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Up the Convenience Factor With a Drive-Thru Window

Baby in the car. Heavy bags. Short on time.

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THESE AND OTHER REASONS inspired Laura Amiton to open The Filling Station, a pet-supply store in Tigard, OR, with a convenient drive-thru. She came up with the idea one day at her other business, Healthy Pets Northwest in Portland.

“I had a woman running through the store, trying to get things quickly,” Amiton recalls. Turns out, the customer had left her baby locked in the car. “I said, ‘Why don’t you go back outside. I’ll ring up your order and bring it to you.’”

THE IDEA

Increase Convenience

Once back in side, Amiton says, “It hit me like a ton of bricks: Why isn’t there a pet store with a drive-thru option?”

She opened exactly that in 2015. Located in a shopping center space once occupied by a bank, a sensor sounds when a vehicle pulls up to the window. Customers can call ahead with an order or place it there. Employees take purchases out through adjacent double doors for quick and easy loading.

“It can be super fast, take just a couple of minutes. Or a bit longer if they have a lot of questions.”

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Drive-thru attendants keep stickers on hand for kids in tow. They even wash windows as part of The Filling Station experience.

“We try to remind people of the old service stations. I believe in old-fashioned customer service. That’s not something they can get at the big pet stores.”

THE EXECUTION

Find the Perfect Space

Buildings with a drive-thru — already in short supply — don’t last long on the rental market.

“Starbucks does a good job of snatching them up,” Amiton explains. “This space had been sitting vacant for eight years because it lost zoning for the drive-thru.

Officials deemed it too short for a busy business, as cars would back up and block parking spots. She asked the highly motivated landlord if there was any way they could bring the drive-thru back. There was: He would present it as a pick-up window that sees significantly less traffic than a bank or coffee shop. The city approved.

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Amiton then built out her pet-supply store, positioning the register area next to the window so it would always be staffed, with fulfillment help on standby.

THE RESULTS

More Food Customers

The Filling Station specializes in natural pet foods, which make up 80 percent of its sales. The drive-thru ups the convenience factor while still providing expert advice and stellar customer service. This winning combination helps the store attract highly valued food buyers.

“About 95 percent of my drive-thru sales include food,” Amiton says, who expects that number to grow when she adds online ordering. “There may be add-on sales, but the main reason someone uses the drive-thru is to pick up food.”

Those shoppers remain loyal, as well, even when they may be tempted to order from an online pet retailer and have it delivered to their door.

“Today I had a regular customer tell me how much she appreciated the drive-thru last summer, when she injured her back. She usually comes inside, but used the drive-thru when she really needed it. I hear that a lot.”

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Formerly a bank, The Filling Station received special permission to continue use of the drive-thru.

 

Do It Yourself: Open A Store With A Drive-Thru

  • Opening a new store? Work with a commercial Realtor to help you snag a building with drive-thru.
  • Design a checkout area that serves customers both inside and out.
  • Staff accordingly on busy days, with team members greeting all cars in line and starting their orders.
  • Post drive-thru photos to your store’s social media — show a variety, from parents with kids to busy professionals to regulars with their pups.
  • Talk up the convenience to in-store shoppers; drive-thru pet stores aren’t common, so they may need convincing.

 

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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PETS+ Live with Candace D'Agnolo

This North Carolina Pet Business Thrives by Creating Unforgettable Customer Experiences

Catch the replay of this PETS+ Live! webinar hosted by Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation. This episode featured Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle, NC. Learn about ways to combat the big boxes and online — the key is to give your customers an experience they can’t get anywhere else — and learn why the business was honored in the 2018 PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores contest.

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Pet Sitter Offers In-Home Hospice Care to Dogs with Terminal Illnesses

In the final weeks of a pet’s life, they may have special needs.

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IN THE FINAL WEEKS of a pet’s life, they may have special needs. Their people also may need help. Those living in Chicago, IL, can turn to the hospice services provided by Rover-Time Dog Walking & Pet Sitting.

THE IDEA

Assist with end-of-life care, provide support. Julia Rohan founded Rover-Time in 2012, and soon she met the dog who would inspire her to offer hospice services. Cujo the Pit Bull was an existing client when diagnosed with terminal cancer. His humans worked long hours.

