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Right Place, Right Time

From a favorite store to five locations, this Maine store spreads the hometown element across the state.

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Loyal Biscuit Co., Rockland, ME

OWNERS: Heidi & Joel Neal; URL: loyalbiscuit.com; FOUNDED: 2007 ; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 15 part-time; AREA: 2,700 square feet of retail space; FACEBOOK: /loyalbiscuit; INSTAGRAM: /loyalbiscuit


IN DECEMBER 2009, Heidi Neal told her then-boyfriend Joel that if she ever were to leave banking to buy a business, it would be for Loyal Biscuit Co. The couple shopped there with their dog Fenway, and Heidi adored the store. Joel encouraged her to approach its owner.

She did on Dec. 14. Not only was Loyal Biscuit Co. in her hometown of Rockland, ME, on the market, but if it didn’t sell by year’s end, the store would close.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” Heidi says. “I had proceeds from selling my house to move in with Joel, and the owner financed the rest. We made the offer on Dec. 15, and by Jan. 19 we had bought the store.”

Since then, Heidi — with support from now-husband Joel, a Rockland Police Department detective sergeant — has grown the business, moving the flagship store into a much larger building they were able to purchase and opening four smaller locations in the state.

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Historic Charm

Dating back to 1865, the building itself makes up much of the store’s design. Red and brown brick walls meet pale wood floors. A traditional staircase leads up to a large mural of Loyal Biscuit Co.’s logo — starring Fenway and a kitty friend — as well as to offices and a mezzanine, around which pet-centric quotes display on chalkboard paint. Lime green from the original location carries through to the new, with purple, teal and orange added as accent colors. Third and fourth floors serve as storage for now.

The Neals took out a Small Business Association 504 loan, which only requires 10 percent down, to purchase the building. Owning the property not only provides location stability, but Heidi also appreciates the hometown element.

“Born and raised in Rockland, and now owning a business and building where I can look out the back window and see where I was born is pretty darn cool,” she says.

Like Family

Just as Heidi feels a sense of belonging in her hometown, she strives to create the same for staff at Loyal Biscuit Co. Employees from all five stores belong to a private Facebook group, where they get direction and praise, and can even share silly pet memes.

Company updates regularly go out via video. And each location has a budget for a monthly lunch or treats such as coffee or cupcakes.

The stores also close for a day each January so everyone can attend the team appreciation party. Heidi rents the gaming center at a centrally located resort and caters lunch.

“It’s fun. We hand out prizes. Everyone gets a gift,” she says. “We have a staff that is like family. We work, laugh, celebrate, cry and help each other when needed.”

Community Involvement

Heidi welcomes customers into the Loyal Biscuit Co. family as well. She does so by providing nutritional guidance for their pets and by only carrying products that boost health and happiness.

“There is nothing better than having someone come back to the store and tell us how much our recommendation has helped their dog or cat,” Heidi says.

Customers also find opportunities to help others in their community and state.

Each year, the store partners with a local bar in Pints for Paws, a concert and silent auction that has raised more than $30,000 for local animal shelters since its inception. Annual microchipping and monthly nail clipping events also benefit animals in need.

“Most of the events have some sort of community element to them. We raised over $7,000 last year alone from our nail-clipping clinics.”

Loyal Biscuit Co. even manufacturers and sells the Tug ME Toy, which provides work for prisoners at nearby Charleston Correctional Facility. The store — that is, Heidi’s dad — sends strips of polyester fleece to the workers, who then tightly braid them into the tug before returning them for trimming and tagging.

“Their work doesn’t require tools or scissors, just their muscle and time.”

About 2,000 toys sell each year through the stores and via wholesale. While not a major earner, it serves as an extension of the Neals’ investment in the pets and people of their hometown and beyond.

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Five Cool Things About Loyal Biscuit Co.

1. HEIDI NEAL GOES TO WASHINGTON: In 2015, she earned the Small Business Person of the Year award from the Maine Small Business Association. “It was so cool to be able to represent the state at the White House,” she says.

