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‘Main Street’ Success

Pet parents appreciate the small-town vibe, helpful advice and trusted referrals found at The Dog Store.

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The Dog Store, Alexandria, VA

OWNER: Paul Haire; WEBSITE:thedogstore.com; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 1,000 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/thedogstoreydbf; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/thedogstoreva;


WHEN FIRST-TIME customers walk into The Dog Store in Alexandria, VA, they pause for a moment to take it all in. Manager Annabell Bivens explains:

“We’re packed to the rafters, but in a quaint and homey way, like a small-town hardware store.”

That aesthetic as well as a welcoming, knowledgeable staff and strong cross-promotion with sister day care Your Dog’s Best Friends combine to create a customer base of happy pets and their people.

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Indie Way

The Dog Store sits on Mount Vernon Avenue, a shop-and-stroll street of small businesses in the city’s Del Ray neighborhood. Owner Paul Haire smartly chose the location, just a half mile from his day care, in 2014.

A two-story mural, green awning and red-framed display windows make for a colorful exterior and set customers up for more of the same inside. Products are plentiful and wide-ranging. Bivens handles purchasing, following a model set by the owner.

“Mr. Haire believes in good, better and best,” having three levels for everything, she says.

Walking customers through those options are Bivens and fellow employee Amber McSpadden. Between them, their product knowledge base includes pet nutrition, raw foods, homeopathy and herbology. An integral part of their sales process involves sampling.

“My Husky is super picky and has a ton of allergies, so I understand that customers want to make sure something will work before investing in it,” Bivens says.

Vendors typically provide sample sizes, but when not available, she takes a DIY approach with manufacturer approval. This was the case when Stella & Chewy’s introduced Marie’s Kitchen gently cooked foods.

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“We sent them a breakdown of how we would do it: 4 ounces at a time, vacuum sealing, keeping the bag out for no more than 10 minutes at a time to make sure it didn’t get too warm. We even used an infrared thermometer.”

Bivens says such extra efforts are well worth the time spent, as thanks to sampling, the store has added three freezers to keep up with demand for raw foods.

The practice also helps team members learn more about the pets they serve, which supports the small-town vibe.

“Almost all of our regulars can be recognized from the door, sometimes even by the bark!”

Annabell Bivens and Amber McSpadden

Annabell Bivens, far left, and Amber McSpadden keep The Dog Store at the heart of Del Ray’s pet community.

One Team, Two Businesses

Haire made another smart choice for The Dog Store — and for Your Dog’s Best Friends — when he brought in Bivens three years ago. She had worked as an accountant and been partial owner of a Georgia doggie day care, where she also groomed, before moving to manage his retail operations.

Her hiring set a precedent for future cross-staffing: Bivens grooms at Your Dog’s Best Friends two days a week, and McSpadden started there and continues to split her time between the businesses. This allows them to easily refer store customers to the day care, which in addition to grooming also offers boarding and dog training.

Early on in this arrangement, Bivens saw the potential for promotion in return. She set up a retail display of impulse buys and essential gear in the lobby of Your Dog’s Best Friends, and began training staff there on how to recommend the products.

“We use martingale collars to bring dogs in and out of day care, and now the staff can explain why and say, ‘Here are some for sale if you’d like to take a look.’ There’s also a sign that says, ‘More patterns, collars and sizes available at The Dog Store.’”

Bivens also added an info sheet to the packet for new day care clients that introduces them to the store.

“We let them know they can shop with us in person or place an order through the iPad we have in the lobby. They can pick up in store, or if they get their order in by 2 p.m., we’ll have it waiting for them when they pick up their dog.”

And she further deepens the connection between the businesses by including both names and logos on retail signage and bags.

These efforts, among others, have significantly increased the number of day care clients shopping at The Dog Store.

“When I first started, we had 17 percent cross over. Now we have 70 percent.”

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PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Dog Store

1. WINDOW TREATMENTS: Haire grew up in Manhattan, going to look at the Macy’s windows every holiday season. Because of this, The Dog Store also aims to impress in this area. Designer Sarah Louise Chitteden changes the windows monthly, alternating between seasonal displays and fun ideas Bivens comes up with: Expect unicorns and rainbows at some point in 2021.

2. SPLISH SPLASH: Hydrotherapy will soon be on the list of services the store can offer its customers through partnership with Your Dog’s Best Friends. McSpadden will train for her canine hydrotherapist certification in 2021 to offer sport dog conditioning, rehabilitation and weight loss sessions.

3. PUP CAR: Because the Smart Car already resembles a dog’s head, the businesses wrapped their vehicle to look like one. The long pink tongue hanging out the side delights all who see it.

4. COMMUNITY: Bivens can’t wait to be able to offer dog-centric events again at the store. She says, “Our ‘Smooch your Pooch’ kissing booth is the highpoint of the dog social season,” adding that, “We’ve created a special gathering place that is used frequently for adoption events and for the community at large.”

5. SHOP LOCAL: The Dog Store carries a variety of items by local artisans. Among them is Bivens herself, who began making matching masks and bandanas at the beginning of the pandemic.

See more photos of The Dog Store.

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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