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Creative events, artistic cakes and a fun team make Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery a beloved fixture in its community.

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Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery, Lawrence, KS

OWNERS: Jennifer Thomas, Sarah Ybarra; URL:myluckydogoutfitters.etailpet.com; FOUNDED: 2012 ; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2020; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 3 part-time; AREA: 2,400 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/uckydoglawrence


HOGWARTS HOUSE SORTING. Yogurt-and-pencil pet portraits. Roller skate deliveries. Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery offers all of this and so much more. The store embraces creativity and fun, winning the hearts of pets and people alike in Lawrence, KS.

“We enjoy allowing our quirky style to shine,” Jennifer Thomas says. She owns the booming pet business with daughter Sarah Ybarra. Together they have grown it from 400 square feet in a friend’s doggie day care to 2,400 in a historic downtown building.

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The Perfect Setting

Previously home to a dress-making shop and a Piggly Wiggly, among other stores, the Hannah Building came up for lease early on during the pandemic. Lucky Dog was in another location at just 1,400 square feet, so even with the timing, it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“We needed more room to host our events, more space to meet product demand, and we wanted to be downtown, where there are lots of unique people and pet owners. We knew we could do more if we had the space,” Ybarra says, “and it would allow us to social distance better in the meantime.”

The building dates back to 1872 and has a wide, windowed facade perfect for the playful displays that draw in passersby. Inside, wood covers the floors, with white and mint walls reaching up 18 feet to an ornate tin ceiling. Colorful merchandising makes even plain-looking products stand out. The result: a warm aesthetic that matches the inviting customer experience Thomas and Ybarra create on a daily basis.

Owners Sarah Ybarra and Jennifer Thomas get into the spirit for Hairy Pawtter Day.

Owners Sarah Ybarra and Jennifer Thomas get into the spirit for Hairy Pawtter Day.

Where’s Harry?

Lucky Dog carries indie-favorite natural brands across a select range of categories, but the store’s annual events help shape its development, fuel growth and build strong community ties.

“People love our events,” Ybarra says of Where’s Waldo?, Hairy Pawtter and others, all of which she imagines and leads.

Where’s Waldo? involves hiding paper cutouts of the character in partner businesses downtown.

“Our customers go and look for Waldo, which gets them into those stores and supports their businesses. Then when a customer finds one, they bring it back to us and get a surprise,” she explains.

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Hairy Pawtter ranks as Ybarra’s favorite and most successful event. It happened for the sixth time in August, with pet participants — dogs and cats, but also snakes and hedgehogs in previous years — donning or sitting next to a talking Harry Potter Sorting Hat that placed them in a Hogwarts house. They then took a photo in front of a Harry Potter backdrop. Customers paid $9.99 for sorting and a digital photo, and then shopped from a Hogwarts Express-inspired food trolley for bakery treats in the shapes of Hogwarts Castle, Hedwig and the Golden Snitch. Boxed “wands” — bully sticks for dogs, silvervine for cats — also were available. More than 150 pets and their people, many in costumes and with kids in tow, attended the two-day event.

“People love their pets and love thinking this is a unique thing about them, their Hogwarts house,” she says. “When we couldn’t do it last year because of COVID, they were really sad.”

Past Hairy Pawtter events also have included Doggie Quidditch, Battles with Voldemort and other games, which Ybarra hopes to bring back next year.

Baked Goods

Kayla-Jade Remulla on Valentine’s Day.

Kayla-Jade Remulla on Valentine’s Day.

Ybarra describes her mother as “the grease that allows things to run smoothly and the glue that keeps it all together.” In addition to those roles, Thomas leads the bakery team. She has grown the department from items purchased wholesale to the current in-store bakery that produces a wide assortment of healthy decorated treats and cakes for dogs and cats.

“When we moved here, we wanted our bakery to be a focal point,” Thomas says. “We bake in front of everyone. They come in and can smell the treats and watch Kayla at work.”

An art school major, Kayla-Jade Remulla not only bakes and decorates cakes, but also draws portraits of recipients in yogurt and colored pencil on the boxes.

“People cut them out and frame them,” Thomas says. “They come back year after year to get a portrait.”

Cakes cost $15 to $40, with the portrait an extra $12.

“I wasn’t sure where it would take us, but bakery is about 20 percent of our business now.”

Next up for the department: offering Lucky Dog bakery items wholesale to fellow indies.

“People are dying for different bakery options. There’s a big gap in the market that we can fill. We’ll be looking for a full commercial kitchen,” Thomas says.

Tony Gradert donning roller skates to deliver curbside is just one of the ways the Lucky Dog team has fun at work.

Tony Gradert donning roller skates to deliver curbside is just one of the ways the Lucky Dog team has fun at work.

Which Position?

Remulla joined Lucky Dog as an associate, but soon moved into a baker position.

Thomas says, “One of the unique ways we structure our staff is that we encourage them to choose their area of expertise. All receive customer service and product training. Once they have become familiar with our store, they choose their preferred area.

“Kayla had no baking experience. She was drawn to work in the bakery because it was a way to use her creativity in the store.”

Tony Gradert took a similar path, coming in as a part-time associate, then emerging as a leader to become store manager.

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“We have discovered that job history does not dictate character or ability. Allowing our staff to choose their niche helps them feel more fulfilled and appreciated as an individual,” Thomas says.

It also creates an environment in which they can have fun at work. That has been key to riding the many pandemic waves, both for staff and customers.

“I knew we were going to be OK when I pulled up to the store and Tony was roller skating a bag of dog food out to a customer who was laughing and taking his photo. Sometimes you have to create your own light at the end of the tunnel when one doesn’t exist.”

Five Cool Things About Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery

1. LITTLE DID THEY KNOW: In 2008, Thomas and Ybarra were working together at an independent toy store. They would often comment on a beautiful building across the street, never imagining that one day, it would be home to a pet business they owned. Thomas, a teacher who worked retail during summer breaks, recalls, “Opening a store hadn’t even crossed our minds.” But it did in 2012, after they adopted a Boston Terrier named Salvador and learned that high-quality pet products and trusted advice were in short supply locally. “We’ve come full circle,” Ybarra says.

2. HIT SUBSCRIBE: Its Pet Parcel monthly subscription box launched in 2020 to help put new products in front of customers who were not shopping in-store. It has grown to 75 subscribers.

3. BE SOCIAL: Members of the team regularly go live on Facebook to promote events and sales, with their pets joining in on the fun. The videos boost sales, and followers across all platforms topped 10,000 earlier this year.

Sirius

Sirius

4. SO FAMOUS: In addition to their cameos on Facebook Live, Ybarra’s Sirius and Remulla’s cat Pretzel serve as store mascots. Thomas says of Sirius, “Customers adore him. He is quite intuitive with people and is so comforting when they need it.” Pretzel has been coming in since he was a week old, for bottle feeding, and can often be found napping in a bakery cabinet.

5. HOLIDAY TRADITION: For its Sponsor a Shelter Animal event, photo ornaments for 100 homeless pets decorate a tree starting on Black Friday. Customers can choose an animal to shop for, and Lucky Dog matches donations.

PHOTO GALLERY (24 IMAGES)

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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