How This Washington Pet Store Makes Shopping Fun for Customers
With popcorn, coffee, fire hats, music, photo ops and more—plus loads of nutritional products for pets—Firehouse Pet Shop is the place to be for shoppers in Wenatchee, Wash.
Jennifer and Allen Larsen, co-owners of Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, Wash.
Jennifer Larsen, co-owner Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, Wash., says that more big-box retailers are carrying food that once was exclusive to independent chains. As a result, Firehouse Pet Shop is diversifying its food selection.
Pet Product News: What are the top-selling products in your store right now?
Jennifer Larsen: Dog food is easily our best category, with Fromm, Champion and NutriSource taking the lead consecutively. Treats is our next big category. We always look for new, unique and healthful treats. Earth Animal No-Hides—we don’t sell rawhide so this is a go-to—and our bulk biscuit bar—we rotate several high-quality treats in our bulk selection—are the biggest sellers here. After those, it would be jerky and freeze-dried treats but split pretty evenly by brands as we have a pretty large selection. Body parts would be one of the next-highest sales categories.
PPN: What are your favorite products right now?
Larsen: I love new products so they might not be my top sellers yet, but they are always new and exciting. Some examples might be Colorado Hemp Honey, colostrum, GoughNuts toys and West Paw’s Qwizl. And not new to us—but some longtime faves—are Pet Releaf’s cannabidiol (CBD) products, Answers Pet Food’s goat’s milk, local driftwood cat trees, and our newest bulk brand, The Pound Bakery, has started strong with tons of great feedback from customers.
PPN: What industry trends have you been keeping your eye on most closely?
Larsen: The CBD market has been a quickly expanding market with new brands and items coming out constantly. I also think anything from a holistic approach is rapidly growing. Customers are learning more and more to research for themselves and not just trust ads or even their vets. They ask more questions and read up on topics. They are tired of giving medications and want more holistic solutions.
PPN: What business challenge are you currently in the process of tackling?
Larsen: When we opened we really only had a Petco in town. But we just had a PetSmart open a couple months ago, and that is something we have been gearing up for. They are bringing in more and more foods that you used to see in independent chains, like Nulo and now Taste of the Wild. We have tried to diversify and transition those customers onto foods that support the small independent stores like Fromm, Champion and NutriSource. We carry several brands of food, but now Taste of the Wild is the only one you might find in those stores. We felt it was important to get ahead of it.
E-commerce is, of course, another challenge, but we are hoping to be able to offer that soon. We feel our customers that prefer to get it online for whatever reason will prefer to shop local and are hoping this helps those customers do that.
PPN: What business goal are you hoping to achieve this year?
Larsen: E-commerce and possible local delivery are our biggest ones. We just finished a remodel/expansion at the end of 2017, and just changed websites, POS systems and added Astro, and hired a manager, so we are looking forward to a bit of time to catch up and enjoy the benefits of those, and breathe! Outside of that, we will always be looking for ways to improve—fun programs and ideas to add like birthday parties, etc.
PPN: What are your best tips for connecting with customers?
Larsen: We strive to, first and foremost, staff enough help to cover several customers at all times. We have built our staff to approximately 18 in the first few years (not including groomers), and we schedule so there are a lot of people on the floor ready to help and assist anyone. We have a fun, engaging well-trained staff that customers have come to trust and know personally.
It feels like a family party most days in here with people talking and laughing on several aisles.
We offer free popcorn, free coffee, kids’ shopping carts that say “Customer in Training” on them, free fire hats for the kids and free birthday dress-up photos with a treat, and we’ll spend as long as it takes to help find solutions for people’s dogs. We also offer any special orders on a one-time or routine basis—we strive to never lose a sale to anyone else. We actually have the big-box stores sending people to us saying that we will do special orders.
How close are you to your neighbors? Building strong relationships with your business neighbors and being involved in the community goes a long way with word-of-mouth and building loyalty.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of technology and millennials. We encourage our employees to carry their phones, take pictures of dogs to post on social media, look up reviews, look up products customers are asking about, read ingredients of food that people are currently feeding, show customers’ reviews on dog foods they are currently on or we suggest switching to, etc. Embrace it so millennials can relate to you as a retailer. At the very least, blast their furry kids on social media so they feel appreciated and part of your store!
Get an inside look at Firehouse Pet Shop in our gallery below.