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Before you race out to buy freezers to stock frozen raw food, read these 11 tips.

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For many indie pet stores, 2020 will be all about boosting sales of frozen raw foods. We shared advice from top retailers and manufacturers on how to do exactly that in our January issue. Here, we delved deeper into one of the most important investments you’ll make to reach that goal: storage. These 11 tips will help you shop smart and get the most bang for your freezer bucks.

EMBRACE THE SOLID DOOR

1 Many of you dream of a walk-in freezer, with a row of glass-front doors. Few of you can afford one, though, nor does your current raw food customer base call for it. That’s OK. Start with one, two, then three solid-front freezers, growing at a pace that best suits your business.

SHOP HOME IMPROVEMENT STORES

2 Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos in San Antonio, TX, gets consumer solid-front freezers at Lowe’s when prices drop — to about $750 each for the last three.

“They’re cheap to buy, cheap to repair — if they ever have issues (I’ve only had one with a problem) — and cheap to run. Not pretty, but effective. All 14 of them.”

INSPECT SCRATCH & DENT AISLES

3 Trace Menchaca of Flying M Pet Grocery in Houston, TX, recently picked up four solid-front consumer freezers with minor dents at a local appliance store. The cost: $300 each.

“It’s what my cash flow would allow. Also, because my clients are new to raw food, they are not at all drawn to our one glass-front freezer. Raw intro is a hands-on tour. So it doesn’t matter if it’s glass front.”

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GET CREATIVE WITH FRONTS

4 Menchaca used brand decals and chalkboard paint to turn the doors of her freezers into signs for the products inside. Pattie Boden Zeller of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, VA, offers this idea: “Take a picture of what’s in the freezer and make a poster print for the front.”

SHOP GOB SALES

5 “Kmarts are closing down and selling fixtures,” Mark Young of All For the Pet in Severna Park, MD, points out. He “just bought a two-door glass front freezer made by True for $650. Retail new is $6,800.” Once he added in wheels, plus moving and electrical costs, the investment totaled $1,500, still a fraction of what a new model runs.

GLASS-DOOR DREAMS? SOLID-DOOR BUDGET? TIME YOUR BUY.

6 If customer demand has reached the point where glass-front freezers make good business sense, be sure to shop strategically.
Frank LaPosta, business development manager for Minus Forty commercial freezers, says, “Minus Forty offers rebates and incentives throughout the year, typically at the large national industry trade shows, Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo, and the regional distributor buying shows.”

At left, a solid-front freezer at Flying M Pet Grocery features a chalkboard sign by owner Trace Menchaca. Mark Young of All for the Pet picked up the two-door upright freezer, at far right, at a Kmart GOB sale.

ASK FOR HELP

7 LaPosta adds, “Most of our pet partner distributors and food manufacturers offer freezer programs that provide co-shared pricing. Some will offer a free freezer fill; other programs include financial support up to 50 percent of the cost of a freezer. We always recommend the retailer reach out to their distributors and pet food manufacturers, and inquire about what programs they offer.”

Karen Conell of The Bark Market in Delavan, WI, seconds that advice. To cover the cost of two glass-front freezers, she combined a rebate from Minus Forty with account credits from manufacturers Primal Pet Foods, Steve’s Real Food and distributor MiddleWest Pet.

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“The full cost of the freezers was split three ways, an impossibly great deal!”

In exchange, the manufacturers had exclusivity of the freezers for one year.

Paul Lewis of The Green K9 in Mount Dora, FL, also was able to buy a new Minus Forty freezer, thanks to incentives from Primal Pet Foods and Animal Supply Company.

“There is a saying, ‘It never hurts to ask,’ and that rings true in this industry as well. Most of the manufacturers that we sell offer all kinds of samples and freebies. Most manufacturer’s reps have the ability to help you get started or to help promote new items. Just don’t be afraid to ask … worst they can say is ‘no.’”

