Beating Back the Competition
Five winners of Pet Product News’ 2017-2018 Retailer of the Year
Awards discuss the mounting pressures coming from online
competitors and how they plan to build up their defenses and thrive.
CountryMax uses the
strength of its stores’
format to attract as
many customers as
possible, said co-owner
PET PRODUCT NEWS: Whatstrategiesdoyouemploytoremain
competitive as pet owners go online for their pet supplies?
PATTIE BODEN: To compete with online sales, my strategy
has and always has been to provide the finest customer
service and education available. That’s what we’re known
for and what sets us apart. We can’t always compete on
price, and it’s not cost effective to do delivery, so ultimate
customer service is what we stand for.
RYAN KWATERSKI: You really need to follow the money.
There’s a reason people are going online, and I believe it’s
convenience. We plan to use same- and next-day delivery,
a streamlined shopping experience on our own web page,
targeted marketing and a focus on constantly bringing in
DON PAYNE: Our strategy is to continue to offer an in-store
physical environment that is enjoyable. There must be
a reason people want to visit the store, even if they are
purchasing products from a different retailer. As all retail
stores become product-showcasing entities for consumers, our stores must offer an experience that is exclusive
to us. That is something that no online retail outlet can
DENISE STRONG: Pawz On Main offers a unique in-store experience that is all about the customer and their pets. My
target is those who want that expert personalized customer service. I have established warm relationships with
my customers. They know I care, they know I am an expert on the products I carry, and they are loyal to me.
MARK VITT: Sometimes you have to do the math for customers to show how, with our various rewards programs, their ultimate prices are better with us than online.
With a “Buy 12 Get One Free” food program, a $48 bag of
food is actually $4 cheaper, or closer to $44 per bag, when
you factor in the savings of their free bag. That can be a
real eye-opener for customers who think online is always
cheaper. Plus, we always emphasize the knowledge our
expert team members bring in helping customers evaluate the multitude of options available to find the right
product for their pet’s particular needs.
PPN: Have you launched or improved an e-commerce option
for your customers?
BODEN: We had an e-commerce platform in place, but we
are increasing our social media platforms to use it more
effectively. And we’re tracking who’s buying and what
they’re buying more effectively, too.
PAYNE: We most certainly have offered product for sale
online. It would be shortsighted to watch every other segment of the pet supply chain—manufacturers to distributors to retailers—sell online and not also be in that arena.
The size and scale will never be what the huge online
sales outlets will be so the volume will always be limited. Without multiple geographically placed shipping
points across the United States, a regional operation like
ours will not be competitive with the massive pet indus-try-supported online sales outlets.
STRONG: I am an independent owner-operator with no
employees. I have not yet launched e-commerce. My
goal when I opened my boutique almost four years
ago was to offer personalized, knowledgeable customer service, with a hands-on, in-store experience.
VITT: We are in the process of launching our e-commerce
solution, as this will provide us the ability to reach beyond our traditional brick-and-mortar market.
PPN: Whatnewproducttrendshaveresonated withyourcus-
tomers in the past year? Were there any surprises? Are there
trends you’re keeping a close eye on this year?
BODEN: New product trends—the increasing amount
of freeze-dried and dehydrated product on the market,
from food toppers to meal mixers to dinners; all of it is
tailored for convenience and shelf stability. As both millennials and retirees are renting smaller spaces instead of
big houses, having things that take up less space and are
shelf stable are becoming very popular.
KWATERSKI: No real surprises in 2017, but in 2018 we are
focusing heavily on local and U.S.-made products. We’ve
always highlighted those products, but this year we want
to use that as a market differentiator.
PAYNE: It was a very quiet year in respect to any new products that have taken off at retail. It would appear that the
industry is putting more effort into getting positioned
into the switch to online sales.
STRONG: [The] line of Pet Releaf CBD hemp oil products
has become the No. 1 seller this past year. I’m looking to
expand my line of all-natural supplements and remedies.
VITT: We saw a tremendous growth in limited-ingre-dient-diet (LID) foods, as more customers wanted to
eliminate ingredients, which may have contributed to
their dog or cat’s allergy concerns. We were pleasantly surprised by the positive response to CBD oils and
hemp-based treats, which had great results in addressing anxiety issues. And we are interested to watch for
the introduction of more foods and treats with novelty
proteins, which have been extremely popular with our
customers and give their pets flavors and nutritional
PATTIE BODEN, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va.
RYAN KWATERSKI, senior manager at Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore.
DON PAYNE, co-owner of CountryMax, which has stores in New York state
DENISE STRONG, owner of Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz.
MARK VITT, co-owner of Mutts & Co., which has stores in Ohio
Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection
Mark and Deborah Vitt, co-owners of Mutts & Co.