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These heroic pet pros’ alter egos are anything but underdogs.

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At a store in New York, a man stares at shelf after shelf of bags and cans, stressed about choosing the right food for his dog. A cat cowers in her carrier at a grooming salon in Ohio, fearful of what awaits outside the open door. At a home in Maryland, a woman frets over a beloved pet’s health, worried something may be seriously wrong. Who can these mere mortals turn to? Who will help their furry family members? The Super Pet Professionals! These heroes excel at education. They have a calming way with animals. Their instinct and knowledge tell them when it’s time to involve a vet. Some also have a knack for merchandising, an eidetic memory or the ability to be extraordinarily efficient. With these powers, they keep people and pets happy and healthy. Let’s meet eight such champions!

Pamela Mitchell is the senior editor at PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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8 Standout Sign Designs for the Ultimate First Impression

Because first impressions are everything.

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GREAT SIGNS DRAW in passersby. They do so by piquing interest and making clear the nature of a business. But as any owner will tell you, doing that according to property and other guidelines can prove challenging. These pet businesses share how they worked — some quite creatively — within the system.

Riverfront Pets
Wilmington, DE

Laura and Clinton Gangloff got permission from their landlord to try a different approach with signage. Instead of white lettering with red accents on the facade, like other businesses in the building, they hung a perpendicular sign with the Riverfront Pets logo, complete with red fire hydrant. “We still have the printed name on our awning so you can see who we are from across the road, but I think we reach more consumers with the placement we have now,” Laura says.

COST: $4,000 | TIP: Add stickers to your storefront outlining services and supplies. “We have found that is pretty helpful also.”

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Dog Krazy
LEESBURG, VA

Fun fact about the original Dog Krazy logo, shown here on the Leesburg location: It’s the font from ’90s animated series Ren & Stimpy. Nancy and Chris Guinn hung signs on the facade as well as perpendicular to the store to catch potential customers from all directions.

COST: $6,000 | TIP: Nancy says, “Make sure it stands out. A good sign is worth every penny. Think about what makes you want to go inside a business. If the sign is cheaply made and doesn’t catch your eye, your store may go unnoticed. Bold, bright and fun is what I always look for.”

The Pet Barber
HOUSTON, TX

With its logo and sign, owners Paul Willis and Kristen Cover let potential customers know they specialize in hand-scissoring. Cover says they proposed black lettering with uplighting, but that the landlord ultimately required an illuminated sign.

COST: $6,000 | TIP: Cover says to “negotiate the signage before you sign the lease, especially if you have something very specific in mind.”

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Wags To Whiskers
PLAINFIELD, IL

When Janelle Pitula moved her business late last year, its sign came with her. Initially, there was pushback. “There were some challenges with the village as they said it was a bit too big, but they conceded and gave us a variance since we’ve been in town for 14 years.”

COST: $5,000 | TIP: Make sure your sign is clear, readable, stands out from other tenants and represents your business. “If you can do your logo, great. If not, just be clear.”

The Modern Paws
TAMPA, FL

This store’s logo features a paw print within a dotted circle, with that alone serving as its icon. On their storefront, Ben and Lisa Prakobkit used it both as a decal on the door and above with “The Modern Paws” on an awning. Of guidelines, Ben says, “The property association did require any awnings to be made out of certain materials and fabrics, so we made sure to adhere to those requirements.”

COST: $5,000 for decals, awning and lighting | TIP: “Your signage is what any customer, or even potential customer, sees first. Make it clear and bold. You want to make the best first impression before a customer even steps in your doors. The signage draws customers in, customer service keeps them coming back.”

Southern Barker
LEXINGTON, KY

Lily, the Stewart family dog, stars in this store’s logo and sign. Leslie Stewart says that property guidelines dictated “that the sign itself be lighted, but because of our font, it was difficult to manufacture. We opted for a flat acrylic sign with gooseneck lighting above.”

COST: $4,600 | TIP: “Make sure the design, colors and font can be seen well from a distance and that the view is unobstructed.”

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Fetch Ri
RICHMOND, RI

Before deciding where to place signs for her store and applying for permits, Johnna Devereaux walked the entire property to determine sightlines. “We wanted to ensure that no matter which angle you were looking at the building, you would always see the Fetch RI signage. We have four exterior signs and two interior.”

COST: $1,500 | TIP: “It can be argued that on-site signage is the No. 1 marketing tool you have. After all, you can have the greatest business cards or ads, but if someone doesn’t find your store visually appealing and inviting from the outside, they may never step foot inside to see what you have to offer. When it comes to signage, take your time and do it right. First impressions are everything.”

Lewis & Bark’s Outpost
RED LODGE, MT

In historic Red Lodge, MT, regulations do not allow for neon or blinking signs without city approval. Danielle Chandler decided to forgo the red tape and instead use vinyl lettering on a storefront display window. “We chose the window, color and large size for visibility,” she says.