When contacting frozen raw pet food brands, Eric Mack of Pawmetto Pet Market in Spartanburg, SC, offers this advice.

“I have put together a course of action for some brands, when asking for a significant fill, etc. It helps to show them what your plan is for the brand.

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“Know the brand. Understand the brand. Don’t just expect something for free. The industry relationship that you can build the right way is the best way, and long-term will be a great option for you.”

Holly Montgomery of Tail Blazers Copperfield and Legacy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, agrees and adds, “When you become a proven seller, brands will actually compete for space in your freezers.”

FACTOR IN ENERGY USAGE

8 When deciding which freezer to buy — whether consumer solid front or commercial of any kind — LaPosta recommends visiting the U.S. Department of Energy website. Its Compliance Certification Database lists the daily energy consumption for tens of thousands of appliances.

“Today’s freezers and coolers are much more energy efficient than those of only four years ago due to new Department of Energy requirements and the implementation of new refrigeration technology. If a retailer selects a low-energy consuming unit, they can expect minimal increases to their monthly electrical bills.”

He also points out, “Given that most pet stores encourage customers to bring their pets, most stores tend to have above average dust and hair on their floors. With a less than optimum environment for refrigeration, maintenance of any refrigeration equipment will be essential to ensuring years of trouble-free operation.”

LaPosta recommends low-maintenance technology condensers that do not attract and hold pet hair like traditional fin-style condensers do.

“Retailers should also look for units with frost-free glass doors, adjustable feet for ensuring the unit is level, and bright LED interior lights to better merchandise the pet food.”

ENSURE ACCESSIBILITY TO REPAIRS

8 When shopping, also research whether there are local companies qualified to repair a particular freezer brand and model. You don’t want to risk your inventory while searching for assistance.

Stacy Busch-Heisserer of Busch Pet Products & Care in Cape Girardeau, MI, can attest.

“Our town is rather small, only around 40,000 people, and while it functions like a much larger city for the most part, sometimes I run into issues finding people who can do certain jobs or work on certain products.”

When she did find a repair person to fix an issue with the heating element in one of her freezers, he did so reluctantly and for a whopping $400 bill. The next time an issue popped up, a noise within the freezer, she simply lived with it until it went away. And then switched to a different brand, one that had local repair support.

Karen Conell of The Bark Market funded her freezer purchases with support from manufacturers and distributors.

KEEP YOUR SOLID-FRONT FREEZERS

10 When you begin adding glass-front freezers to your sales floor, simply move the solid fronts to the back room for storage.

Billy Hoekman, nutrition science director for Answers Pet Food, explains why: “In order to avoid shortages, I would recommend having one to two freezers in back to store product. The No. 1 problem I see with successful raw stores is running out of products.”
Shane Somerville of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, has two solid-front freezers and one chest freezer in back.

“We designate one upright for returns and special orders, the other for backstock, and the chest for any overage.”

DON’T FORGET THE KITTIES

11 While many of you may be focusing your efforts on frozen raw food for dogs, raw feeding for cats continues to grow in popularity. Lindsay Meyers, who handles veterinary outreach for Primal Pet Foods, recommends, “As your raw business grows, it is smart to separate out a dedicated freezer in the cat section. Cat customers will not often wander over to the dog aisle for their frozen food without explicit instruction.”

Samantha Youngblood of Youngblood’s Natural Animal Care Center & Massage in Greenfield, IN, started with a small dorm-size freezer for cat products but recently upgraded to a full-sized, solid-front model with a hand-painted front touting the brands inside.

“Their food was getting lost in the shuffle of the dog freezers. We have a cat-only room, and adding a frozen section there was only natural … to show our customers the extreme importance of feeding their feline friend a species-appropriate diet, one that an obligate carnivore would need to eat and should eat on a daily basis. The response has been great, and we also use it as an overflow for some products that are dog- and cat- appropriate such as The Bear & The Rat and Scout & Zoe’s.”

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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