BY B.C. HENSCHEN
At this year’s SuperZoo trade show held in Las Vegas in July, there was certainly a lot to take in, especially for micro-independents. If you weren’t able to make
it, don’t worry—I’m here to bring you all the action.
Wednesday morning, an invite-only gathering of pet
specialty retailers and distributors packed into a stand-ing-room-only conference hall for what was one of the
most interesting meetings of the show. The meeting was
called by Champion Petfoods and Fromm Family Foods to
discuss their decision to stop selling on Chewy.com.
Speaking as a micro-independent, I was very confused
by the move in the first place. Internet sales are hurting
my business, and, yes, Chewy.com is a big part of it, but
I don’t think their decision to remove their products from
the online retailer is going to cause many people to walk
back in to their local neighborhood stores. People who love
the convenience of buying online and do not see the value
in visiting a local brick-and-mortar will just switch brands
if they cannot find their preferred brand online.
In fact, I think the move had some unexpected blow-back on micro-independents. After the companies’ announcements to pull out of Chewy.com, I immediately
started seeing advertisements in my area from large mul-tistore, multistate independents offering free shipping on
both of those foods, just like Chewy.com had offered. These
were from stores that are not in my immediate local area,
and I had never really heard from them before, but they are
now blanketing Facebook and other advertising mediums
with “independently owned” messages. Let me tell you,
there really is a big difference between a local mom-and-pop independent and a huge multimillion-dollar, multi-store independent.
What Fromm and Champion’s move did do, for sure,
was boost those manufacturers’ authorized online retailers
listed on their websites. Fromm has even started its own
direct-to-consumer e-retailer website. That was one of the
most-debated items in the meeting. Having a manufacturer
of that size selling directly to the consumer is very scary to
me, and, judging by the uproar in the meeting, obviously
it is to others as well.
I mentioned that it was one of the most interesting
meetings I have ever been in because the whole feeling
from the manufacturers was that they wanted to impress
on us that they were losing customers for us and that we
should really appreciate that. If they did that to save inde-
pendents, I don’t think it was the right move. They should
be looking at real options on how the independents can
keep customers walking into their stores looking for their
brands. What we did hear during the meeting was lots of
generic advice, such as that we should make our stores “a
destination experience” or offer services such as grooming
or training to bring customers in.
There also was much conversation about stores adding
online sales and free home delivery. My store does offer
home delivery, and we are looking at having an online
presence as well, but I’m not sure how a store my size is
going to be able to compete against the larger stores—or
the manufacturer, for that matter. I also know that if we
run that thought process out, many micro-independents
could not survive on that. As we all know, pet foods do
not have a large margin of profit to begin with, and to cut
into that profit with delivery expenses, packaging costs and
shipping fees will probably leave us breaking even at best.
With all that doom and gloom out of the way, I absolutely agree with most of the ideas that were presented. Us
micro-independents should have services to drive traffic
into our doors, and we should have options for online sales
and local delivery, but it needs to be done in a way that
allows us to survive.
This brings me to my other highlight of the show—the
Phillips Pet Endless Aisles program. If you are a loyal reader, you know I raised a lot of questions when Phillips Pet
purchased the online retailer PetFlow.com earlier this year.
Much like the debate with Fromm selling directly to our
customers, I didn’t think it was proper for Phillips, a huge
distributor, to be selling to our customers. What I didn’t
know was what Phillips’ endgame was.
Phillips decided to purchase an existing e-retailer to
be able to leverage its existing operations and purchasing
power, and negotiated shipping rates to be able to offer
those things to us—their customers. Not only do we get
those benefits, but Phillips has also designed plug-ins to
make it easy to add an e-commerce site to our websites. I
run a WordPress website, which has easy plug-ins to have
an e-commerce site, but it takes so much manpower to be
able to input the products, pricing and images into the
e-store that I have never really found the time nor justifi-
cation to do it.
Phillips has solved that as well, because its plug-in has
its catalog integrated into it, and I was told that you will be
able to simply check which items you want listed in your
store. That was one of my reservations originally because I
thought I had to offer the entire catalog, and I didn’t want
to do that. I only wanted to offer products that were in my
store. It appears that that will be no problem. I can offer
items that I believe in that will be shipped directly from a
distributor warehouse professionally and cost effectively.
I see that as a win, and I’m willing to take a little less
profit because I’m only trading dollars when the product
goes out Phillips’ door. SuperZoo 2017 was the official
launch of the program, so at the time of writing this, there
was no one to talk with to see if they were happy with the
results or to check out how it all works in the real world.
Phillips Pet has promised me that the WordPress plug-in will be completed in the next quarter, and I am signed up
to be one of the first to start with it. I will certainly let you
know how it goes, and if you do start using it with some
of the plug-ins that are currently available, please let me
know your opinions.
On a personal note, let me thank all of you who reached
out to me during SuperZoo 2017 about my column or my
appointment to the board of directors for the World Pet
Association. I simply cannot express what it means to me
when someone stops me and tells me how much they like
my column. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk with me directly or want
me to write about something. I am here for you—the micro-independent pet specialty world.
Chewing Out the Competition
PERSPECTIVES & OPINIONS FROM AROUND THE INDUSTRY
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.
ZuPreem, a brand of Premium Nutritional Products,
hired LAURIE HESS, DVM, diplomate ABVP (avian
practice) as its full-time, on-staff director of pet
health and nutrition. Hess will be responsible for
leading the company’s mission of improving the
health and vitality of pets through proper nutrition
in pet communities around the world.
Hess is board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in avian (bird) medicine and past president of the Association
of Avian Veterinarians. She is also an active member of the Association
of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians and the Association of Reptilian and
Hess is the owner and medical director of the Veterinary Center for
Avian and Exotics in Bedford Hills, N. Y.
“We welcome Dr. Hess to ZuPreem and are excited to work with her
to help us carry out our company mission,” said Mark Zander, COO of the
Shawnee, Kan.-based company. “Working together will allow Dr. Hess to
share her expertise and insights with our professional customers.”
A micro-independent retailer and WPA board member questions manufacturers’ decision
to pull product from e-commerce giant Chewy.com, while asking for more-viable suggestions on how to compete.
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