2. ELF ON THE SHELF: During the 2017 holidays, employee Dave Taylor wore an elf hat to work. “He looked like a real elf on the shelf,” Heidi says. Taylor now spends the season posing in different parts of the store for social media caption contests and fundraising posts.

3. STORE-BRAND TREATS: Customer-turned-employee April Thibodeau created the Fidelis Biscuit Co. treat line, which contains organic, locally sourced ingredients and comes in a refillable tin.

4. WAY TO GO, CHAMP!: Fenway took home World Championship Boatyard Dog honors in 2011.

5. HIGH STANDARDS: Heidi didn’t just jump on the CBD bandwagon. “I wanted to make sure the company we chose had a good reputation and offered training and support. If I don’t understand it, I can’t expect our staff to either and to relay correct information to the customer.” The store now carries Super Snouts CBD products.

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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Pet Sustainability Coalition

Pet Sustainability Coalition Presents: Critical Sustainability Strategies for Retailers

This webinar, held on November 7, 2019, is the second in a series from PSC discussing how retailers can establish sustainable practices in their business. Moderated by PSC’s Andrea Czobor, the webinar unveils data behind the increasing consumer demand for sustainable products, what retailers have to gain from connecting with these purpose driven consumers, and a new PSC program that makes finding these products easier for retailers.

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A Mother-Daughter Duo Brings Southern Hospitality, Design Flair and an Eye For Unique Products to a Pet Boutique

They made their dog boutique an extension of the customers’ homes.

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Southern Barker, Lexington, KY

OWNERS: Leslie Stewart, Sarah Stewart; URL:southernbarker.com; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 part-time; AREA: 1,002 square feet; FACEBOOK: southernbarker; INSTAGRAM: southernbarker


LESLIE AND SARAH Stewart embody the spirit of Southern hospitality. The mother-daughter pair are warm and welcoming, helpful and kind. It comes as no surprise that their dog boutique in Lexington, KY, shares these characteristics.

“We want our customers to feel like Southern Barker is an extension of their home,” Leslie says. “We always try to make them feel comfortable, cared for and respected.”

The duo does exactly that with a combination of stylishly rustic decor, inclusive product offerings, and by celebrating the bond between people and their pets — all with a Southern spin, of course.

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Designing Women

When Leslie and Sarah decided to realize their dream of opening a pet store in 2017, they found an unfinished space in a shopping center. It didn’t even have a floor, just gravel. They hired Cathy Burgess Interiors to design and oversee buildout.

Daughter Sarah and mother Leslie Stewart opened Southern Barker based on a business plan Sarah forged in college.

“She helped make the vision in our heads come to life, and really helped us figure out the Southern Barker brand,” Sarah says, with Leslie adding, “We gave her tons of pictures from Pinterest.”

They also shared human stores in Lexington with their desired aesthetic: artist Rebecca Puig’s Sugarboo and actress Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James.

“Sugarboo is eclectic and rustic. Draper James has a very Southern feel to it. Both both have a touch of elegance,” Leslie explains.

Using the above influences, and pulling from Leslie’s own retail merchandising experience and home decor blogging, the three chose for Southern Barker warm flooring that mimics hardwood, a creamy paint palette and plaid wallpaper. Dark metal chandeliers cast a soft glow.

“And we use furniture instead of store fixtures,” Leslie says. “I found myself literally taking pieces from my home.” Her husband had to ask at one point, “Where’s the foyer table?’”

Displays use straw baskets, iron hooks, wooden ladders and crates, with the “Barker Bar” centerpiece offering bulk treats in old-fashioned glass candy jars.

Big Pups & Dog Dads Welcome

The Stewart family Portuguese Water Dog, Lily, served as inspiration for initial product selection — and continues to guide Leslie and Sarah.

“She was our first female puppy and our first larger dog. We wanted to spoil Lily but could not find what met our style as well as fit her large frame,” Leslie says.

