Scenes at the Mall
Pet Product News’ 2018-2019 Retail Concept Retailer of the Year winner brings
a boutiquelike atmosphere and a unique suite of products and services to malls
COOL DOG GEAR AT A GLANCE
Locations: 286 Montgomery Mall, North Wales, PA; 2300 E. Lincoln Drive #2608, Langhorne, PA; 500 W. Germantown Pike #2305, Plymouth Meeting, PA
Officers: Sue Hepner, Paula Jaffe, co-owners, and Kelly Klusman, franchisee
Number of employees: 18 part time
Years in business: 8
Average square feet: 2,000
Products and services: Dog and cat treats, toys and supplies, USA and locally sourced products, mentally and physically stimulating games,
Work Out Doggie Style, Puppy Concierge Program, puppy socialization, Yoga Zen Dog
1. Left to right: Kelly Klusman, franchisee of Cool Dog Gear, with
co-owners Sue Hepner and Paula Jaffe
2. Cool Dog Gear stores are located at three malls in Pennsylvania, and
pets and their owners enter the stores through specified mall entrances.
3. The store’s “Made in PA” display showcases products that are made
and sourced in Pennsylvania.
4. In addition to packaged treats, Cool Dog Gear stores offer deco-
rated, USA-sourced-and-made bakery cookies that are displayed on
YEAR of the
BY LIZE TT BOND
Pet owners stepping into a Cool Dog Gear store expect the extraordinary and know their canine companions will delight in a well-rounded sensory experience. As such, the store’s owners adopted a mouthful of a mantra: “The Different—
Hard to Find—Awesome—My Dog Can’t Destroy This—I’ve Never Seen This Before—
This Is So Cool.”
“That motto is literally right out of the mouths of our customers,” says Sue Hepner,
co-owner of Cool Dog Gear. “In our first year, these were common comments, and it’s
still true eight years later.”
Hepner and co-owner Paula Jaffe opened Cool Dog Gear with a vision of offering
expanded play and healthful options to dogs. Today, their concern embraces human
and animal customers alike in a welcoming, family-oriented environment, topped off
with an emphasis on education.
“If you go to a big-box store, it’s all about selling, they don’t help out with education,”
Hepner says. “We want to be appealing, to be there to help everyone and to make a
difference in the lives of pets.”
With a shared love of animals in common, each woman contributes unique talents
and backgrounds to the company. Hepner’s retail experience in management for a large
pet store chain, combined with her athletic training as a dragon boat crew member,
melds well with what Jaffe brings to the table. Jaffe, a retired inner-city special-education
teacher, recognizes the value of patience and guidance.
In 2010, Cool Dog Gear began welcoming Montgomery Mall shoppers in North
Wales, Pa. Six years later, a second store opened its doors to patrons of Oxford Valley
Mall in nearby Langhorne, Pa.
Setting up shop in mall locations was a strategic decision, and the boutiquelike atmosphere beckons human and canine visitors alike.
“We saw it as a way to grow a bit quicker, and, in my opinion, we get a lot more
exposure in a mall,” Hepner says. “There’s a wider variety of customers than the big
boxes. Professionals, such as veterinarians and trainers, have found us because they also
shop in the mall.”
It’s a blueprint for success. In October 2017, the first Cool Dog Gear franchise opened
in Plymouth Meeting Mall in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., with owner Kelly Klusman at the
helm. Klusman brings her own retail background to the effort.
“We are all basically working owners,” she says. “I typically hang out at Oxford,
Paula at Montgomery, and Kelly is at Plymouth.”
A smaller satellite store, opened in 2017, is sited at a local grooming salon, offering a
limited selection of treats, gifts and pet apparel. Additionally, during Labor Day week-
end this year, Cool Dog Gear launched a pop-up location at a local outdoor outlet mall.
The holiday served as a location test-run.
“A lot of tourists visit that mall,” she says. “If nothing else, the pop-up served to get
our name out there a little more.”
Pets are welcomed at each store, and four-legged shoppers enter through specified
mall entrances with their owners.