COST: $300 | TIP: If your store sits in the shade all day like hers, Chandler recommends placing colorful, seasonal windsocks outside with shiny windmills in flower pots. “The movement catches a lot of eyes. The days we forget to put them out, our sales are noticeably lower.”

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Help Pet Owners Celebrate Their Friends’ Birthdays

These stores help customers make their dog’s birthday or gotcha day wishes come true.

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PARTY HATS. CAKE — real or plush squeaky. Birthday bandanas. The variety of pet celebration products continues to increase, as do the size and creativity of displays that feature them. These stores help customers make their dog’s birthday or gotcha day wishes come true.

AK BarkANCHORAGE, AK

This store promotes inclusiveness with its celebration table. Those who bake can buy mixes and bone-shaped trays, and those who don’t can pick up ready-made cakes and pies. “Happy Birthday,” “Welcome Home” and “Happy Adoption Day” cookies cover all dogs, as do pink and blue hats and toys.

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, The Lazy Dog Cookie Co., Multipet, ZippyPaws.

TIP: Consider not offering a birthday discount. Mark Robokoff explains, “Birthday items would essentially be perpetually discounted. What we usually do instead is get a good photo if the dog is in the store (or from the customer’s phone if not), and wish them a happy birthday or gotcha day on our social media. Customers love to like and share the photos, helping to spread the word and making us guests at their party!”

Southern BarkerLEXINGTON, KY

This charming “Party” hutch offers everything needed for a pet celebration. Members of its Birthday Club get a free treat and a discount on purchases. “We also try to take a picture of every birthday boy or girl that stops in, and we post it to all of our social media,” Leslie Stewart says.

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BRANDS: ZippyPaws, Hugglehounds, Planet Dog, Haute Diggity Dog, Bosco and Roxy’s.

TIP: Carry Pearhead chalkboard celebration signs and block sets. Customers can use them to do their own photo session at home.

Mutts & Co.6 STORES IN OHIO

Celebration items are big sellers at these stores. Mark Vitt says, “Every day we have multiple customers coming in looking for a special treat for their dog’s birthday or gotcha day, and we point them right to our celebration section. They always grab a few cookies or cake for the party. But in addition, we suggest a bulk chew, a toy, or a bag of treats to share with other family pets, or even something fun to wear like a birthday hat or sports jersey.”

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, K9 Granola Factory, Bosco and Roxy’s, Planet Dog, Multipet, Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, PetCakes.

TIP: Cross-promote between departments: “We offer a free grooming service, like a Smooch a Pooch Dental Care Treatment, for dogs getting groomed during their birthday month.”

The Green SpotOMAHA, NE

At the top of this pet celebration display sits a sign encouraging customers to also pick up a ready-made treat from the bakery case or order a custom cake. Whitney Kamish reports that their birthday category sales are up 20 percent from last year.

BRANDS: Huxley & Kent, Lulubelles, HuggleHounds, ZippyPaws, Mirage Pet Products, K9 Granola Factory, Bocce’s Bakery, Taj Ma-Hound, Bosco and Roxy’s, Brixtix Bakery, PuppyCake.

TIP: Keep a set of Pearhead photo blocks open. “We use them when taking pictures for social media of customers’ pups.”

Miss Doolittles Pet Spa & BoutiquePOTTSVILLE, PA

The celebration case at this store couldn’t be sweeter. Missie Mattei uses cake stands and tiered dessert trays to make birthday treats and dog toys look even more special.

BRANDS: Preppy Puppy Bakery, Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, Pawsitively Gourmet, Taj Ma-Hound, Mirage Pet Products, Bardel Bows, Huxley & Kent, Petlou, ZippyPaws, Multipet.

TIP: Ride the birthday category wave. “We are constantly adding as the demand grows and we find new birthday related items.”

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Fetch RIRICHMOND, RI

Treat bar meets pet celebration display here. The Part-y bar experience includes free samples and posing with a special photo frame for social media.

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, Bocce’s Bakery, Kong, Charming Pet, Mirage Pet Products.

TIP: Don’t forget the rescue dogs who don’t have a known birthday. “We made up different photo frames so pups celebrating birthdays or gotcha days can be recognized.”

Flying M Feed Co.HOUSTON, TX

This celebration display looks like that of an actual party, complete with plush cake slices and handwritten place cards at each setting. Toys are presented as party favors.

BRANDS: Doggie Express, ZippyPaws, K9 Granola Factory

TIP: Point out popular products. Trace Menchaca says, “We offer a ‘registry list,’ which lists our best-selling birthday gifts should someone be attending a party and looking for something fabulous!”

Bark on MulfordROCKFORD, IL

What would a pet celebration be without a party hat? Or sombrero? This store has both, plus other accessories and supplies, in a charming display. “Lots of our customers are into celebrating their dog’s birthdays,” Kaye Busse-Kleber says. “Some even put choices of items down on the floor to see which their dog prefers!”

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, Buster’s Party Shop, FunDog Bandanas, Preppy Puppy Bakery, Bocce’s Bakery.