“They were the first to ask if I could help in this way,” Rohan recalls. “They wanted to do right by their dog.”

She spent middays with Cujo, giving him meds, taking short walks and providing company.

“All of the things a pet parent would do for their dying cat or dog if they could stay home and away from their normal life.”

Rohan always handled Cujo with care.

“As they are dying, animals can get snippy. I read his body language and made sure not to overstep. We had peaceful visits that left him feeling content.”

They also gave Cujo’s family peace of mind.

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“Many people fear coming home to a dead pet. Having someone there a good chunk of the afternoon helps them walk through the door at the end of a workday.”

Hospice became a permanent addition to Rover-Time’s services after Cujo passed.

Julia Rohan

THE EXECUTION

DIY and multitask. Clients in need of hospice services meet with Rohan to go over their situation and to customize care. She handles all of these assignments herself, as opposed to tasking one of Rover-Time’s 15 employees, for multiple reasons.

Busy with operations, Rohan misses the hands-on work.

Also, she says, “It’s a wonderful gift” to be able to support pets during this stage of their lives and their people.

Rohan can multitask during the visits as well. She typically spends several hours at a client’s home, the majority of time simply sitting with the dog or cat and working on her laptop.

“It’s not as labor-intensive as it might seem,” Rohan says, pointing out that client communication makes up the bulk of the work. “During that first conversation, I create a safe place for them to share what they need, how I can provide comfort to everyone, and then I ride those ups and downs with them until they make the difficult decision to help their pet cross over.”

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Rover-Time hospice services cost $35 to $50 per hour, with a $25 new client fee if warranted.

THE RESULTS

Positive word of mouth, client retention. Rohan may see only four to five hospice clients a year, but the impact on her business is significant.

“I see the bigger picture. Walking with the customer through this process, building intimacy over time, saying goodbye. Showing that I care and that the loss impacts me creates a brand ambassador who speaks very highly of Rover-Time’s purpose and pride in what we do at all stages of a pet’s life.”

Clients often return to Rohan when they bring a new dog or cat into their home. Cujo’s owners now entrust Rover-Time with their their current pups, Lulu and Tator Tot.

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Meet the Reptiles: A 2-Day Event Introduces Customers to New Types of Pets

It aims to change people’s misperceptions about reptiles.

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REPTILES CALL 4.5 MILLION U.S. households home, according to the 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. Feeders Supply aims to up that number with its annual Exotic Reptile Show and Tail.

THE IDEAEducate & Entertain

“Owning a reptile can seem intimidating. Many people have the perception that they are scary or can be challenging to care for,” Amanda Lambert, public relations and marketing strategist for the stores, says.

“Talking about these misperceptions spurred the idea to do an event with Exo Terra,” a brand Feeders Supply carries. “It would allow customers to see reptiles up close and ask questions.”

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The first Exotic Reptile Show and Tail took place at the Louisville, KY, location in September 2018. It hosted again this year, with the Jeffersonville, IN, store also getting in on the fun.

THE EXECUTIONPlan, Partner & Promote

Lambert chose the two locations because they are 25 miles apart, and each has an event space. She asked Steve Sotelo, a reptile specialist with Exo Terra, to plan the program and bring a variety of species. Lambert posted event listings on social media and sent press releases to local newspapers and TV and radio stations.

The second annual Exotic Reptile Show and Tail took place on a Saturday in September in Louisville and on the following day in Jeffersonville. During the two hours, Sotelo introduced attendees to a ball python, Parson’s chameleon, blood-red bearded dragon, Malaysian horned frog and red-footed tortoise, among others. He talked about their origins, life cycle and care in captivity, and answered questions about them. Attendees could even hold certain reptiles.

Lambert and another corporate staffer were on hand to manage the event and hand out free Exo Terra backpacks and lanyards.

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THE RESULTS Media Coverage, New Customers

Lambert and Sotelo appeared in a segment on the local ABC affiliate, which helped draw more than 75 people to the events.

“We were pleasantly surprised at how many parents brought their children,” she says, adding that families left with an interest in owning a reptile.

To give them time to discuss adopting a new pet, Feeders Supply ran its 50-percent-off reptiles sale with purchase of a terrarium kit for nine days at all of its locations.