Sarah adds, “We don’t deal with vendors that don’t have big sizes available in their clothes. That way, people with larger dogs won’t be disappointed when they come in and see something they like.”

Among their favorite brands are The Worthy Dog and Hotel Doggy, and stocking them has made Southern Barker the go-to store for stylish big dogs.

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“We actually sell more larger coats than ones in smaller sizes,” Sarah says.

And while dog moms certainly make up a significant percentage of their customers, Leslie and Sarah make sure to have something for dog dads, too.

“We have just as much for the dog dad who fishes and hunts as we do for the dog mom who wants rhinestones,” Leslie says.

Camo-print collars and leashes from Finnegan’s Standard Goods, stuffed ducks and pheasants from Fluff & Tuff, plus collapsable bowls and other gear, are good sellers.

Of course, Southern-themed products are scattered throughout the boutique and regularly make up displays, such as one for the Kentucky Derby. It featured horseshoe bandanas and bow ties from Chloe & Max, a stuffed horse from Fluff & Tuff, plus Kentucky-themed T-shirts, glassware and decorative pillows for humans.

At left, all canine visitors are encouraged to pose for a pic in the dog house. At right, Southern Barker Sweet Tea squeaky toys add to the branding.

The Southern Barker Experience

Every canine customer gets a warm welcome, complete with complimentary treats and an invitation to pose in the Southern Barker dog house, after which their photo goes up on the Wall of Southern Barkers. They can enroll in the birthday club to receive a free bone and special discount, which can be used in the party section or anywhere else in the store. A “Barker of the Month” contest encourages engagement on Facebook.

“We want to make shopping with us an experience,” Leslie says. “Not for them to come in and get their dog food and say see you later. We want people to think of us as more than a pet store.”

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Helping them meet that goal are a variety of celebratory events. Breed meetups, yappy hours and a Kentucky Derby Hat Contest, just to name a few, draw pet parents and their pups, while painting parties give the humans an opportunity to socialize solo with like-minded individuals.

The Stewarts also share in the sad times with their customers.

“I got a phone call from a lady asking me about a pawprint keepsake item,” Sarah recalls. “She broke down crying on the phone, telling me about having to put her dog down. I told her, ‘I really just want to give you a hug right now.’

An hour later she walks in the door and says, ‘I came for my hug.’”

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Five Cool Things About Southern Barker

1. SCHOOL PROJECT: Sarah was a senior in college, studying marketing, when she and her mother decided to open Southern Barker. A business plan Sarah developed in school served as starting point for the store.

2. YAPPY HOUR: From 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, customers get 30 percent off Barker Bar treats. Leslie says, “The margin on bulk treats is pretty good, so we’re not losing money. The discount gets them in the store.”

3. PRIVATE LABEL: Southern Barker has created its own treat and toy lines. Among the offerings are Barker Baked Goods Treats and Sweet Tea Squeaky Toys. The store also has begun making T-shirts, including one that says “Woof Y’all.”

4. EXPANSION: In 2019, a Louisville pet store with two locations went on the market. The Stewarts did an acquisition sale, took over the leases and rebranded the businesses. The new stores had and still have much more of a focus on food. That combined with Leslie and Sarah learning more about nutrition to help their own pets has resulted in the Lexington store now carrying 10 brands of food, including the full Answers line. Leslie says, “We’re really excited to help build the raw community in Lexington.”

5. THE FAMILY THAT WORKS TOGETHER: Leslie and Sarah split their time between the three stores, and dad John, son/brother John and his wife Alex also pitch in as needed. Grandson Elliot is literally growing up in the family business, as he spends weekday mornings with Leslie and Sarah.

 

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Dog Krazy Marches Across Virginia, with a Fifth Location that Includes a “Barkery”

It started with a Bulldog…

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Dog Krazy, Leesburg, VA

OWNERS: Nancy and Chris Guinn; URL:dogkrazy.com ; FOUNDED: 2006; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2018; EMPLOYEES: 8 full-time, 4 part-time ; AREA: 2,800 square feet; FACEBOOK: dogkrazy; INSTAGRAM: dogkrazy; TWITTER: dogkrazyva


IT STARTED WITH a Bulldog.”