TIP: Encourage pet parents to tag your store on social media. “We re-post their pic of their dog celebrating, with our products.”

Firehouse Pet ShopWENATCHEE, WA

This colorful celebration display sits right next to the bakery case. Dogs get a free bag of treats and don a birthday hat and other props before having their photo taken for social media.

BRANDS: Preppy Puppy Bakery, Taj Ma-Hound, Bosco and Roxy’s, Charming Pet, Kong, Planet Dog, Haute Diggity Dog, Merrick, Swell, Nuggets Healthy Eats, Bocce’s Bakery, K9 Granola Factory.

TIP: Display pics of pups in store. Jennifer Larsen says, “We play them on our TV, slideshow on a loop.”

Healthy Pet ProductsPITTSBURGH, PA

When shopping this store’s small birthday section, dogs get showered with attention. Toni Shelaske says, “We hand out free birthday bandanas, lots of love and feature them on our Facebook and Instagram pages.”

BRANDS: Puppy Cake, K9 Granola Factory, Bocce’s Bakery, ZippyPaws.

TIP: Feature pet-centric photo frames in your display to hold pet birthday pics.

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Lucky DogsSKANEATELES, NY

Party hats and cookies sells best at this store, Amy Schiek says, with customers getting multiple celebration options with the latter: “Happy Birthday,” “Welcome Home” and “Adopted” options.

BRANDS: Bubba Rose Biscuit Co. Bosco and Roxy’s, Haute Diggity Dog, Bocce’s Bakery, Charming Pet.

MuttigansEMERALD ISLE, NC

The display may be small, but it’s sweet and supports this store and coffee bar’s “Barkday Party Package.” It includes a reserved table with decorations, personalized cake, party hats, goodie bag and 20-percent discount on treats and toys, plus a dedicated staff member to help manage the fun, starting at $60.

BRANDS: Preppy Puppy Bakery, Bubba Rose Biscuit Co.

Animal ConnectionCHARLOTTESVILLE, VA

Pattie Boden says location is key for pet celebration products. “They are a good seller now that we have a dedicated birthday section! Before that, we had them on the front counter as an impulse buy, and we still have that bakery case with a few “pupcake” and “everyday treats,” but this section brings far more attention! It’s right in the area where the toys and apparel are and right next to a big wall of treats, so it’s hard to miss!”

BRANDS: Huxley & Kent, Haute Diggity Dog, LuluBelles, ZippyPaws, Harry Barker, Pawsitively Gourmet, 2 Paws 4 You Bakery, Signature Bonz, Bark Local.

TIP: Offer party favor treat bags to local pet business that do not carry celebration products, such as a doggie daycare.

Dog LoversTARPON SPRINGS, FL

This store builds its birthday display around Merrick’s Grain-Free Birthday Paw-ty canned food.

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America's Coolest

Meet the Judges of the PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores Contest

Full contest results will be announced July 29.

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Jane Harrell is president of ‘cause Digital Marketing and co-owner of Working With Dog, and has spent the last 16 years working with pet businesses to find simple, scalable marketing solutions that work so they can focus on what matters most — helping pets and the people who care about them. causedigitalmarketing.com

 

Kristen Levine is regarded as one of the foremost pet marketing experts in the U.S. with more than 25 years of experience. She’s developed a Pet Credible Influencer Program for brands and is president at FWV Fetching, an integrated marketing firm that services pet-focused companies, veterinary businesses and consumer brands. She lives on a small farm with miniature donkeys Izzy and Willow and her rescue dog and cat, Chilly and Olivia. Contact her at: klevine@fwv-us.com.

Beke LUBEACH serves as general manager for DOGTV, the first channel designed to relax and entertain dogs. Prior to that, Lubeach worked on sales and marketing strategy with small- to mid-size businesses in the pet space as the principal for Dog Bone Marketing Solutions. She has worked to develop consumer sales promotions with Malone Advertising, agency of record for Kimberly Clark products, and spent 20 years in professional sports and media. Lubeach held positions with Super Bowl Host Committees XXXII and XXXIV, Anaheim Angels Baseball and Ducks Hockey, along with eight years at Cox Communications and the San Diego Padres Baseball broadcast. Her focus is in developing strategic partnerships with businesses, both in and out of the pet industry. She has a rescue dog, Payton and always in her heart, Jake, the dog that brought her into the pet space.

Leel Michelle is the founder of Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe in San Diego, CA, which took top honors in the 2018 America’s Coolest Stores Contest. Following a career in corporate retail management and corporate amusement park management, Michelle was inspired by her own pets to create brands that utilized her skills, creativity and passion to build memorable businesses. Follow her at “The Art of Pet Retailing for Groomers” and Facebook group “Pet Boutiques.”

Beth Miller is founder of Wagtown, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities become more authentically and responsibly dog-friendly. Her background of 30-plus years of brand management, advertising, merchandising, point-of-sale, and growth and retention strategies gives her a keen eye for success in the pet space. wagtown.org

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