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Buying & Selling

Buy, sell, repeat. Sounds simple, yes? Not so fast, you say. There are nuances within product categories and with the manufacturers themselves that influence what you bring into your store — and continue to carry. In addition to operational info and product criteria, here you talk about relationships with manufacturers as well as with distributors and your customers. Plus, you look ahead to the next big breakout category in pet products and services.




11. If a product is sold on Amazon, Chewy or another big e-commerce site, is that a dealbreaker for you?

12. If a product is sold in big-box and/or grocery stores, is that a dealbreaker for you?


The majority of indies surveyed don’t see product availability on Chewy and Amazon as a black-and-white issue when evaluating brands. Instead, 55% of you look at a variety of factors.

  • It would depend on the retail, my cost and the company. Do they enforce MAP, and do they support indies in another way like with Astro or frequent-buyer programs not available on those sites? Basically, it comes down to whether we can compete.
  • If it sells better in a demo-type situation, I will bring it in.
  • Depends on the item and how much traffic it drives to our store. If it drives a ton of traffic, we’re OK with it being on Chewy as long as the prices are comparable to our desired margin.
  • We are in a small town, and often people come in and ask about products sold online. I don’t want to send customers away, so I stock some things you can get online.

Some respondents — 28% of you — said they don’t see brands being on big e-commerce sites as a dealbreaker at all.

  • I don’t consider the sites to be competitors. Their advertising, in fact, helps me sell products because then they’re recognizable. I can’t match their price point, but we make up for it in other ways.
  • If I didn’t carry a good product in my store because it was on other e-commerce, I wouldn’t have many things to sell.

But 15% of you give a hard pass to such products.

  • It can often cheapen the perceived value because low cost is often associated with low quality, and many people think of Amazon and Chewy as low-price leaders.
  • If I am deciding between two similar products, and one is on Amazon or Chewy and the other isn’t, I will definitely choose the one that isn’t.

As for availability in big-box and grocery stores being a dealbreaker, “Maybe” still led the results with 45%, but more respondents — 25% — answered “Yes” than to the same question about big e-commerce.

  • If I see a product that I carry in Home Goods, Marshalls, TJ Maxx stores, I won’t carry that brand.

Finally, many said they also won’t necessarily kick to the curb a brand that starts in independent pet retailers and then expands.

  • If a brand is sticking to their MSRP/MAP on Chewy, we can stay friends.
  • If the manufacturer continues to actively support and promote the indie/neighborhood pet channel, we won’t discontinue a product unless the sales tank.

13. Rank how you discover new products:

  1. Brand and distributor reps
  2. Pet industry trade shows (Global Pet Expo, SuperZoo)
  3. Pet industry trade magazines
  4. Social media pages and groups (such as the PETS+ Facebook Community)
  5. Pet industry distributor shows
  6. Customer requests
  7. Non-pet gift shows

14. Rank these qualities by importance for consumable products:

  1. Ingredients
  2. Made and/or sourced in the U.S.
  3. Price/value
  4. Available through a distributor
  5. Sustainability
  6. Manufacturer guarantee
  7. Third-party certifications

15. Rank these qualities by importance for non-consumable products:

  1. Price/value
  2. Materials
  3. Durability
  4. Made and/or sourced in the U.S.
  5. Available through a distributor
  6. Sustainability
  7. Manufacturer guarantee
  8. Third-party certifications

