“Our community work defines us and has always
been our focus as we create bridges between pet rescue
agencies, pet communities, pets, schools and many other nonprofit organizations,” Bernhard said.
Bernhard and Manley found their kindred spirits
in Lisa and Giovanni Senafe, owners of Bentley’s Pet
Stuff, a pet supply chain with 40 stores, including the
“As both sides explored the purchase, we realized
that TailsSpin and Bentley’s share core philosophies
that will allow us to continue to operate under our mission of serving the customer as usual, as we are very
proud of TailsSpin being born and raised in Savannah,
Ga.,” Bernhard said.
Under the agreement, Bernhard and Manley will retain some equity, remain co-owners, and oversee current TailsSpin operations and expansion; in addition,
the TailsSpin name will remain because, as Bernhard
said, “we have built a trusted brand in the community.”
“We are planning to continue extending and offering our southern charm and hospitality to the Southeast
region of the U.S.,” he said.
For Bernhard and Manley, the decision to merge with
a bigger chain came down to one word: competition.
Savannah is a town of 250,000, and Bernhard rattled off the other pet retailers he and Manley must vie
against: three PetSmarts, a Pet Supermarket, a Petco,
five chain stores and other independent pet retailers.
“We notice that big-box pet stores are continuing to
add stores … that online stores are becoming quite a
force in our industry, [so] competing in the market becomes quite a challenge,” he said.
“For TailsSpin, it makes sense to combine our resources to compete with the big-box stores.”
King likens independent pet retailers to locally owned
restaurants that compete with national chains by pro-
viding dynamite food and outstanding service while
appealing to those who enjoy frequenting independent
“I think a local pet store that gives consumers a rea-
son to shop there through a great selection of unique
products, outstanding customer service and a real wel-
coming environment … are going to remain viable and
attract customers who value that,” King said.
But as Bernhard and Manley laid out the compe-
tition they face in their community, challenges facing
independents are coming from seemingly every street
corner, and every handheld device and laptop.
It’s not your father’s pet store anymore.
“The days of the hobbyist who had a love for …
pets and who decided to get into the business because
that was their passion probably isn’t enough today,”
Independents need to differentiate themselves from
large chains by offering a unique product mix not avail-
able elsewhere; providing employees with superior
training, translating to top-shelf customer service; and
even selling live animals—all of which cost money.
“You have to have a higher level of business skill
and financing to pay for everything you need to have a
successful store today,” King said. “That’s the fixtures,
the storefront itself, it’s all the inventory you need to
carry, the complete training … and technology with
point-of-sale systems and such and marketing.”
For “Jungle” Bob Smith, owner of Jungle Bob’s Rep-
tile World in Centereach, N. Y., it all boils down to people.
“Independents are community,” he said. “We have
people from all walks of life coming in for their supplies
and food, checking to see what is new; I hear them say
that coming in for 15 minutes a week is something they
always look forward to. During the week, grandparents
with their grandkids come in just for the experience …
it’s great to see, personally rewarding and, business-
wise, a homerun.”
And that’s why there always will be independent
pet retailers—they’re needed.
WPa’s doug PoINdexter recommeNds dIversIfIcatIoN
Pet Product News: What are some of the biggest challenges facing local pet stores today? What must they do differently
from the big-box and online pet stores to remain relevant in 2017 and beyond?
doug Poindexter, president of the World Pet association: Competition, whether from their peers or from the larger chains and
online retailers like Chewy and Amazon that have grabbed onto this increasingly profitable industry. They have to differentiate themselves by continuing to be the neighborhood alternative with personable customer service and unique, hand-selected products. And
they have to really know their community and customers in order to keep them loyal and keep them coming back time and again. It’s
hard work! They have to keep ahead by being innovative and doing things like partnering with groomers or others in the service side
of the industry. Or starting an online store to complement the brick-and-mortar location.
PPN: What are a couple of differences between the local pet store from 20 years ago to the local pet store of 2016?
dP: It’s the size and growth rate of the industry. According to research from IBIS World, pet retail is currently at $18.5 billion in combined revenue and a 3.1 percent annual growth rate.
When I first entered the industry as a tropical fish hobbyist more than 40 years ago, it was very much family run, especially on
the retail side. Today, it’s a more than $60 billion industry with pet products in almost every retail setting you could think of. So, it’s
important for retailers to stay ahead of the curve, and their competition.
PPN: Will there always be a need for local brick-and-mortars, or are their days numbered because of tough business
and environmental regulations, cheaper online sales, and big-box retailers and the fact that they can undercut on
price and selection?
dP: Brick-and-mortar locations will always have their place, especially among people seeking an authentic shopping experience.
And particularly for millennials, who tend to favor small-store formats in walkable urban locations, rather than less-accessible
That being said, it’s smart for retailers to diversify their offerings. According to WPA’s Retail Operating Performance Report
among pet retailers without an online store, 50 percent would like to open one within the next year. Online sales are incredibly
lucrative, with Internet sales growing 23 percent in 2015 and more than 80 percent of people online reporting making an online
purchase. E-commerce may not be the right answer for everyone, though, and running a successful online store takes smart
planning, research and a dedicated effort.
How do you define an
independent pet store?
“Jungle” Bob Smith said that Jungle Bob’s Reptile World
is run by him and his sons. “We are truly independent
in that we answer to no one but ourselves and … our
customers,” he said.
Wylie Wagg co-founder Laura Clark said the Kriser’s
commitment to pet health and its agreement to retain
all of Wylie Wagg’s current employees gives her peace of
mind. “We knew we were leaving our team members in
great hands,” she said.