A Lucrative Labor of Love
By Mark Kalaygian
February 1, 2013

Everyone knows that it is better to give than to receive. But this old platitude has special implications for retailers—particularly in the pet care category, where giving back to the community can be a key factor in achieving ongoing success.


In today’s economic climate, pet stores need every edge they can get. Over the past five years, the independent pet specialty channel, while vaunted for its recession resistance, has faced mounting pressure from big-box competitors like Petco and PetSmart, as well as mass and grocery retailers. Ultimately, what has set the winners in this channel apart has been the ability to refine their approach.


As you will read in February's cover story, there are a number of ways that retailers can improve their businesses and get a leg up on the competition. For example, finding efficiencies in the supply chain can lower costs and improve fill rates, while refining the staff training process can improve retention rates and shoppers’ in-store experience. Likewise, updating store aesthetics and carefully honing the product mix can strengthen a pet retailer’s brand. Each of the chains that we profile in the cover story have paid careful attention to such refinements over the years, and they have been rewarded with great success.


While the ongoing pursuit of operational improvements is something that all of these chains have in common, there is another characteristic that they share as well—a dedication to serving the local pet-owning community. For Minnesota-based Chuck & Don’s, this service comes in the form of donations of money and products to local pet-related charities, as well as “community rooms” that the company is building into its stores in order to host educational seminars and local pet group functions. In Los Angeles, the Healthy Spot chain is hosting in-store pet adoption events and asking customers if they want to round up their purchases to the nearest dollar—with 100 percent of the proceeds going to charity. Pet Valu out of Canada and Maine-based Pet Life stores host similar events and donate a significant amount of money and product to numerous worthy causes, as well.


Every pet specialty retailer would be wise to follow this example, but it’s important to keep in mind that simply cutting a check to a humane society probably won’t be enough. Retailers must make sure that they are working with causes that are near and dear to their customers, and then broadcast these efforts to anyone who will listen. Sending press releases to the local media about events and large donations, and promoting these efforts in the store with signage and bag inserts will go a long way in this regard.

 

At the end of the day, while giving back to the community may be a labor of love for most pet retailers, it would be foolish to ignore the impact that it can have on the business’ bottom line. After all, if you capture the hearts of pet owners, chances are you’re going to earn their loyalty as well.