16. Tell us about when a vendor or distributor has gone above and beyond for you.

  • I was getting lots of kittens in because our animal shelter director decided she didn’t need to take in any more. My World’s Best Cat Litter rep authorized giving a free bag to anyone who adopted a kitten.
  • From day one, Marilyn Hervela at NaturVet has been the sweetest, most helpful, and the one I can rely on to get back to me when we have the annual Paws In The Park event for rescue dogs. I try to save up throughout the year anything we can give away as a freebie to gain more foot traffic. Marilyn is on the ball. She gets us samples, and they’re always a hit!
  • One day, Rob Downey, the owner of Annamaet, came to see us about bringing his food into the store. He was riding with our delivery driver. He said, “I want to talk to you about my food, but let me help the driver get your stuff unloaded.” Which he did, and we brought his food in essentially because of his character.
  • Sodapup went over the top to get us enough product for our subscription box, with little notice and as a substitute for a vendor who did not deliver.
  • Doggie Design. Always good sales, wonderful customer service. They support returns, give the sales promotion if you submit an order a day or two before they release it. No one else does this!
  • Stephanie Real, my rep from Primal Pet Foods, has always gone above and beyond for me. She heard I had a feral cat colony and was nursing orphaned baby kittens with Primal goat milk. She sent me a case. Stephanie thinks outside the box and also cares about what is going on with her customers.
  • When Pet Food Experts shut down, Joe Israel from Earthborn called within the hour and asked if he could pull strings to get me accounts with other distributors immediately so I could have food on my shelves for customers.
  • West Paw always has 100% fulfilment, and calls or emails with ways to save us money.
  • Ashley Lynn from Smallbatch was great at working with me to understand their product line and had a bunch of stuff sent that I could break into samples to generate interest and gauge what customers would respond to or want most. She also sent sample-making supplies. And she always tells me if I decide to sample something, just let her know and she will have it replaced. She even sent a customer a T-shirt because they liked it so much.
  • Vital Essentials got us ready for a big competition we were vending at! Made sure we had new displays for bulk and bagged treats!
  • When a special order was left off our delivery, our United Pacific Pet rep drove all over the county to find a replacement. When she couldn’t find the right size, she gave our client a much bigger bag and refunded his original payment. Great customer service!
  • General Pet Supply has stuck with me through thick and thin. Even in times of financial crisis, they have worked with me so that I could continue to place orders.
  • Pete Grenot from Bradley Caldwell once delivered product to us that missed the truck for a second time. He drove two hours one way.
  • Taking add-ons after order, pickups after closing, always on-time. We love our local distributor Middle West. We aren’t just a number to them.
  • We recently moved our store, which was a huge undertaking, and my excellent driver from ADMC loaned us two large rolling coolers to move our product. Couldn’t have done it without them.
  • My NEMA rep remerchandises my departments. They look better than I could have done myself, and it doesn’t cost me anything.
  • My BCI rep frequently brings items for me to donate to local rescues from the business. She even sent me $100 so I could “shop” in the store and fill my donation bins.
  • Pet Food Experts is wonderful! Their communication is always right on, their ordering platform is easy to use and accessible, their deliveries are always on time, and if an item is missing from our order, they are always efficient in giving credit and reshipping.
  • Our order was missed on a truck from Zeigler’s Distributors. The owner personally drove it out.
  • Frontier is awesome! Last year for our grand reopening after moving, they came through with great freebies even though our rep was off work for a family emergency and it was very last minute.
  • Half of our vendors cancelled last minute for an event. When Enzo Vinet at Generation Pet rang to see how things were going and heard that, he asked, “What time do I need to be there?” He showed up, same day for a major event and manned a booth. It was a lifesaver and the event was a huge success!

17. What is your biggest pet peeve when dealing with vendors and distributors?

Poor communication
High minimums
Partial and/or missing orders
Cold calling
High shipping costs

18. What POS system do you use?

DaySmart/DaySmart Pets
NCR Counterpoint
Heartland Retail

19. What loyalty programs do you offer?


20. Rank the following forms of payment, from most frequently used to least used:

    1. Credit cards
    2. Debit cards
    3. Cash
    4. Apple Pay or other phone-based app
    5. Personal check

21. What do you think will be the next big breakout category in pet products or services?

Gently cooked foods came in as the top answer to this open-ended question, with many of you noting that the category had already broken out and you are happy to see it growing.

Alternative proteins such as plants and insects followed, with indies split on how you feel about them. One respondent even said in their non-answer, “Who the heck knows?! When they started pushing bugs as a protein, I thought I’d seen it all, but I’m sure something else will show up.”

