on a weekly basis. Therefore, if you lost a cat as we did, it would behoove you to go into the store weekly to update the store on the loss or reunion. 

All the lighting would be energy efficient, a combination of fluorescent and LED in a residential color temperature of 3,000 and 3,500 Kelvin. This would make the animals’ coats shine and sparkle. 

There would always be a dog watering bowl. Since water fountains are ubiquitous in new stores I would investigate tying the dog’s water into this system. 

I would have a coffee/water bar so that my customers could help themselves. If I used a Keurig-like system, all the pots would be recyclable. 

I would have a small book area where books about animals and people would be for sale. 

I would love to incorporate an organic back garden with pollinator friendly plants where daycare dogs could romp and customers could sit with their pets enjoying the fresh air, their coffee or water, plus conversation with other pet owners. 

And how would I run the store? What services would I include?

I would focus on cats and dogs, their services, food and toys.

Doggy daycare is hugely popular in urban areas. The way my store is planned, with an open center area, plays easily into this. 

Once a month I’d have a cats’ nail clipping event. 

There would be two resident cats. They would be “working cats” — i.e., comfortable hanging out in the store, being petted by customers with places to sleep. Cats, unlike dogs, are not all social animals so they would need to be trained from when they are wee kittens. In addition they would need socialization with dogs. 

I would get to know my customers so that within reason I could stock what they like and buy. 

I would liaise with a dog park close by and with one or two shelters so that a pet friendly community was built surrounding my store. 





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