As it nears the half-century mark, Tropic Waters Pet
Center retains its edge by selling a wide range of hard
goods and concentrating on offering quality fish, small
mammals, reptiles and birds.
Jim Reiman, owner of Tropic Waters Pet Center in Eau Claire, Wis.
Years in business: 44
Type of business: brick-and-mortar
Services offered: Bark Avenue Salon; fish, small animals, reptiles and birds for sale
The Live Advantage
Bulk natural chews
are the No. 1 treat
category for Tropic
Waters Pet Center in
Eau Claire, Wis.
Pet Product News: What are the top-selling products
in your store right now?
Jim Reiman: In our aquatics department, beginner
boxed kits ranging from 5-20 gallons from Marina,
and deluxe setups such as the 26-gallon and 45-gallon
bowfront kits from Fluval and Hagen Group.
In dog, our bulk natural chews are our No. 1 treat
category, emphasizing brands such as Buba Chew
water buffalo horns, No-Hides from Earth Animal,
Barkworthies and Westerns. Our bestselling dry kibble brands are Grandma Mae’s, Precise and Canidae.
For reptiles, our vast selection of live insects and
frozen rodents. We carry crickets in varying sizes,
hornworms, mealworms, giant mealworms, super-worms, waxworms, nutrigrubs and dubia roaches.
Also, our frozen rodents. Top sellers in hard goods include Exo Terra terrariums and complete species-spe-cific kits.
In small animal and bird, Living World habitat cages are our bestseller; we also add products to those to
make them a complete kit for small animals. Oxbow
foods, treats and hay are great sellers. Our dominate
product in our bedding category is our private label
Aspen Max bedding, a product made right here in
PPN: What are your favorite products right now?
Reiman: We concentrate on products from companies
that show true concern for independent pet stores. Hagen Group’s Fluval and Exo Terra lines are mainstays
in their respective departments. Seachem aquatic supplies. Oxbow foods, hay and treats. Grandma Mae’s
dog and cat foods. We try to source from smaller local
manufacturers when possible.
PPN: What industry trends have you been keep-
ing your eye on most closely?
Reiman: Distribution problems that include out of
stocks, poor return handling, and discontinuing of
specialty products, most notably in the reptile and
aquatic departments. On the retail side, the change in
buying services that people are buying for themselves
and less and less as gifts for others. So our busy season
has changed over the years. Online is becoming less of
a worry to us because we concentrate on living things.,
and things large big-box stores cannot provide, like local products sourcing.
PPN: What business challenge are you currently in the
process of tackling?
Reiman: The biggest issue is employee acquisition and
training. It is not that they do not exist, but getting any
number of applicants is difficult. There is no doubt that
even prospective employees are starting to show more
and more the inability to be social and sell to customers; we now not only have to train them on all of the
store duties and care knowledge, but we have to train
from the ground up how to start a conversation with
customers and even fellow employees.
PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve
Reiman: We always strive to be better at what we do—
cleaner store, quality livestock in the best condition, better
relationships with our customers and vendors, improved
training and retaining of our employees. If we concentrate
on these ideals, growth will follow. We’re really hoping to
up our social media game this next year, as it has become
an efficient way to reach current and potential customers.
PPN: What are the challenges and benefits to offering
Reiman: Livestock is crucial to our survival, and quality
is paramount above all else. The amount of employee
hours that go into providing that is the major expense
to the store. Finding suppliers that offer what we need
takes time and more effort than it used to. We have to
go further away to get what we need when, years ago,
that could be with local distribution. The benefit is that
we have something that national chains cannot deliver
with the quality and diversity that we can.
We have also been able to connect with a lot of local
breeders on animals such as mice, rats, guinea pigs,
rabbits, cockatiels, lovebirds, a variety of snakes, leopard geckos and crested geckos. It is an added bonus
to be able to tell our customers that many of our animals are raised locally. In addtioin, we have also started breeding some of our bearded dragons in house,
which makes for a fun experience for our employees
PPN: How do you connect with customers?
Reiman: We engage our customers by asking open-ended questions, and get to the reason of why they are
in our store. We show genuine concern for their problems, questions and concerns, and provide quality,
sound knowledge to assist them. One of the best tips is
just to listen to your customer; treat every customer as
an individual that you truly value. Every person that
walks through our door at any given moment is an opportunity for growth, and we value that. We also stay
active in social media as a way to connect to customers
on the outside in hopes of creating a relationship that
carries over into our store if it has not done so already.