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Word of a Massive Chain’s Intentions to Build Nearby Has the Local Pet Store Owners Worried

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IN A SMALL BUT artsy rural community in Wisconsin, news of a big-box store potentially opening its doors in 2020, has been spreading like wildfire among local business owners. Currently, downtown has a Main Street dotted with retail stores, restaurants, a coffee shop, an art studio — and the only pet store and grooming location for many miles.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

PawPaws has been in the town for about 15 years, and for the last four years Mike and Tom have owned the store. They were locals who moved out of town to pursue big-city careers, and after moving back home, they bought the store and the building. Now business-savvy pet parents, they knew they could make the local pet store even better. They kept the store aesthetic with the rural, artsy, small-town vibe while offering fantastic customer service.

“Tom, you know we have to fight this. I know our town is small, but this is going to kill our downtown, and we are going to lose customers,” Mike said, tossing aside a postcard announcing a Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss the big-box store. “It’s bad enough that locals are shopping online — you know I see those delivery boxes.”

“OK, you know this topic is super important to me, but we have to concentrate on the Groomathon that is happening this weekend,” Tom said as he was unpacking grooming supplies. The Groomathon was an event they did every six months to wash, groom and nail-trim the local municipal animal shelter pets to help them get adopted.

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“Yes, but while we are unloading we need to discuss this so we can get the Chamber of Commerce fully involved,” Mike said. “You know they are not up to speed on these things, sadly.”

“But isn’t it just a proposal within the town and not something that is set in stone?” Tom said. “I guess we will can really see if anyone else in the Chamber can get together with us to fight this.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Mike said excitedly. “They don’t carry all the same pet products or food we do, but it would be way too close for comfort after we have worked so hard the last few years here.”

The following week at their local Chamber meeting, Mike brought up the big-box store. “So who will help put together a petition to stop the mega-mart from landing in our backyard?”

A few grumbles and only a couple hands went up.

“Really, no one here is as worried about this as we are?” Mike said.

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“It is going to add a lot of much-needed jobs in our county,” a tax preparation business owner chimed in. “So would it really be that bad?”

“What about our downtown? If that mega-mart comes in, a lot of people are just going to go there, and stop shopping at my boutique!” a gift shop owner said.

“I don’t know. It seems like it would add some convenience to our area, I don’t think it will affect our businesses in the way you both are worried about,” said a local bank owner, who was a big supporter of the project. “It will be about 10 minutes from the downtown.”

Mike sighed, looked at Tom, shaking his head, and said, “Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.”

The Big Questions

  • What should Mike and Tom do to show their other area business owners the potential negative impact the big-box store could have?
  • In addition to a petition, what other avenues should they look into to stop the box store from landing in their backyard?
  • How can they keep their business going strong if the big-box store gets approved?
Janet M
Rockledge, FL

We have big-box stores within a 5- to 7-mile radius. If Mike and Tom’s pet store offers high-end food, your customer will not be shopping for food there. You offer grooming services, which will help keep you going and have those customers coming back to you. Up your game and always be ahead of the curve. Offer items and services no box store can compare to. Customer service will be your best friend.

Nancy G.
Fredericksburg, VA

What other people are doing is none of your business. If you’re focusing on someone else’s business, your energy and time are taken away from your own. Focus on your business, and your business will thrive.

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Frank F.
Farmingdale NJ

I believe that their time and efforts would be better spent on how to make their business stronger and more appealing to their existing customer base. I am also a firm believer in the free market for everyone. Both big-box and e-commerce should have the same rights as I do to compete. It is ultimately to the benefit of the consumer that these choices are available. Unfortunately, some retailers think that they are entitled to calling certain products, territories or demographics as “theirs,” and feel they are also entitled to make a certain margin on those variables. In actuality, the only entitlement that any of us should demand is the right to try and succeed. It is always to the detriment of the consumer if we ever take the position that we are entitled to succeed. As business owners, we inherently must be willing to assume that risk of uncertainty every day. If I can’t be relevant enough to the consumer, then my company doesn’t deserve to exist in the marketplace. For those reasons, for the last 32 years I have said to big boxes, “Welcome … let’s go to war!”

Wendy M.
Moore, OK

Do what sets you apart best! Give personal customer service. Not only in-store, but on your website, fun emails, interactive Facebook posts, encouraging participation. Have a great and varied selection of products that people want, and need — especially those disposable items that make them come back for more. Send your customers’ animals birthday cards to come in for a treat and discount. Do monthly or quarterly events … fun things that people can bring their pets to. All of the personal touches that you can provide will make a big difference in bringing your customers back.

Joyce M.
Faribault, MN

My store was the only full-line pet store until 10 years ago. [A major pet chain] decided to come on the recommendation of our Chamber of Commerce. According to a reliable source, they were told Faribault didn’t have a pet store. The local newspaper wrote an article stating there would now be a place in town to get all your pet supplies without a trip to the Twin Cities. I asked the Chamber — that I was a member of — to please write an article alluding to the fact that there would be two places to shop with even more variety. They said they would and then conveniently forgot. I don’t think PawPaws can stop them from coming, but I think they will be OK if they have a good, loyal customer base.

Rachel D.
Littleton, CO

If they are coming, you cannot stop it. So, plan ahead. Isn’t it great to know you have choices and lead time to prepare? Big-box stores have lots of turnover, so now is the time to build up the best staff you can have. Create learning opportunities for knowledgeable staff, better incentives, staff values and teamwork.What do they offer to potential clients? Fast in/out, I think. So, have a way to notice those clients who want to be fast about it versus chatting away. They’re there, you and your staff just need to pay attention. Finally, perception is reality. I don’t share this often, just now, in this awesome magazine. If you believe and act as though you have abundance in business, you will. Clean store, happy clients, friendly and knowledgeable staff and never downtime. Plan events during the known slow time, and you’ll never feel lacking. Never have the ‘lack of’ attitude, and you’ll always win! Good luck. You’ve got this!

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. pet business serving the public, you’re invited to join the PETS+ Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you’ll get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the pet industry. Sign up here.

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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