Nancy Guinn says this whenever sharing the story of how she founded Dog Krazy.

“In 2006, I met my soulmate Piglet. I wanted to spend every day with her, and that’s what I did. The first store opened in 2006 and the second in 2015, the year she left this earth. From the time she was 6 months old to her passing, we spent every day working together.”

The English Bulldog continues to be a guiding force for Nancy.

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“I want to spread my love for her by helping customers provide only the best products for their pets.”

Nancy now meets that goal in partnership with her husband, Chris, who joined the Virginia business full-time in 2015. They have since opened three more Dog Krazys, with the Leesburg location opening in 2018.

Dog Krazy + Lola’s Barkery

Like the other Dog Krazy stores, Leesburg features brand colors red, black, yellow and blue. They combine with exposed brick and ductwork, wooden floors, and pendant and twinkle lights to create a warm industrial vibe. The layout caters to all customers.

“The aisles are set up so that dogs who are selective, timid, overly excitable or fear-aggressive can come in, and the dog and owner can comfortably shop without worrying about another dog approaching too quickly,” Nancy explains. “We purposely added corners and aisles all over the store, so that owners whose dogs need more space can tuck them away from another dog (or owner) who doesn’t have the best manners.”

Leesburg boasts the company’s first on-site bakery, Lola’s Barkery. She chose the name for two reasons: Lola was Piglet’s puppy name, and Lola means “grandma” in Tagalog, a nod to Nancy and her mother’s Filipina heritage.

The couple chose the location, in the open-air center Village at Leesburg, because Nancy’s parents live nearby, and she wanted her mom, Maria Powell, to be involved in the business.

“She runs the barkery, and I do the decorating, so we get to spend more time together.”

Among the menu items are traditional bone-shaped treats and ready-made celebration cakes, but the mother-daughter team surprises and delights with creations such as Doggie Nachos, Ice Cream Sandwich and Hamburger with a Side of Fries. Their custom cakes also impress, with a recent one topped with “fettuccine” for birthday boy Alfredo. Nancy completed a 500-hour program to become a clinical pet nutritionist, so customers know they can trust the ingredients.

The Dog Krazy Way

Nancy handles product purchasing, human resources, bakery operations and marketing. Chris tackles finances, expansion and “everything and anything else the stores need,” she says.

Leesburg carries on the high standards the couple has set for all aspects of their company.

“No matter how much we grow, our values and why I started this business will always come first,” Nancy says.

“It’s not always about the bottom line,” Chris adds. “It has to do with what makes Dog Krazy so special and not losing that as we grow.”

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The couple tests all products with their personal pets before adding them to inventory. Once approved, products are available in a variety of ways to suit all customer preferences: shopping in-store and online, the latter with pickup in-store, curbside, local delivery and free two-day shipping on orders $99 or more.

Marketing efforts also involve the Guinn family pets.

“All photos I use are of our pets, and I invite customers into our lives,” Nancy says. “I’ve been told multiple times that my marketing techniques show the heart and soul of our business, our pets.”

To announce the Leesburg opening, dogs Stirfry Fatguy, Pork Wonton, Sushi and Tala each wore a chalkboard sign around their neck with an existing Dog Krazy location name, with pig Jimmy Dean wearing a sign that said “Dog Krazy 5 Coming Soon!”

Grooming appointments at all five Dog Krazy stores are by two-hour appointment only.

“We groom our customers’ pets from start to finish so that they are not sitting in a kennel all day and so that they can get back to their owners as quickly as possible.”

All employees go through Whizbang Retail Sales Academy, and the couple recently created a training manager position and promoted from within.

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“Her job will be to teach all new employees the Dog Krazy way, to make every customer feel like they are a part of our family,” Nancy says. “Because they are.”

