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Wisconsin pet pro never forgets a name or face.

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True Identity: Carmen Alcalde | Co-owner
Base of Operations: Bad Dog Frida, Madison, WI

Carmen Alcalde was born with enhanced visual memory. After seeing a face or name, she can recall its context, even after long periods of time have passed.

Alcalde shares an example: A woman would come into the store once a year, but had not for several. Upon her return, “She said ‘you probably don’t remember me …’ I then instantly remembered her, that she used to visit family each year and loved a Happy Tails shampoo we used to carry. She was quite shocked, especially because she hadn’t been back to Madison for four years.”

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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 The Green K9: A Recessionary Tale That Ended in Success

Success ultimately came to The Green K9 after a rocky start.

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The Green K9, Mount Dora, FL

OWNERS: Marni and Paul Lewis; URL:thegreenk9.com ; FOUNDED: 2010; OPENED FEATURE STORE: 2012; EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 3 part-time ; AREA: 7,200 square feet; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/thegreenk9; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/thegreenk9


In 2008, MARNI AND Paul Lewis sold their pet resort in Davie, FL. It was the first facility of its kind in the region and was highly successful.

The couple moved north to Mount Dora, where they planned to build another pet resort on 9 acres of land they had purchased. The project was well under way when the Great Recession hit.

“After we had spent all of our money, the bank cancelled a week before closing,” Marni says of their construction loan. “It was either file for bankruptcy or make it work.”

Restart Small, Expand with Demand

Paul and Marni Lewis tackle product ordering together, but most days customers will find him on the sales floor consulting on food and her in back as a groomer. She also handles merchandising.

Two years later, they opened a 1,200-square-foot store and day care instead, in nearby Tavares, where rents were lower. The Green K9 initially focused on healthy products, bathing and play.

“There was no doggie day care in the area. People didn’t even know what that was. We had to sell it from the ground up again. We had to introduce them to organic and eco-friendly pet products,” Marni says. “We started small to see if people would come, and they did. Once we got up to 26 day care dogs, I said, ‘I can’t do it anymore here.’”

In 2012, with funding from a customer-turned-investor, the couple moved their business to its originally intended location in Mount Dora. They hired their first employees and added grooming and overnight boarding.

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The 7,200-square-foot building features retail and reception up front. Green touches run through its interior design — bamboo lines the reception desk, with an aluminum sign displaying the store logo of a dog jumping over the Earth. Displays use fixtures made from recycled materials. Light blue and tan cover the walls, where large photos of dogs hang.

Products carried, such as West Paw, Aussie Naturals and BecoPets, prove healthy for the planet and pets alike. The grooming department uses and sells Nootie, EarthBath and NaturVet. Marni and Paul look for lines made in the U.S.A., but will go global for certain manufacturers.

“I like finding handmade, fair-trade products,” she says, adding that offering unique products also helps them compete. “We have to be different to stay a step ahead of the online retailers and big chains.”

All-Inclusive Rates, Personal Touches

The couple’s approach to day care and boarding also gives The Green K9 a competitive edge. While some services are considered add-ons, their rates include hourly relief during the day and group play. Yards behind the building, previously an appliance store, have puppy pools, climbing structures and grassy, sandy soil that means no muddy paws. Overnight guests who do not play well with others get the same number of outings, just one-on-one with a staff member.

Dogs get grouped by size, age and energy level, and because of the facility’s design and square footage, extra-small, small, high-energy medium, low-energy large and high-energy large get their own spaces. Extra-small pups even get to hang out in the staff kitchen.

Adding to the overall warmth are waterproof vinyl floors that look like wood and that have a softer feel than the concrete found in the retail area.

“It’s comfortable on their elbows when they lay on it,” Marni says.

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The Green K9’s spacious 35 boarding suites also feature the flooring, which makes cleanup easy as it’s nonporous. Staff disinfect each suite daily, providing a freshly washed blanket for each Kuranda bed. Glass fronts keep dogs from feeling isolated.

Train & Retain Staff

While Paul served in the U.S. Army and worked for the U.S. Postal Service prior to joining the pet industry, Marni has been a part of it most of her life. At 5 years old, she was competing as a junior handler, showing the German Shepherd Dogs her mother bred and trained. The family also owned a boarding kennel in Maryland.

