B.C. HENSCHEN, a certified pet care
technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in PLATINUM PAWS, a
full-service pet salon and premium pet
food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes
Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet
owners who want more for their pet
than a bag off a shelf.
PERSPECTIVES & OPINIONS FROM AROUND THE INDUSTRY
Down the Wrong Aisle?
Why e-commerce might not be the best avenue for micro-independent retailers—
even when there are ways to make online retailing more feasible.
While e-commerce can be a boon for some, smaller
retailers might have difficulty making a go of it.
BY B.C. HENSCHEN
Irecently had the opportunity to listen to one of the in- dividuals who had a huge influence on me when I got into this business, Dave Ratner. Dave is a great guy
and very entertaining, but as I listened to him speak,
I once again realized how different our independent
businesses are. Dave has seven stores, a line of pet food
and serves our industry in so many ways. He has even
testified to Congress about independent retailers’ issues
and concerns. When Dave mentioned that the independents needed to add online purchasing to their stores,
my heart sank.
I’m not anti-online. I admit, packages arrive at my
doorstep a couple of times a week—but I hate it. The
products I tend to purchase online are those I cannot find
locally, but talk about your interesting dynamics. Can I
not find these things locally because there is no demand
in my area, or is there no demand in my area because
they are so easy to find online? Makes my head spin.
E-commerce is not going anywhere. Want to talk
about scary statistics? Amazon is more valuable than all
major brick-and-mortar retailers combined. Amazon’s
$356 billion valuation is so big, it’s larger than Walmart,
Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney and Sears
combined. Let that sink into your head.
Several years ago, Phillips Pet Food & Supplies
launched Endless Aisles, which is a way for retailers to
get involved with online commerce. One of my biggest
problems, like most micro independents, is time. I work
my retail store almost every day from open to close, so it
is very hard for me to spend a lot of time messing with
an online store. I was really excited about this program,
and I tried it out for about a year.
The advantage to Endless Aisles is that Phillips has
all the product information, pictures, descriptions and
shipping logistics worked out. All I had to do was add a
Shopify online store to my existing website, and then log
in to Endless Aisles and select all the products I wanted
to offer in my store. Endless Aisles took care of adding
the products to the store, and if somebody purchased
something, Phillips handled the fulfillment, which is
where the real value comes from.
Most online pet stores offer free shipping over $49,
and for a single location brick-and-mortar to ship a
25-pound bag anywhere is probably going to be in the
$15 to $20 range because we don’t have the negotiated
rates that Endless Aisles receives. I sold a 25-pound bag
online, and it was around $6 to pack and ship via Endless
Aisles. There’s not much margin on pet food, but even
with the various fees I was able to get a few dollars profit.
Another huge advantage of Endless Aisles and one of the
reasons I don’t mind taking such a small margin is that
you get paid before you receive the invoice from Endless
Aisles, so, basically, you don’t have any money out.
Even with all the advantages that Endless Aisles provided, I still found this undertaking a money pit for my
store. Although Endless Aisles is provided as a benefit to
Phillips distribution customers at no cost, there are fees
associated with it from Shopify, an e-commerce platform for anyone that wants to sell their goods online. If
you don’t have a web guy on staff—and most micros do
not—there are also fees to have someone set up the website to accept Shopify. If you want to have any chance of
selling products, you will also have to invest in “pay per
click” or other internet forms of advertising, which can
get expensive, especially if you want to have a chance of
showing up against the big boys.
As I was writing this column, I did a quick internet
search for my No. 1-selling pet food, and the three top
spots, which are the paid spots, were PetFlow, Chewy
and Amazon. I would guess that the costs of those spots
are probably in the $2 range. If you consider that fee and
the fulfillment costs, I would probably break even at best.
That pet food that I searched has a rigid minimum advertised price (MAP) policy, so every one of those companies that returned on my search had the exact same
price. That means it comes down to name recognition.
Where do you think “B.C.’s Pet Corner” is going to rank
in a customer’s mind when they are looking at that list?
Why are micro independents being told to add internet sales to their stores if it’s going to be a money-losing
proposition? I think it’s because those who are recommending it do not understand the micro independents’
operations. Those larger independents doing online
sales are offering more products, and they expect to get
a return on their investment because customers will be
buying other products. Micro independents are usually
very focused and only carry a handful of products they
believe in. They don’t carry a lot of toys and other stuff
that’s made who-knows-where with who-knows-what.
But those are the items that have the highest profit margin on them.
Ultimately, I know why my online attempt failed; it’s
because my heart isn’t in selling products to a faceless
customer. I want that customer to walk in my door so
I can meet him and ask about his pet and find the right
products to help the pet live a longer, healthier life. I want
her to check in with me every once in awhile so she can
learn about the newest supplement, or about the latest
pet food acquisition that might affect the quality of her
pet’s food. Micro independents have a firm place in the
future of pet food. Instead of waiting for a customer to
stumble across our website or paying through the nose to
get that customer to the site, we need to actively engage
the customer who is walking in our store and foster a
deeper engagement and a more personalized experience.
Eastern Oregon University (EOU).
Shortly after arriving at EOU,
Riggle co-founded EOA, a cannabis
research and quality control laboratory and, prior to joining Mary’s,
he spent several years focusing
on the analytics of cannabis, its
associated compounds and various
The company also added two
people to its national sales team.
CHRISTIE CREAMER has
been named national director of
sales, bringing an extensive skill
set with her to this new role that
includes 16 years of sales and
brand management experience
in the consumer packaged goods
(CPG) industry, with a focus on
the natural product segment. Her
recent experience as national
client team lead includes managing
CPG brands into distribution at
Whole Foods, Natural Grocers and
Lucky’s within Alliance Sales and
JESSICA PARSLEY has been
hired as account executive. Parsley
got her start in the natural and or-
ganic products industry more than
15 years ago as a trade show sales
representative with New Hope Nat-
ural Media and Natural Specialty
Sales. She also held a position as
Rocky Mountain territory manager
for Castor and Pollux organic pet
food, where she managed both the
natural grocery and pet channel.
Most recently, she worked as
sales director at NuLeaf Naturals,
which sells cannabidiol (CBD) oil
for humans and pets. In this role,
she brought in more than $1 million
in her first year, said company
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