Lessons in Pet Retail
Trace Menchaca, owner of Flying M Feed Co. in Houston, has served as a source of inspiration for Pet Product News columnist B.C. Henschen.
If you are a loyal reader to Pet Product News, you are probably familiar with the Flying M Feed Co. in Houston. Flying M Feed Co. is our 2019-2020 Retailer of the Year for good reason.
In their little store they provide “yappy hours,” yoga with dogs, customer education classes, painting classes, hydroponic gardens with organic produce, and even while-you-shop grooming services. This is in addition to the normal micro-independent pet supply store offerings.
How do they do the grooming? They target shorthaired breeds and other dogs that do not require seeing a traditional groomer. The services they provide are nail trims, diatomaceous earth dustings, foam massages, waterless shampoos and brush outs. They offer those services with no appointment and while the customer shops.
Owner Trace Menchaca is also a brilliant marketer. She brought in business by working with the system rather than fighting it. Trace was one of the panelists on a roundtable seminar I was moderating at an industry event last year. The topic was taking care of customers who do not want to feed raw pet foods. At some point during the conversation, Trace mentioned she gives a bundle of kale, which she grows in the store, a container of goats’ milk and a pouch of pumpkin to anyone feeding a low-quality kibble. There were many questions asking her how she found out what people were feeding, and she said it was when they purchased the low-quality pet food from her. Many micro independents pride themselves on carrying only the best of the best, and most refuse to sell the lesser brands and even actively advocate against them.
Her reference to selling the lower-quality food started quite the chatter among the audience members, and Trace realized there was confusion, so she finally said “I sell [brand X] in my store!”
At that moment, I swear to you, there was an audible gasp from the audience. I’m not sure if some people fainted, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Trace, obviously noticing the audience reaction, explained that when she opened her store, she went to the local veterinarians and asked what they were recommending. After hearing “brand X” multiple times, she then started asking those veterinarians if they would send people to her if she carried that brand. There was a resounding “yes” from the vets.
She brought in that line of food and started a game plan for anybody purchasing it to receive a gift of kale, goats’ milk and pumpkin. In doing so, she has an automatic conversation starter about improving pet food with an element of fresh foods. Depending on how the customer receives those recommendations determines if she will talk further about raising the bar on the kibble they are feeding. I will admit I am one of those who said “I will never carry ‘brand X’ in my store,” but after thinking about what Trace was doing, I wish I would’ve done the same.
What I did in the beginning was to send a gift basket to every veterinarian within a five-mile radius of our store who did not offer pet food with a listing of what we sold, samples, product information and some “about us” brochures. I’m sure a majority of those veterinarians looked at my line card and said, “Well, those are foods I certainly do not recommend,” and then gave everything away to the clinic staff. All those dogs that come in to those clinics asking what to feed their dog hear: “We recommend [brand X], and you can purchase it at your friendly grocery store or neighborhood big box.” In Trace’s neighborhood, the veterinarians recommend her store because she carries the brand they recommend.
I got into this business to help dogs live longer, healthier lives, and I know I do, but many times, it’s because I’m helping customers elevate their already premium diet program or because they were referred to me from someone who is already on a premium diet program. Reaching those customers who are feeding a diet recommended by their veterinarian—a diet I do not stock—is difficult because they have no reason to visit me or learn about me. Those are the customers I want to reach! Those are the customers who have a pet who maybe isn’t thriving on the food recommended by the veterinarian but do not relate it to the food. They think excessive shedding, scratching, licking and poor coats must just be a trait of their dog. They only see the vet once or maybe twice a year, so it becomes normal to them.
In Trace’s store, when they bring their dog to visit the store or happen to mention their puppy is shedding a lot or pooping excessively, she has them in the palm of her hand and can start the nutrition conversations. In my store, well, it doesn’t happen because those people don’t reach my store.
I absolutely loved spending time with Trace, and while I’m not ready to bring in “brand X,” I’m inspired by a lot of things she does, and, heck, I might even start growing kale to give away. It’s important for micro independents to learn from each other and not judge each other. We all have a common goal, and it’s to help pets live longer, healthier lives through nutrition. Just because another store is selling a product you won’t or offers a service you don’t think they should is no reason to close your ears. If you do, you might be missing the tip that will bring more revenue to your store and still match your philosophy. Like my friend Trace says: “You do you, and I’ll do me.”
B.C. HENSCHEN is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate, and is a past director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he 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.