Marni drew from her vast experience when putting together hiring and training practices for The Green K9. Each applicant gets a paid working interview, during which they do what they would on the job. A leader guides and supervises the candidate, and then the entire team discusses their performance.

“Staff determines who we should hire,” she says. “They ask, ‘Did they take direction well? Or did they have a poor attitude?’ They choose their co-workers, which leads to an invested, cohesive group.”

It also results in high retention of employees, which can be a challenge when hiring from the Millennial workforce. Comprehensive training and ongoing development helps as well.

“All of my leaders have been personally trained by me. People learn so much better with an experienced coach by their side.”

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About The Green K9

1. LOYAL CUSTOMERS: Ellie the Poodle has such a good time at The Green K9 that her owner, Seth Ellis, became an investor. He covered 100 percent of buildout costs for the current location. And Charlie the Goldendoodle’s owner gifted $10,000 for product purchases.

2. ECO-FRIENDLINESS: The Green K9’s business vehicle is a wrapped Nissan Leaf. Shoppers can choose between biodegradable bags made of cornstarch or reusable ones.

3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Staff love to help dogs celebrate their birthdays. The $50 party package includes five or more hours of day care, a K9 Granola Factory cake, treats, party hats and bandanas for the special guest and their play pals. Staff takes photos to send home.

4. CC (CUTE CANINE) TV: Owners can watch their pups via webcams in the play areas. Marni says, “They keep them up on their computers all day. When they don’t see their dog for a while, they call us. We let them know that they’re getting their bath or are in a timeout.” Timeouts happen when a dog acts up and clearly needs to rest. “They usually laugh when they hear the reason.”

5. FOSTER DOGS: One boarding suite is dedicated to fostering. Fifteen dogs have been placed so far, including one of a customer who died of cancer. All have gone to customers, who get free day care and bathing services for the dog’s lifetime.

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This Store Gladly Accepts Wooden Nickels

Bucking the idiom, this store gladly takes wooden nickels.

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WOODEN NICKELS DATE back to at least the 1930s. Local banks used them during shortages of national currency. The Chicago World’s Fair introduced wooden nickels as souvenirs. And merchants have given them as tokens redeemable for specific products or cash value for merchandise. Lindsay and John Webb do the latter at Just for Paws, their grooming salon and boutique in St. Charles, IL.

THE IDEA

Create a better “coupon.” Lindsay says, “We wanted to give our customers a value, but we didn’t want to give it as a coupon that would be underused.”

They hit upon the idea of a wooden nickel with a $5 cash value for merchandise, no minimum purchase required. It appealed to the business owners on multiple levels.

“There’s the nostalgia factor, which goes along with our vibe,” she says of the boutique and salon’s rustic design and old-fashioned approach to customer service. “We felt that tapping into that nostalgia, creating an emotional connection, would get the customer excited to use the nickel.”

Lindsay and John thought the tokens would resonate with their customer base, those in their 40s and 50s who may remember when their use was more common, but also interest millennials who have never seen them before.

And they counted on eco-conscious shoppers of all ages to appreciate their reusability, which also provides savings to Just for Paws.

THE EXECUTION

Order online, mail to customers. The owners used NationalPen.com to print their logo on the front and “Same as Cash $5 Coin” on back. They ordered 500 wooden nickels in January at 20 cents each and began sending them to first-time grooming clients with a handwritten note. Lindsay also keeps a few on her.

“For when I’m out and about and meet a potential client,” she explains, adding that the token’s weight and shape makes much more of an impact than a business card with coupon.

Just for Paws has given out 125 wooden nickels in the grooming salon, and another 25 through various promotions. The cash value approach allows them to be used for anything, from pushing sales of a particular food to meeting a sales quota.

“Super-simple, creative and effective,” Lindsay says of the tokens, which employees track redemption of through 123Pet Software.

THE RESULTS

40 percent redemption rate. John reports that 60 wooden nickels were redeemed in the first three months.

“We don’t track them by specific promotion, but we can see when they are being used per transaction. So far, every sale has exceeded the $5 token amount. We have not had anyone use the $5 token without spending additional money in our boutique,” he says. “The sales in our boutique continue to climb month after month.”

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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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