Building on the Success of Leesburg

Lola’s Barkery and a recently added on-site bakery at the Stafford location provide treats and cakes to all Dog Krazys. When considering their next expansion, Chris looks to the newest store.

“It’s been successful, and our customers love it. When we open our next location, we’ll make sure that there’s enough space for a bakery in there as well.”

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Five Cool Things About Dog Krazy

1. VIPP FB: Dog Krazy has one Facebook page for all of its locations, but it also invites customers to join the Very Important Pet Parents private group for their home store. Nancy says, “It helps us offer different specials at each location, to help with items that may sell well at one but not another, along with featuring items that we may have at one store but not another.”

2. 49 PERCENT: Nancy made her business relationship with Chris as official as their personal one earlier this year. “Dog Krazy had always been 100 percent owned by me. For his 40th birthday, I had a cake made that said ‘Happy 49.’ When he asked why, I told him I was signing over 49 percent of the company to him — my accountant said one of us had to keep 1 percent more.”

3. AWARDS GALORE: Dog Krazy won 2019 Best Multi-Unit Retailer at the Retailer Excellence Awards at Global Pet Expo and 2018-19 Retailer of the Year in the Marketing category at SuperZoo. The stores have also won multiple local “Best of” awards.

4. HAPPY STAFF: Nancy says, “I recently had an email from another business owner who said my store is one of the few places he frequents where every employee is genuinely happy to be there. It is the best compliment I have ever gotten.”

5. EXPANSION BEYOND DOG KRAZY: Look for Lola’s Barkery treats and cakes to be available wholesale in 2020.

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America's Coolest

Partnering and Pop-Ups: A Downtown Store Extends Its Customer Base Through Creative Outreach

Owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit balance their slick store with warm smiles and genuine sit-down friendliness.

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The Modern Paws, Tampa, FL

OPENED FEATURED STORE: Dec. 26, 2018; FOUNDED: 2014, ran an e-commerce store from home; 2015, expanded to sublease 200 square feet of a neighborhood grocery store; 2018, opened brick-and-mortar storefront; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 2 part-time ; AREA: 1,628 square feet ; FACEBOOK: themodern4paws; INSTAGRAM: themodernpaws


Midwesterners Lisa and Ben Prakobkit brought their heartland ethos to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

TO UNDERSTAND WHY TWO Midwesterners thrive at The Modern Dog in Tampa, FL, you’ve first got to get a feel for the Channel District, where you’ll catch an occasional celebrity sighting in the midst of wild dolphin cruises, maritime oddities and the Amalie Arena. It’s a small community inside a busy district of young renters, out-of-towners and business professionals.

Tucked in the highrises of Florida’s Gulf Coast, The Modern Paws is a warm and friendly surprise, with bright lights and soft pastel accents. Owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit balance their slick store with warm smiles and genuine sit-down friendliness.

“People come visit us very often,” Ben says. Customers come through every other day to pick up a quick treat or say hi. “It gives us a chance to ask, ‘How is his foot doing?’ and ‘How long did the treat last?’ I think it makes a big difference. When you can have a great conversation, just hearing about their day, it shows more of a family and friend community versus just a store.”

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To beat the big-box stores and online competition, they offer free weekday delivery and get out into the community every chance they get. “In this day and age, it’s about who you work with,” says Ben, who is originally from Chicago. “It’s not work, it’s connections. The community, at the end of the day, will support.”

The Modern Paws grew from an e-commerce site that delivered pet food throughout the Tampa Bay area to a grocery-store partnership.

“The owner of the grocery knew what we were doing with the e-commerce side of things and said, ‘What if I sublease some square footage to you from our store and you could sell your product out of the store?’” he says. “And we were like ‘Yeah, that’s wonderful.’”

The day after Christmas 2018 they opened their first storefront — 1,628 square feet — and it’s become a popular pet store and grooming spot for Tampa Bay’s young and mostly childless crowd.