Enrichment as a category came in next in products. Toys and lick mats got many mentions, as did more high-tech offerings. One respondent predicted, “I think cameras and other tech products will grow in the pet care industry. Pet parents can observe their actions and interact through cameras and apps.” And we love this answer and really hope this product happens: “Pet translators that turn barks and meows into English.”

The enrichment category also topped answers for next big breakout service. The owner of a training facility explained that the industry will see more of “early puppy socialization and training as a concept. This applies not only to dog trainers but also to groomers doing short ‘starter puppy’ visits to get puppies off on the right foot. Pet owners are starting to realize what a profound effect the pandemic had on dogs. Those who jumped through hoops to socialize their puppies despite lockdowns are reaping the benefits, while those who stayed shut in for months call their fearful, anti-social dogs ‘COVID puppies’ and swear to do better next time.”

22. What is your biggest pet peeve when dealing with customers and clients?

Window shopping before buying online
Complaints about pricing
Repeat return offenders
Inaccurate online reviews

These “Other” answers were mentioned multiple times:

  • Comments like, “But Google said…”
  • Shoplifting
  • Last-minute service requests
  • Regular grooming clients who never buy products.

Those are annoying!


23. Tell us about the oddest/weirdest experience you’ve ever had with a customer or client?

  • We had a customer convinced her hamster was high on pot for six months because she thought she knew who the breeder was (she didn’t) and that person was a pot smoker.
  • Someone brought in their cat for a nail trim in a grocery bag.
  • Customer calls saying she bought tadpoles and nobody told her they turned into frogs, and they ate her prize fish. Shows up at the store later that day with frogs to return, says we need to have signs up that tadpoles turn into frogs.
  • A client brought in her dog’s vomit and the remnants of a bully stick to us. She was upset because she thought it made her dog sick. However, the vomit contained a whole sock that the dog had ingested, as well as some toy stuffing … it was gross.
  • A guy came in wanting studded leather dog collars for himself. He stood there trying them all on and asking his girlfriend how they looked.
  • I had a client offer to contact my cat, who had just passed. And then she did. And you know what? She was pretty accurate about everything. Certainly helped take away some of my grief.
  • I once sold a dog treat to a man because he was hungry. I was very clear that it was chicken-liver flavored, and I even asked if his dog was with him on vacation. After he paid, he realized he was in a “barkery,” not a bakery. I had to refund his money. He was so hungry, just looking for a snack!
  • A lady who accused us of cutting her dog’s nostrils (inside), then came back to apologize for being a “turd,” because upon vet inspection, the dog had a tumor in his nose and that’s what was bleeding.
  • I’m pretty sure a customer ate the holiday cookies we left for her dog. She thanked us for leaving them, but wanted to let me know they were a little bland.
  • A customer came in and wanted to return a strobe ball. She said the strobe stopped working so she lost the ball. She didn’t have the product with her, as she lost it, but she wanted to get her money back from us.
  • I rang up a customer and gave her the total, and she said that she does not use standard currency but would pay me with good wishes and thoughts. I told her that unfortunately the state of Massachusetts does not have a line item for good wishes and thoughts on my taxes, so I am limited to standard currency at this time.
  • There are SO many! Lactating woman rescues puppy, puppy wants to nurse off her, she calls to ask if that’s OK. Customer wants to return hamster because it poops too much. Customer didn’t realize she’d have to feed a rabbit every day. Customers buy rabbit chew thinking it’s actually for a rabbit.
  • I had a customer come into the store asking for something to help his dog’s stomach. Something that could help dissolve the rocks that he ate.
  • A customer showing pictures of his ferret on his phone swiped one too many times and showed pornographic images. He and my employee carried on as though nothing had happened, and he still shops with us. She got an A+++++ for her professionalism that day.
  • When her cat died at 20-plus years old, our customer kept her in the freezer and would bring her out at night and sleep with the dead cat on a block of ice. I kid you not! She just couldn’t let her go.
  • A customer bought our handmade dog treats for a fancy rat that moved in under their porch.
  • A Tibetan Mastiff client has us save all the fur brushed or trimmed from his dog so he can sell it. He mails it to Russia.



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