The stores also gained new customers within the existing reptile community.

“A lot of people brought their own pets, ball pythons, several bearded dragons. Reptile people loved it. It was a chance for them to show off their scaly family member and for people not be freaked out,” Lambert says. “And it was a chance for us to provide an experience that can’t be had elsewhere, to let them know we carry reptiles and supplies and have knowledgeable, trained staff.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to a Reptile Event

  • Partner with a brand that has an education program, so you can bring in species different than those customers can see anytime at your store. For example, Feeders Supply sells bearded dragons, geckos, turtles and other reptiles, but not snakes.
  • If you don’t have an event space, considering holding a reptile event off-site. Lambert suggests setting up chairs to keep attendees from getting too close to the presenter and pets before the designated touch time.
  • Promote to the media. They love critter stories!
  • Invite local reptile enthusiasts to attend and bring their pets.
  • Run any sales long enough to give attendees time to think about adding a reptile to their family. Follow up with sale details.

 

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A Day Care That Offers Dogs Hikes and Swims in the Ocean

It’s adventure time!

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CERTAIN DOGS DON’T do well in day care. Andrea Servadio, CEO and co-founder of Fitdog in Santa Monica, CA, explains: “They need more activity or different mental stimulation, or they get overwhelmed in larger play groups.”
Or all of the above. To give such pups the best possible care and a fun-filled outlet for their energy, Fitdog offers Adventure Classes.

THE IDEA

Fun-filled alternatives. Two types of classes are available: Canyon Hikes and Beach Excursions. Three hikes, 4 to 6 miles each, happen every weekday in the Santa Monica Mountains. Dogs get to explore the trail, stopping mid-hike for a break.
Fitdog offers one trip to Huntington Dog Beach every weekday.

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“The dogs who know how to swim go out into the ocean,” Servadio says. “The ones not fond of the water stay in the shallow end, digging and playing fetch.”

Pups come from seven neighborhoods with pickup and drop-off included in the cost. Hikes are $40, and beach trips are $49. Staff-to-dog ratio runs one to six.

THE EXECUTION

Coordination and expertise. Pet parents whose dogs have met behavioral requirements can book Adventure Classes through the Fitdog app. Reservations go to the Sports Coordinator, who groups dogs geographically and by activity level, then chooses appropriate trails.

A Sports Leader picks up the pups between 8 and 10 a.m. in a company van. Servadio uses the fleet-management system Samsara to create efficient routes and to maximize safety, the latter as it monitors driver speed and phone usage. The system also gives location information.

“We can update pet parents in real time, ‘The van is only 15 minutes away,’“ Servadio explains.

Once at the destination, dogs approved for off-leash fun are given that freedom. Otherwise they stay on leash with the Sports Leader or assistant. Drop-offs happen between 1 and 3 p.m., with notes and photos from the day arriving soon after.

Sports Leader Scott Korchinski gets ready to lead pups on a canyon hike.

THE RESULTS

Happier dogs, more bookings. Adventure Classes give pups the opportunity to expend both physical and mental energy, and to socialize with a small group of dogs in a fun setting.

“Once people start incorporating these types of activities into their dog’s schedule, they become addicted because their dogs are a lot happier,” Servadio says. “By doing something a little bit different, mixing up their routine, it makes time in day care a lot better.”

The classes have grown to 18 percent of the overall Fitdog revenue since being introduced in 2015. In addition to having a positive impact on day care bookings, they also lead to training referrals.

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“If a dog is pulling on a hike constantly or not responding to their name or reactive to other dogs on the trail, we recommend that the owner take some of our training classes. Approximately 25 percent of dogs in training classes were referred from Adventure Classes.”

Do It Yourself: 5 Steps to Adventure Classes

  • Survey dog-friendly recreational areas nearby and determine which are good fits for your business.
  • Draw up procedures, agreements and waivers that cover all aspects of travel and activities.
  • Purchase dog-friendly transportation and a fleet-management system.
  • Dedicate and train staff accordingly. Fitdog assistants spend two months with a leader and must pass a practical exam before they get promoted.
  • Create a supplies kit for classes that includes water bottles and a first aid kit, plus protective gear such as paw wax.

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