Friends and Neighbors

The couple is from “up North,” and Lisa’s Michigan friendliness is warm even in Hillsborough County, a neighborly area often voted one of the best places to live in the bay. “Even here people are like, ‘Wow, you’re so nice,’” she says. “We’re Midwest people, and we are definitely different, even though we’ve been down here eight years now.”

Their dedication to community outreach has helped them develop good relationships in the neighborhood, where they both live and work. Even though it’s a young crowd that loves to shop online, they get repeat customers because people want to support a local business.

Their store is in a downtown location, so they take their show on the road, working with rescues and showing up at apartment complex popups and dog park grand openings to share food and treat samples, chat with friends and let people know The

Modern Paws is out there, offering free delivery to anyone in the county.

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“That’s how we let them know we’re located here, and that we do grooming, have self-dog wash and do delivery,” he says. “It’s just getting to talk to the residents.”

In December, a miniature of The Modern Paws opens in a PODS moving container at a holiday festival.

POD People

Every year in December, around the anniversary of their store opening, the Prakobkits pack up a best-selling selection and set up a tiny pop-up at Tampa Bay’s popular Winter Village festival.

As the temperature hangs around 70 degrees, the city gives this palm tree paradise a snowfall feel with an outdoor ice skating rink, holiday concerts and Christmas-themed movies. Handpicked by festival planners to represent boutique shopping in downtown Tampa, The Modern Paws is one of the select vendors to get an 8-by-8-foot moving container to build out as a satellite store. From Day One of the festival, they drew a line around the block.

“The moving company that supplies these moving containers ended up doing an article about us and the success we’ve had using the PODS. Out of majority of the PODS pop-ups, we’re probably one of the busiest,” Prakobkit said. The tiny space can fit about two dozen shelves and a few standing displays, but not much else. It’s 1/25 the size of their brick-and-mortar store. “It’s 64 square feet. We’ve mastered the small space.”

Owning the Phone Tech

People who live in the area are younger professionals who more often have pets instead of kids. “They’re tech-savvy. They shop online,” Ben says. “We’re that type of customer, too, and when we price things out we keep that in mind.”

They counter the one-click ease of Amazon with their own perks, like same-day delivery Monday through Friday. “It’s hard to beat. However we do actually beat it — we have a lot of our customers take advantage of that,” he says. They also offer frequent-buyer programs, rotating discounts and buy-one-get-one sales.

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“Our big thing is nutrition. When we’re able to help pet owners get their dogs healthy or keep them healthy, it’s a rewarding feeling,” he says. “When people say, ‘The new food really took care of all the skin allergies’ and things like that, it’s definitely a good feeling.”

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About The Modern Paws

1. Stories as a Secret Weapon: A silly skit or a quick talk on nutrition in an Instagram Story brings in a ripple of business. “We try to spice it up and do a few different things,” Lisa Prakobkit says. “We don’t want to bombard them with dog pictures.”

2. Four-Legged Foot Traffic: Located in the bottom of a residential building, The Modern Paws draws in almost every dog in the building. “We have dogs that will literally pull their owners to the store,” Ben Prakobkit says.

3. Phone-Friendly Tech: In a nod to clientele who rarely put their phones aside, customers can instantly book grooming appointments with a swipe up on the store’s Instagram Stories. Because their customers prefer to text, they’ve developed communication streams through text rather than calls.

4. A Tiny Staff: The small but mighty staff includes just two part-timers outside the groomer and two owners. Everybody has a specialty, like training or creating great social media content, and the size gives shoppers consistency in staff. “Customers get accustomed to seeing familiar faces when they walk in,” Ben says. “You can refer back to something you talked about in a previous visit, and it makes them feel like, ‘Wow, they remember me.’”

5. Huge Online: The store’s website is clean, fast and easy to navigate. Customers also check out products online before shopping in-store, or opt for same-day delivery in the area. For those farther away, The Modern Paws offers free nationwide shipping.

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